Hum Aapke Hain Koun completes 25 years: How a wedding video-like film changed Bollywood
“How sad and bad and mad it was - but then, how it was sweet,” wrote the English poet Robert Browning, reflecting on nostalgia. It is also how the cult of Hum Aapke Hain Koun (HAHK) can be described, which came out on August 5, 1994. Yes, 25 years ago.
Millennials may now find it outdated and archaic, but back then Hum Aapke Hain Koun starring Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan was ‘the cool film’ and a game-changer for Bollywood. It was a reworked, ‘modern’ version of Rajshri Production’s own 1982 blockbuster, Nadiya Ke Paar, adapted from Keshav Prasad Mishra’s novel, Kohbar Ki Shart, a defining film about a sanskari family whose members are willing to sacrifice their happiness for the greater good.
There was an interesting role-reversal too. In Hum Aapke Hain Koun , the heroine -- played by Madhuri Dixit -- was spunky and the hero -- essayed by Salman Khan -- was shy. But sanskari ladka-ladki never kiss and the romance now feels dry.
After reviving the fortunes of Rajshri Productions with Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989, director Sooraj Barjatya took five years to come up with Hum Aapke Hain Koun. In retrospect it’s evident that he had not just planned a game-changer in terms of filmmaking (more than three hours long, a wafer-thin plot, no fight, no conflict, no villain) but had also strategised about distribution in ways that changed the Indian family’s film-going experience.
Those were the days when there was little excitement in going to theatres that were worn down with time, with little hope of resurrection. Families preferred watching films on video, as the theatres had stopped adding anything to the film-viewing experience. Almost all films had begun to be simultaneously released in theatres and on VHS. It was Sooraj Barjatya who revived the charm of the big screen.
In an intelligent move, he delayed the video release of Hum Aapke Hain Koun . He also decided to release the film in the new ‘Ultra Stereo Optical Sound’, for a better audio-visual experience. But most theatres did not have the systems in place for this. Barjatya refused to let them play Hum Aapke Hain Koun until they upgraded their theatres. Prior to its release, he even visited many single-screen theatres and asked them to revamp their seedy washrooms for the comfort of families.
They initially released the film with a limited number of prints. He wanted the film to grow through word of mouth. It did. With Hum Aapke Hain Koun , he hit the bull’s eye in many respects.
After Maine Pyar Kiya, Salman played a Prem again, but the film belonged to Madhuri Dixit. Her shimmering purple sari, backless blouse and kundan jewellery became a craze among women and was replicated at a million weddings of the time. From ‘Didi tera devar deewana’ and ‘Mausam ka jadoo’ to ‘Maaye ni maaye’ and ‘Wah wah Raamji’, Madhuri as Nisha was flawless.
Then there was the Pomeranian Tuffy, who had the most well-defined role and more intelligence than the entire khandaan put together. He was the coolest dog ever, playing cricket umpire, Cupid, confidant; he owned the climax by delivering the crucial letter in the final scene, so that things were finally sorted out within the family.
The India of the 1990s easily bought this wedding fantasy. We were convinced that weddings are supposed to or should be like the one in Hum Aapke Hain Koun , with didi ka devar, dulhe ki saaliyaan, joota churai and samdhi-samdhan glances. And I know at least four families who named their dogs Tuffy.
Initially, critics dismissedHum Aapke Hain Koun as a super-long shaadi ka video. One of them even called it ‘fourteen songs, two weddings and a funeral’. But the movie’s simple emotions and the family theme took the nation by storm. The big fat Indian wedding became a recurring theme in movies for years, inspiring filmmakers like Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who borrowed the style and emotions and garnished them with more sophistication in many of their films.
One may not be dazzled by the technical aspects of Hum Aapke Hain Koun anymore, but there are parts of the film where the emotions still ring true. It changed the face of the Hindi film business and brought the great Indian middle class back to the theatres, paving the way for the multiplex culture of today.