When was the last time you watched your favorite ’90s movie? The ’90s weren’t all that long ago, and while it doesn’t seem like societal norms are all that different today, rewatching a few movies from the era will dispel that belief faster.
Where things get very dicey, very quickly, is when a lot of the humor and even the themes that directors and writers (and audiences) were perfectly comfortable with then, makes us cringe today and some of it makes us downright sick to our stomachs.
With that in mind, it’s time to take off those nostalgic drunk-goggles, and unearth some of these forgotten relics that have aged less like fine wine and more like vinegar.
1- Darr (1993)
Shah Rukh Khan’s character Rahul in Darr grabbed more eyeballs, where the audience actually applauded him for carving Kiran’s name on his chest with a knife. Darr exposed the meaning of obsession and fear.
Shikha K, who was barely out of nappies when the film released, was thoroughly impressed by the film as a teen. “I was smitten by him and his role in Darr as an obsessive, villainous character. It felt like a departure from anything he had done before,” the 31-year-old said.
But today, Shikha, who is a campaign manager with a non-profit, feels differently about the film and cannot bear to watch it again. “I have had significant experiences as a woman since. The movie glorifies stalking and can be triggering and disturbing. The ‘90s’ Bollywood tropes of forced consent — tu haan kar ya na kar — just will not cut it today,” Shikha said.
2- Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994)
The family drama was a huge huge hit back then. It redefined blockbusters and went full-house for weeks. Priyanka Dhawan, who was 12 when the film released, remembers how people thronged theatres to watch the movie. She said,
“It revolved around two things our country continues to obsess over — weddings and the Indian value system. And everyone loved the chemistry between Salman Khan’s Prem and Madhuri Dixit’s Nisha. And I was in love with their love.”
But her opinion changed as an adult when her parents insisted her to let them find her a groom. “I was 23 and starting a career in advertising but my parents were insistent that I marry. A friend of my dad’s had suggested an engineer nephew as the prospective groom and they all thought it was the perfect match. The boy, apparently, had left it to his family to take the call. Mom and dad felt I should do the same. It made me see through the ridiculousness of arranged marriage as depicted in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!,” the Mumbai-based marketing professional said.
Priyanka denied and left Chandigarh to take a job in Delhi but each revisit of the film makes her see new flaws. “If a man loses his wife, how does it become her sister’s responsibility to take care of him and his family? The women in the film seem to have no agency and are weighed down by the burden of their family’s expectations. These characters are placed on a pedestal, making it tough for women like me to be appreciated for our individuality,” Priyanka, who remains unmarried, said.
But I don’t know what was more problematic, Nisha’s parents wanting her to marry her late sister’s husband thereby sacrificing their daughter’s life or the fact that a dog had to come to her rescue.
3- Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)
DDLJ is considered one of Bollywood’s classic romances. The songs were nice, and SRK and Kajol’s chemistry basically makes this nostalgia gold for us all. But, there’s no denying it had so, so many flaws.
Shivani Shah, a Mumbai-based screenwriter, said she was excited when the film released because it looked “so pretty and lovely and funny”. However, she now sees it with new eyes.
“When I first watched DDLJ, I found Simran’s dad very unlike mine but many women around me had strict fathers like Amrish Puri’s Baldev Singh. When I revisit the film now, I feel as if he treats his daughter like cattle that he drags all the way to a village in India, taking away from her any agency over her own life. How is that any different from a khap panchayat?” she said.
Also, Raj (SRK) actually stalked Simran (Kajol) incessantly despite her rejecting him. He even fooled her into thinking that they had slept together on a night Simran was obviously way too drunk to give consent.
She said, “After making a joke about what is technically a rape, he goes on to judge women who have premarital sex. Why, aren’t those women, especially foreigners, not worthy of respect?”
4- Pardes (1997)
A rich NRI who loves all things desi, even though he lives and earns in the US, his great Indian dream is to find a desi bahu for his wayward ‘westernised’ son so she can help him mend his ways. Pardes was a three-hour propaganda about the sanskari-ness of India by dissing every other culture.
Mohit Chauhan, an ad film writer and lyricist from Ghaziabad, appreciates that the film emphasises that marriage cannot bridge ideological gaps between people, he also believes that the heroine’s character is representative of many things that are wrong with India today.
“Depicted as the epitome of Indian culture and values, a hypernationalist Ganga expects Rajeev to understand the idea of consent but does not respect men and women who have consensual premarital sex. Her attitude towards the American life also shows a revulsion for anything that is ‘different’ from her own ideas, habits, and culture. This is a deep-seated issue that is at the root of our racist attitudes even towards other Indian citizens, including people from the Northeast, adivasis, and many other communities,” Mohit said, adding that if the film were re-released today it would probably still be a box-office success.
5- Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)
Well, Rahul is a cheater and Anjali should’ve known better. Re-watching this made me realise how Rahul fell for Anjali only because she didn’t look as ‘jhalli’ as she did back in college.
The problem that Janaki V points out is the hypocrisy of the movie where the guy realises his feelings for the girl only after she undergoes a makeover from a basketball-playing tomboy to a saree-and-bangles-wearing, bhajan singing woman. “He only noticed his best friend after she gave up being a tomboy,” she recounted.
The Mumbai-based teleplay writer has come to despise the film for other reasons too. “It is awful that Anjali gave up her education midway because she couldn’t get the guy she wanted. And everyone around her seems to be fine with the fact that she is still moping about the guy she liked back in college. And once you stop being a tomboy, you can no longer play basketball? That is one of the ridiculous ideas that the film seems to push,” she said.
6- Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999)
The movie was a visual and auditory delight at the time. The movie tells that don’t marry someone just because they look good. Talk to them, get to know them, find out about any former lovers in Italy before you make the decision.
Nidhi Das, who had ‘lost’ her crush to the “prettiest girl in the class”, could feel every bit of Sameer’s pain when she first watched the film at the age of 14. But the Mumbai-based homemaker can barely stand the film today. “The whole movie feels like a lead up to the final scene where Vanraj puts the mangalsutra around Nandini’s neck. The film in fact revolves around the dated idea that the mangalsutra forges a bond stronger than any other. It pushes women to believe that no matter how much you love someone, you can eventually adjust to a new life chosen for you by your parents,” the 35-year-old said.
Nidhi, who herself had an arranged marriage said that Vanraj is the typical ‘safe’ and ‘marriageable’ man that family elders admire, while Sameer is the avant garde artist that no parent wants their daughter to marry. Nidhi also finds Aishwarya’s character deceptive and immature.
“She shuns Vanraj but won’t tell him why. And then on a whim she decides to abandon Sameer for her husband because she falls for his dedication for her. I wish she’d had an ounce of the same spirit earlier in the film because if she had, she would have reunited with Sameer.”
7- Kaho Na… Pyar Hai (2000)
The movie introduced us to a new heartthrob in the form of Hrithik Roshan. Bengaluru-based IT professional Shantanu Mahesh, believes that everything about the movie needs to be promptly forgotten, “starting with Amisha Patel”.
“Each time I watch bits of this film today, I feel as if the filmmakers took the audiences for fools. Apart from the heroine’s poor acting, the film is ridden with loopholes, like the strings of coincidences that the plot rests on. How can you come across a stranger so many times till you fall for them, and then also their lookalike in another country?” said Shantanu.
To Janaki, it is the unending cliches and mansplaining that she cannot sit through anymore. “In one scene where Sonia is seen applying makeup, Rohit mansplains to her about how beauty lies in simplicity. In the very next scene she is seen in traditional Indian-wear for her birthday where she quotes him to a friend. I’d be furious if a guy tried to tell me how I should dress.”
Looks like I’ll never be able to look at these movies the same way I once did, and neither should you.