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20 years of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and its Woh 7 Din influence

On the anniversary of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film's release today (18 June), we look back at the similarities with the 1983 film Woh 7 Din, starring Anil Kapoor and Padmini Kolhapure.

Sonal Pandya

After making his directorial debut with Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s second was Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). Now considered a modern classic, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam became a definitive feature in Bhansali’s oeuvre, creating the style and tropes that he has since been associated with — lavish sets, grand costumes and musical melodies that serve as set pieces.

The film, a love triangle, featured the first-time pairing of actor Salman Khan and actress Aishwarya Rai. They played Sameer and Nandini, respectively, in the musical, falling in love and then getting separated.

Sameer arrives at Nandini’s palatial home to learn music from her father. Since she has to vacate her room for the new arrival, Nandini dislikes Sameer, but over time they grow closer and fall in love.

However, Nandini’s marriage has been arranged with Vanraj (Ajay Devgn), a complete opposite to the gregarious Sameer.

Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

The lovestruck couple is eventually separated. Despite Nandini’s protests and a suicide attempt, she is married off to Vanraj.

Vanraj, however, comes to know that Nandini was already in love with someone else and, quaintly enough, decides to find Sameer and reunify them. 

For the 1990s generation, the film’s story was fresh and executed with flair. After all, Vanraj takes Nandini all the way to Europe to reunite her with her lover.

But the Bhansali film drew plenty of inspiration from Woh 7 Din (1983), which followed almost the same storyline 16 years earlier. 

Woh 7 Din that sent Anil Kapoor's career rocketing

Woh 7 Din, starring Anil Kapoor, Padmini Kolhapure and Naseeruddin Shah, was actually a remake of a 1981 Tamil film, Andha 7 Natkal. Like Woh 7 Din, Kolhapure’s Maya and Rai’s Nandini are much the same. They follow similar arcs in the respective films.

Both fall madly in love, are despondent when they lose their first love, and come to see their eventual husbands in a new light after spending time with them. And, importantly, the bonds of marriage immediately change their appearance. Gone are the carefree passionate girls; instead, the two women are dressed in saris and observe the marital traditions at home.

In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Sameer is a singer-musician; Woh 7 Din’s Prem (Anil Kapoor) is also a musician. The husbands in both features — Dr Anand (Naseeruddin Shah) and Vanraj — don’t show their emotions much, but the two are deeply concerned with doing the right thing. 

The main difference between the two films is the treatment. Woh 7 Din was directed by Bapu who had adapted the film first in Telugu as Radha Kalyanam (1981). Produced by Boney Kapoor, Woh 7 Din was actually a vehicle to show off younger brother Anil’s acting chops. The gamble worked.

With Shah and Kolhapure, and a solid music album by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, the film became a box-office hit. So did Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Buoyed by the pairing of the good-looking Khan and Rai, the film had a beautiful score by Ismail Darbar with songs that went on to become instant hits.

Bhansali showed off his skills and storytelling technique with his second film. The filmmaker, who started out in the industry as a choreographer, carried over the narrative of the love story and later the love triangle to the songs. The costumes were lavish, the sets were grand, it was extravagance at its best.

Vicky Kaushal and Taapsee Pannu in Manmarziyaan (2018)

The legacy of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam 20 years later is that every filmmaker tries to imbibe that Sanjay Leela Bhansali style. Even now films like Manmarziyaan (2018) are inspired by the romance drama. The Anurag Kashyap film, in a way, dealt with the love triangle in a more modern, destructive way. 

And as recently as Kalank (2019), Alia Bhatt’s Roop could well have been Nandini’s distant relative. Bhatt was given the same treatment in Kalank as Rai in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, complete with the introduction song and her joie de vivre.