The ’90s were an exciting time — cable TV descended from the skies, renting videos was no longer so necessary, and the big screen offered up blockbusters that were glossier and more glamorous than ever before. There were slick thrillers, grand romances, capers through foreign landscapes, and our favourite stars seemed to be at the top of their form. We loved it all.
But how many of these blockbusters can we revisit without cringing today? Here’s a list of some films that haven’t aged well at all, and are difficult to watch even with a sense of nostalgia. That Shah Rukh Khan features in a majority of these is incidental, but makes one question his choice of films and why we continue to love him.
1. Darr (1993)
The stage for Darr was set by Baazigar, which had released just a month prior and had attained superhit status. Baazigar had also been a game-changer for Shah Rukh Khan, who had revived the archetype of the antihero after establishing himself as a charming loverboy in a slew of romantic films. In Darr, Khan’s role as the homicidal stalker Rahul (to Juhi Chawla’s hapless Kiran) was several shades darker than his character in Baazigar. It seemed path-breaking at the time.
Shikha K was barely out of nappies when the film released, but she had grown up watching people imitate Khan’s trademark stammer in Darr (who can forget K-k-k-Kiran?) and 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 campaigns 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,” she said.
In a (slow) changing world where the #MeToo movement has created a new era of awareness about consent, Darr’s romanticisation of stalking is naturally disgusting to many. “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)
At a time when songs decided the fate of a film, the 14 chartbusters in Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! had guaranteed that the movie would be a hit even before it released. The ‘family-friendly’ film redefined blockbusters and went full-house for weeks. Priyanka Dhawan was 12 but vividly remembers how people thronged cinema halls, family in tow, to watch the musical extravaganza. “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,” the 38-year-old said.
Priyanka revised her opinion of the movie as an adult when her parents insisted that she 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.
At the time, Priyanka put her foot down 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.
3. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)
When it was released, the Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan starrer seemed flawless. It had the perfect love story. A heroine from a conservative yet relatable family who stirred in a lot of young women the idea of travelling with girlfriends. A hero who was charming yet intense, witty yet serious enough to follow his lady love all the way to India from the UK. Pretty much no one disliked DDLJ back in the day. But this has been changing for some time now, and many people — especially women — who once swooned over the film now wince at many aspects of it.
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.
The exchange between Simran and Raj after she wakes up from a night of drinking appalls the 37-year-old today. “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 father finds a sanskari girl for his wayward ‘westernised’ son so she can help him mend his ways. In keeping with her Indian values, she disapproves of drinking and premarital sex and sings ballads in praise of her country in a foreign land. When she goes on a vacation with her fiance, he attempts to rape her when she refuses sex, and she escapes; her only ally is her fiance’s foster brother (whom she later falls for). We loved Pardes back then, mostly for Shah Rukh Khan’s charming Arjun who is able to be a friend to lonely homesick Ganga (Mahima Chaudhury).
Mohit Chauhan, an ad film writer and lyricist from Ghaziabad, remembers looking forward to the film for its music, although he ended up watching it on cable television a few months after the release. While the 31-year-old 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)
At a time when romance was considered the be-all and end-all, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’s trailers legitimised the idea of a friendship between a man and a woman. This and the stellar cast of the film — Shah Rukh Khan with Kajol and Rani Mukerji — had Janaki V so excited that within the first week of the film’s release, she got together with two friends to watch it at Mumbai’s famous single-screen theatre, Gaiety. While she had enjoyed the film, shedding a tear when Anjali boarded the train and when Salman Khan’s Aman sacrificed his love in honour of Anjali’s feelings, she had even then been disappointed by certain aspects. As a 16-year-old who’d been struggling with insecurities about her own appearance, she’d found the hero’s character shallow for his obsession with the so-called pretty girls. “He only noticed his best friend after she gave up being a tomboy,” the 38-year-old 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)
Bollywood had done grandeur before but Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam took opulence to the next level. The sets, the colour schemes, the lighting, and the music of the film made it a visual and auditory delight at the time. What made the love story even more powerful was Salman Khan’s charming and devoted Sameer eventually losing his lady love Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) to another man (Vanraj, played by Ajay Devgn).
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 six years ago, said 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)
This January 2000 release introduced us to a new heartthrob in the form of Hrithik Roshan (in a ‘double role’) and alerted newlywed couples to the joys of Thailand as a honeymoon destination. And it gave us all Lucky Ali. Everything else about Kaho Na… Pyar Hai, believes Bengaluru-based IT professional Shantanu Mahesh, 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, adding that the lack of effort extended even to the film’s theme music, which was lifted by Rajesh Roshan from the song ‘Voices’ by the Greek musician Vangelis.
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.”