Staging a Hindi movie classic on Broadway with a white lead insults all of us

·2 min read

The news that a blockbuster movie from my childhood is to hit Broadway with a white lead has left me exasperated.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge hit the silver screen almost 30 years ago and its acronym, DDLJ, confirms its iconic status. Quoted by Barack Obama and recently mentioned in an episode of Disney’s Ms Marvel, the romcom changed the face of Hindi cinema.

At its surface, it was the story of a second-generation couple who met while Interrailing across Europe, and fell in love. But DDLJ also created a shared experience. The first few bars of the musical score are enough to transport me back to a gentler time, when I was young, naive and ready to believe in the promise of life.

The 1995 film starred relative newcomers Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, and cemented their place as A list stars. Her long, dark tresses swept across the screen against the backdrop of snow-capped Swiss alps and the bright yellow mustard fields of Punjab.

The couple’s chemistry was more based on comedic timing and snappy one-liners than sizzling sex appeal but, for me, the story was also about more than romance. It was about family, changing values, crossing cultures and the ways my generation navigated life.

Hearing that Raj will now be Roger alters the entire narrative for me – despite the fact that writer and director Aditya Chopra originally wrote the part with Tom Cruise in mind.

Money-men look to the past to forecast a project’s success, which means we often get more of the same. The system stifles creativity, and as a brown storyteller it means it can be hard to get commissions.

Diluting cultural differences is insulting to those of us whose stories are being made palatable and to white audiences who it is assumed can’t see past their own skin colour. We definitely need to see stories of white men falling in love with South Asian women. It is a tale of our times. But it isn’t DDLJ.

  • Saima Mir is a journalist, writer and author of the novel The Khan