Raj and Simran: In a troubling train

A few days ago, the official Twitter handle of Yash Raj Films put out a tweet with a clip from the enormously successful ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’. This was that famous scene where Shah Rukh Khan, as the inevitable ‘Raj’, was at his romantic best, cheekily hamming his way to woo Simran (Kajol in oversized nerd glasses) in that uncomfortable, cramped space between compartments of a Eurail train.

The scene is probably etched in the memory of most watchers of Hindi cinema. The film had one of the biggest runs ever in all of India, and made the producer richer by over a billion rupees in box-office collections.

Anyway, in that scene, Raj tries all the cheesy tricks in the book to make Simran fall for him. He speaks his lines with dramatic affectation (Aapko kahin dekha hai…). But that is the idea of the whole scene. He runs his hair over his stylishly dishevelled hair, wears cool shades, sidles up to her like a slithering snake, all in the hope that the young girl will be impressed and fall in love. He is a besotted bod; she an uninterested diva.

The Yash Raj twitter handle had posted the clip with the caption: “His antics will leave you smiling.” 

As it happened, based on the bulk of responses on Twitter, it was hardly a matter to smile about.

“The correct answer is Creeped Out,’ was the first response.

“It is eve-teasing. Not antics,” went another.

“Cringe worthy. Flirting and leaning when the girl is not interested. Not OK at all. Yuck,” mocked another reply.

“That is what you taught last few generation how to ignore consent, isn’t it?” snapped one more user.

Indeed, if you watch the scene dispassionately, Raj is exactly the guy whom you advice women to stay away from.

Fine. But this was a film made more than two decades ago when societal sensibilities and norms were a little different from what they are now.

So, that begs the question: should we enjoy Raj’s ways as the fun of an incurable romantic or slam him for his incorrigible creepiness?

“We live in times when we have to err on the side of caution. There is no need to celebrate what is shady,” says Sowmya Agarwal, an MBA aspirant in Mumbai.

“The scene puts me off every time I see it now. Makes me wonder how we enjoyed it in the first place,” says 45-year-old Moushmi Patel, the mother of two. “My daughters roll their eyes and mock me when the scene comes up on TV.”

Not just ‘DDLJ’, almost all films from the times gone by will not stand the scrutiny of today. From the Kapoors to the Khans, everybody’s on-screen love rituals would seem enormously problematic now.  

There were also responses from the other side.

“Why are people getting all worked up about this scene in 2019? Chill guys. The dude was almost lynched to death by the girl’s family & he still didn’t give up on her. Clearly you’re not gonna meet anyone like him. Stop this woke feminism. You’re making a joke of it (sic),” went a Twitter post.

R Raghuvanshi, a literature professor in Hyderabad, has a balanced take on the matter.

“Every film takes its cultural cue from the period it is set in. It is unfair to see a movie from the past through the prism of present. The refraction would be heavily bent only,” he says.

The opinion, thus, is divided. But for all practical purposes, the scene is troublesome at best.  All in all, Raj and Simran, last seen in a railway station, seem to have flagged off an interesting train of debate more than twenty years after they hit the big screen.