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Director Natashja Rathore on set of her new documentary 'Still Rolling: The DDLJ Story.' Image source: London Film School

When film student Natashja Rathore began planning what would become her thesis film at the London Film School, she ultimately decided to dive into the popularity of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” one of the most beloved Bollywood films of the 1990s. Starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol as a young Indian couple who meet and fall in love while on vacation in Europe, the 1995 Aditya Chopra film was highly praised as an instant classic.

Rathore’s documentary “Still Rolling: the DDLJ Story” makes its New York debut at the New York Indian Film Festival on Saturday, May 12. We got to chat with Rathore at the festival’s opening reception about her film and DDLJ’s lasting appeal.

The Teal Mango: Why do you think DDLJ is so appealing to audiences all of these years later?

Natashja Rathore: Good question, because that’s exactly what my film is about. It is about investigating why people love it. After doing so much research and traveling to all of these places I don’t think I can come down to a complete answer as to why people love it. I think it’s just one of those things where you can switch off your brain and it’s a story that speaks to everyone in one way and another.

It’s a film I grew up with it has been so fascinating to me to see how it has resonated with generations of my grandparents my parents me and even the kids of today. And I think it was one of the first films to cross borders and appeal to the NRI audience. And for a film to have run for 22 years consecutively, I hadn’t heard of that happening before.

TTM: The theater you center your film around has been showing ‘DDLJ’ for decades. Where is the theater and how did you find it?

NR: So it is quite a prominent theater, it’s called the Maratha Mandir. It’s right opposite Bombay Central Station, so you can’t miss it. I grew up passing by that street and seeing the sign for the film, so it has always been like 500 weeks [running], 500 weeks, 1000 weeks. So it was like ‘when is this film going to ever go off?’

It’s quite an experience. Every Sunday, it is a full house and it plays every single day at 11 o’clock in the the morning.

TTM: When did you see ‘DDLJ’ for the first time? Do you remember?

NR: I don’t remember really but I’ve watched the film over 50 times, I was probably 5 years old when I first watched it, in the cinema in Singapore I think. I was born and brought up in Singapore and I then moved to Mumbai when I was in 5th grade. I am a film nerd and this film was my graduate film at the London film school.

TTM: What makes you personally feel connected to this movie?

NR: For me personally, I think it was the songs. The music made DD. My personal favorite song is ‘Na Jaane Mere Dil Ko.’

TTM: Do you have a favorite scene as well?

NR: I do actually. My favorite scene is at the station when they are parting ways after their Switzerland trip. There is no ‘I love you’ throughout the film, but that scene is the ‘I love you.’

TTM: Was it ‘DDLJ’ that started the whole Switzerland boom in Bollywood?

NR: Yes, it did and that’s part of my film as well. We shot a lot in Switzerland because it is one of the films that started Switzerland trend.

Rathore and her crew also filmed on location in Switzerland as they traced the history of ‘DDLJ.’ Image source: London Film School

TTM: It had a huge impact. I remember that famous New York Times article about how all of those Bollywood films of the 1990s created an wave of Indian tourists to Switzerland.  

NR: Yes, there is a life size cut out of the ‘DDLJ’ cast on one of the mountains and it is really fascinating because all of the indians are not taking pictures of the view, they are taking pictures of the poster.

“Still Rolling: The DDLJ Story” is showing at the New York Indian Film Festival on May 12. For more information, click here. Be sure to also check out our conversation with ‘Breaking the Bee’ director Sam Rega.