About halfway through the recently released Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Sonam Kapoor goes to the local gurudwara – the film is set in Moga, a town in Punjab – to meet Rajkummar Rao, a man who is in love with her. On her way, she passes an expanse of mustard blossoms. It’s a fleeting glimpse, but for anyone who discovered love with Raj and Simran in the iconic 1995 release, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), it’s difficult to not be reminded of the yellow fields, where the two lovers had lost themselves in each other’s arms, in the film.
Ek Ladki… is no conventional love story, and the passion Sonam Kapoor nurtures in her heart is not for Rao; but the mustard blooms hold as much promise of budding romance now, as they did back then. “It was a conscious decision to use the familiar settings of heterosexual love to tell a different love story,” says Shelly Chopra Dhar, director of Ek Ladki… We thus have Sonam explaining to Rao the kind of effect watching a love story should have on couples in the audience; we have the lovers meeting at a wedding; and… the mustard fields. “While shooting for Ek Ladki… DDLJ wasn’t on my mind,” says Dhar. But adds: “Any beautiful landscape is a perfect backdrop for a love story and a mustard field is one of them.”
An Agrarian Love Story
“The mustard fields are a particularly Punjabi image associated with the festival of Basant, the symbolic yellow colour of which is linked to the fields,” says Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, University of London. “Basant is a celebration of spring and also of romance, so the links to the film image aren’t surprising.” The first instance,she recalls, of seeing mustard fields in films is in the 1967 Manoj Kumar film Upkar. “There’s a song in the film Peeli peeli sarson phooli… aayi jhoom ke Basant. But there are only a few shots of the mustard flowers as most of it is shot at a mela”. Film historian and author Gautam Chintamani agrees. “While the portrayal of mustard fields in Hindi cinema didn’t start with DDLJ, the kind of focus the film had on the mustard flowers was new,” he says.
The film put Punjab firmly on the Bollywood map for the post-1995 filmmakers – Punjab with its dhol and bhangra beats, its people in colourful attire and its self-confessed love for love and land came to define ‘Indianness’ on screen. Yet there was nothing rustic about this image. DDLJ brought love – urban, modern, NRI love – to the fields of Punjab, making it as indispensable a part of romance as Kashmir and Switzerland had once been. Terrorism had made the former inaccessible, and foreign locales, many felt, had been over used. There was something charming and novel about the desi fields.
The old havelis, riversides, towns and cities of Punjab have all been seen on screen, but the fields – especially of mustard – remain a popular shooting spot. “Ever since DDLJ, filmmakers always enquire about the season for mustard blossoms before planning a shoot here,” says Darshan Aulakh, line producer, who has arranged for the shooting of many Hindi films in Punjab. It may not always be for an entire song, as in DDLJ, but there are glimpses of the yellow flowers in many of the films that followed – Singh Is Kinng, Dil Bole Hadippa, Veer Zaara, Mausam…
A Date With DDLJ
In a piece published on the magazine Outlook Traveller’s website, writer Mariellen Ward mentions one of the highlights of her first visit to Punjab: “The village of Nawapind Sardaran will always hold a special place for me because it was here that I was finally able to realise a long-held dream: draping a white dupatta over my shoulders, I ran through a mustard field in imitation of Kajol in the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”.
Ironically, Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam – the DDLJ song set in the mustard field – was not shot in Punjab, but in Haryana’s Gurgaon. “Three weeks before his January schedule, Aditya [Chopra, the film’s director] was scouting for sarson”, writes author and film critic Aupama Chopra in her book, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: A Modern Classic. But the flower proved difficult to find. “There were occasional patches of flowers, but not the sea of yellow that Aditya was looking for. Finally a local suggested looking in neighbouring Gurgaon.” It was here that Aditya Chopra found what he was looking for.
“That scene is the quintessential mitti ki khushboo kind of scene that was at the heart of the film,” recalls Anupama. “The film was all about what defined Hindustani – the NRI boy is more Hindustani at heart than the fiance from Punjab. And that scene stood for a return to roots.” The scene became iconic, because the film did, says Chintamani. But for that very reason, over the years, while Punjab has remained a popular locale, some filmmakers have tried to create their own imagery in the state.
Beyond Mustard Love
For filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, it is the wheat fields that work. It is there, as a backdrop in Jab We Met – as Kareena Kapoor Khan and Shahid Kapoor sit chatting on an old tractor. It is also there in Jab Harry Met Sejal, as Shah Rukh Khan returns with his lady love to a home he had left years ago. “The image that I get in my mind when I think of Punjab is of wheat fields,” says Ali. “I find more mustard fields in Rajasthan and Haryana now. And it is realistic representation. People do meet to talk in the fields in villages.”
For Anupama, an interesting – and bold – example of a Punjab-field romance is that of Mahie Gill (as Paro) going off into the fields to make love in Dev. D. “It’s been more than 23 years since the release of DDLJ. For the younger audience, the yellow fields may not symbolise romance,” says Chintamani. “For them it might just mean that it is some place in north India.”
Not for the generation that still, while rewatching the film, holds its breath till Simran’s father releases his hold on her hand, allowing her to run to her Raj. For such people the mustard field will always be the best date venue ever. Try posing in a field of yellow mustard and putting up the photo on social media. The comments are sure to include a reference to finding love!