It's been 25 years since Sridevi-Anil Kapoor's Lamhe shocked us

Revisiting Yash Chopra's finest romance, a quarter of a century after its release.

Sonal Pandya

Coming off a massive hit with the love story Chandni (1989) featuring Rishi Kapoor, Sridevi and Vinod Khanna, Yash Chopra's next film was the grand romance Lamhe (1991) with an unusual love triangle. Chandni (1989) would set the bar high for romances. It furthered established Yash Chopra's reputation as a filmmaker who knew how to depict passion and love onscreen with his trademark touch of chiffon saris and foreign locales.

Lamhe was former child artiste Honey Irani's first story and screenplay. Like his previous Waqt (1965), Lamhe was the story from the perspective of the rich and elite. Anil Kapoor is Virendra Pratap Singh, a orphaned and wealthy landowner from Rajasthan, who returns to his ancestral home after his education in London. Waheeda Rehman is Dai jaa, his devoted nursemaid, who introduces him to the way of life back home and also to Pallavi, the daughter of his neighbour and family friend.

Sridevi, who plays Pallavi, is introduced onscreen in a memorable rehash of a Rajasthani folk song, 'Morni Baaga Ma Bole'. Till today, the image of Sridevi dressed in a yellow and blue ghagra (Neeta Lulla won the National Award for her costumes in the film) across the sand dunes in Rajasthan immediately brings to mind the song 'Choodiyan Khanak Gayi' sung by Ila Arun and Lata Mangeshkar and beautifully composed by the music directors Shiv-Hari.

In his brief time spent at home, Viren is fascinated by the older Pallavi in every sense and can't help falling in love with her. But Pallavi is in love with a pilot, Siddharth Bhatnagar (model Deepak Malhotra in his film debut), and marries him instead. Heartbroken, Viren goes back to London thinking he will never see Pallavi again. He returns when the couple is involved in a tragic accident killing Siddharth while Pallavi lives only to give birth to a daughter.

Viren leaves her infant daughter Pooja in Dai jaa's care and retreats to his home in London. He returns once a year on Pallavi's death anniversary and is shocked when, 18 years later, he meets Pooja who looks exactly like her mother. Pooja is as vivacious as her mother but is also her opposite in many ways. Both Viren and Pooja get to know one another more when she and Dai jaa visit him in London.

In this half of the film, Pooja falls for Viren, not realizing his regard for her mother. It is evident to everyone around them except Viren. There are light-hearted moments with Anupam Kher as Viren's best friend, Prem, and a few gorgeously shot romantic songs in Europe featuring Chopra's leading lady in white. From here on in, it's only a matter of time before they both come to their senses and end up with each other.

After being the object of affection in Chopra's previous Chandni (1989), Sridevi did double duty in Lamhe as Pallavi and her young daughter Pooja. She also played a mother-daughter double role in Khuda Gawah (1992), but was especially distinguished as the traditional Pallavi and the modern Pooja. Anil Kapoor took a big gamble with this role; Kapoor shaved off his moustache for his look as the young Viren during the first half of the film. It was the first time he had done this onscreen. Lamhe was one of the last times that Rehman worked with Chopra; he got her to dance onscreen to her iconic song from Guide (1965), 'Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai'.

The film had its premiere on 20 November 1991 and released the next day. The general perception in the film's failing was that audiences couldn't accept the ending when the older Viren ends up with his former love's daughter. Another film which released at the same time, Phool Aur Kaante (1991), debuted two new actors, Ajay Devgn and Madhoo, and became a surprise hit. Devgn somehow became the action hero that audiences had been waiting for, sidelining the romance of Lamhe.

The Filmfare Awards seemed undeterred by Lamhe's lack of popularity. The film was nominated for a total of eight awards and won five, for Best Film, Best Actress, Best Comedian for Anupam Kher, Best Story for Honey Irani and Best Dialogues for Dr Rahi Masoom Reza (he won the award posthumously). Despite being a failure at the box-office, the film remains a hit overseas and is in high demand on repeated home viewings and on television.

Karan Johar counts Lamhe as his most favourite film and is the reason why he decided to become a filmmaker. It became a cult classic, a romance rejected as being too forward. Chopra himself held the film dear to his own heart, calling Lamhe his favourite and a long-held ambition to get onscreen. Which is why years later, it remains a classic, both in the careers of Chopra and his actors, Sridevi and Kapoor.