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25 years of DDLJ: Why Maratha Mandir continues to screen Aditya Chopra's film

Probably no other film anywhere in the world has had an uninterrupted theatrical run of over 24 years. Manoj Desai, executive director at Marathi Mandir, speaks about the marathon run of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Keyur Seta

Someone born in 1995 would be 25 now. A lot has changed in the world and in India in these two and a half decades. The world of 1995, without globalization or mobile phones, the internet, Google and social media, would be almost unrecognizable today, an era in which a film completing 100 days in theatres is almost unheard of.

And yet, Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) has been running continuously at Mumbai’s iconic Maratha Mandir since 1995. The film's run was only interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced all cinema halls shut earlier this year. Those in Maharashtra are yet to reopen.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, popularly known as DDLJ, is a romantic drama starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, who play Raj and Simran, respectively. The two fall in love after bumping into each other on a holiday through Europe and subsequently overcome various familial and familiar obstacles to unite.

Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

Maratha Mandir executive director Manoj Desai is one of those who has witnessed the film’s journey of 25 years from close quarters. He recalled that soon after the film’s release, the theatre management decided to keep it running for a long duration.

“Shah Rukh and Kajol were fresh faces. Aditya Chopra was a fresh director," Desai said, explaining the rationale for the decision. "At that time itself we decided we will play it for long. This can happen, one, if the film is a super-hit, which it was, and the music is also super-hit. The same is the case with the story. There is no defect in the film. It had a cute pair and foreign locations.”

In the 1990s, the management kept the ticket rates as low as Rs8, Rs10 and Rs12. “Today a waiter may refuse to take such an amount as tip," Desai joked. "But here people used to sit in the balcony for Rs12.”

Desai shared some interesting incidents relating to the film’s run at Maratha Mandir which, he said, are beyond his understanding. “A lot of couples see this film while dating," he said. "Then they get engaged, followed by marriage and honeymoon. After that they tell me how this film taught them dating, engagement and marriage! Then after their honeymoon they come to see the film again! Many couples have told us this.”

Desai said people dancing in the aisles during songs is a regular feature during the screening of the DDLJ. Even on weekdays, he said, the film would generate about 45% sales. "But if there is a national holiday the following day it goes up to 70%," he said. "And on weekends and during vacations, it is houseful! The film is regularly shown on TV. To see it still run in the theatre for 25 years is unthinkable.”

Interestingly, the DDLJ show is often thronged by sex workers from the nearby red-light area of Kamathipura. “They [have a tough life] at night, so they come here during the day to find happiness," Desai remarked. "I have this habit of checking out who is coming for the show. My manager told me they are sex workers. They said this is the only entertainment for them as their situation is terrible at night.”

Shah Rukh Khan and Anupam Kher

The sex workers always greet Desai with a namaste if they spot him. There is a reason. “We have a rule that sex workers and eunuchs don’t need to stand in queue,” he explained.

Another interesting aspect is that around 40% of the film's daily patrons are from outside Mumbai. These are people who watch the film before catching a train or bus home from the nearby Mumbai Central station or bus depot, both of which are just a shout away, with most train and bus departures scheduled for the evening.

When the film completed 10 years at the theatre, producer Yash Chopra visited Maratha Mandir and presented a trophy for the audience which is kept in the theatre. He also took Desai’s residential address. “I thought he wanted to send me some sweets," Desai recalled, "but he said he wanted to send me another trophy for myself.

"The next morning the bell rang. I was reading the newspaper. My wife opened the door and rushed towards me saying Yash Chopra has come. I was shocked! He said, ‘I know you would have accepted the trophy there too, but I wanted to visit your home’,” recalled Desai with a broad smile.

Manoj Desai in his Maratha Mandir office with the trophy presented by Yash Chopra

A few years ago, Aditya Chopra asked Desai the reason for keeping the rates as low as Rs20 and Rs25. “Shah Rukh Khan was also there," Desai said. "I told him [Chopra] please don’t feel bad, but try and run this film at normal rates in any other theatre and I will increase the rates. So they released it in one PVR outlet. Aditya Chopra called after two or three days and said only around 20 people had been turning up. I told them the film is A1, but the rates have their importance.”

Asked how long DDLJ will continue to be screened at Maratha Mandir, Desai responded, "As long as it keeps getting an audience." The question also reminded him of a mistake he had once committed. 

Farida Jalal, Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan

“Around five years ago, I said it’s the last week at Maratha Mandir [for DDLJ]," recalled Desai. "Agitated people came in groups of 40 or 50. My manager was shivering. I told him to send them up. I knew they were not going to hit me. They said they are ready to visit here to see the film, so why does it pain me to screen it? I had to give interviews saying I won’t pull the film down due to public demand; it will keep playing here.”

Surprisingly, Desai has seen DDLJ at one go just about half a dozen times. “There is no time," he said. "I also have to look after Gaiety-Galaxy [the G7 multiplex, where, too, he is executive director]. There are seven theatres there. And DDLJ is here only for the matinee show. Other films keep changing for the rest of the three shows in the day.”

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Indian cinema