In 2019, it would perhaps be hard to believe or love a film like Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! whose entire climax hinges on the intelligence of an Indian spitz dog, named Tuffy. But twenty-five years ago, when the film first hit the theatres, it took India by storm, catapulted Salman Khan to new heights of stardom, solidified Madhuri Dixit's place as the No.1 heroine of Bollywood, and made Sooraj Barjatya the sole upholder of Indian middle class traditions and values, and the manufacturer of big-budget, family entertaining musicals.
The Indian film audience owes a lot to Hum Aapke Hai Koun...! Apparently, Karan Johar decided to become a filmmaker after watching this film. So, if you are a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai fan, you know which film to thank for it. Painter MF Hussain was so besotted by Dixit's Nisha that he went to the theatres every night to watch her dance to Didi Tera Devar Deewana. Reportedly, the artist watched this Barjatya film almost 85 times, making a considerable contribution in making this film such a box office hit. Also, Salman Khan loved his onscreen name 'Prem' so much that in altogether 15 movies, his character was called Prem.
But Hum Aapke Hai Koun...! is a special film for Indian audiences and Bollywood for a very different reason. With this film, Barjatya first introduced the concept of 'musicals' to India. Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! plays out like a broadway musical, with almost every scene accompanied by a song-and-dance sequence, which is used as a device to advance the plot. Until then, India had rarely seen a full-blown musical onscreen, although all Hindi films had song-and-dance sequences. The makers too were sceptical about releasing a film with 14 songs. So, the initial release only had 12 musical tracks, but as the film got an overwhelming response from the audience, and it was re-released across India later, the axed numbers were re-added.
Before Madhuri Dixit's Nisha in Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!, Sridevi had done several spunky yet charming roles in films like Chaalbaaz and Lamhe. But as an audience, it was really surprising to see Salman Khan play the restrained and sensitive, Prem in this film. Until then, the gender stereotypes were so rigid in Bollywood films, that the leading men were required to be heroic and larger-than-life. Therefore, they were never referred to as 'actors' but as 'heroes'. However, Prem's character embodied the nature of several upper middle-class men in their twenties, living in joint families in India, who had little representation as a 'romantic hero' in the world of Hindi movies until then.
One of the best and real aspects about Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! is the depiction of Prem and Nisha's romance. Despite all the campiness, cheesiness, song-and-dance, as well as the coughing signals, the onscreen romance captured the essence of how young people fell in love back in the '90s, especially in tier 2, tier 3 cities of India. Back in the day, when casual dating wasn't common in India, and in small towns, girls lived guarded lives, always under the watchful eyes of mothers, aunts and the many members of joint families, much like Prem and Nisha's love stories, several real-life romances too, bloomed during the festivities of weddings, under the nose of a house full of relatives.
Needless to say, that apart from romances during weddings, the film sparked many traditional and fashion-related trends back in the day. While Yash Chopra is solely responsible for introducing Karva Chauth to the rest of India who does not have to fast for the long lives of their husbands, it was Barjatya who taught us the wonderful ritual of joota chupai, which has now become a common tradition in many non-North Indian weddings as well. And let's just all say a big thank you to Dixit's designer for that wonderful blue blouse with a plunging back that she wore in the song Didi Tera Devar Deewana, because that inspired many young maidens forget about 'aunties kya kahenge' and embrace backless cholis in the wedding season.
A remake of Nadiya Ke Paar (1982), Hum Aapke Hai Koun...! also bagged the National Award for Best Popular Film for Wholesome Entertainment when it first released. Twenty-five years later, however, it hasn't aged well. If the film was made today, there are several aspects of it that would seem ridiculous. The funny scenes seem forced in retrospect, the obsessive need to make fun of various women characters is inexplicable. Both Nisha and her sister Pooja have no career per se, and their biggest ambition is to marry into another joint family and be ideal bahus. It is a film where a dog dances, becomes an emperor and saves the love life of two lead characters - imagine that in a modern-day movie script.
But in spite of the lack of logic, Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! still works in 2019. One of the biggest reasons for it is perhaps the fact that it takes us into a world that is populated with kind, warm and loving characters, and that has no place for villains or negative individuals. It introduces us to two families which are full of love, songs and happiness, and let's face it, all of us have wanted our own families to have those things. But our families, unlike Barjatya's filmi fams, are dysfunctional in their own ways, with members who have their own peculiarity and eccentricities. We always hope for the 'perfection' 'happiness' and the 'charm' (sans the corniness, and overt assertion of traditions) that families in Hum Aapke Hai Koun...! represents. Maybe that is why the film still works because what we cannot have in real life, we look for in our movies. Or, perhaps it is just our collective nostalgia. The '90s youngsters have aged with this film, memorising every scene, every song, Madhuri's grace and Prem's pining, and it is hard to give up on things we have loved with all our heart for so many years.
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