It was perhaps the month of March, in the year 2002. I was studying in the College of Basic Science at Bhubaneswar. At that point in time, we had the final year examination, which almost went for a month. I don’t remember exactly which subject it was, but there was a considerable amount of gap between the one I had just appeared for and the next one. As we walked out of examination hall, Kiran, one of my best buddies, asked –

‘Wanna see a movie?’

‘Which one?’

‘RHTDM’

‘Abey, didn’t we see it last year only?’

‘So what? Let’s see one more time!’

‘What about the exam?’

‘C’mon man, one show!’

So both of us hopped on my Hero Puch (now defunct, then legendary) moped, drove like maniacs in the leisurely mundane Bhubaneswar traffic, and landed up in Keshari talkies to watch a film, which by that time, had been seen by us, multiple times in theatres and pirated CDs. And its impact had been massive. Every college-goer was trying to light the cigarette by flicking the matchstick from the box. Every lovesick guy was hoping to get that ‘my kind of girl’ . Every heartbroken fellow who hoped to get back to his beloved used to listen to ‘Sach Keh Raha Hai Deewana’ on repeat. Every guy wanted to be Maddy. It’s been twenty years since I saw this film. Kiran and I are not in touch anymore, owing to life and its ever-running spectacles. But I would still fondly remember that day, where we went to see this film, repeated each dialogue, hooted, sang, and danced to each song. Such was the craze of ‘Rehna Hai Tere Dil Main’ aka ‘RHTDM’.

‘RHTDM’ is the story of Madhab Shastri aka Maddy. As the film begins, with the credits rolling, the audience sees a wild, rowdy Maddy, causing havoc in his Engineering college with his antics. Various mischiefs and a running feud with his college senior Sam pushes both of them into a brawl, which thanks to timely intervention from the college authorities, remains unfulfilled. Many years later, now a much subdued Maddy, works as a software consultant, lives in Mumbai with his widowed father Dindayal who owns a video library called DD’s and spends his time with a bunch of happy-go-lucky friends. He loves his life so much that he even rejects an onsite opportunity to stay back in Mumbai. A chance encounter with an unnamed girl dancing on a rainy night makes him fall in love with her. Persistently snooping around the girl and her friend, he gets two important pieces of information – Her name is Reena Malhotra and she’s about to get engaged/married to a guy called Rajiv from America who by the way, she has never met or even seen his photo! 

Egged on by his friends and father, Maddy impersonates Rajiv and meets Reena. As luck would’ve it, Reena also falls for a charming Maddy, disguised as Rajiv. Tragedy strikes the couple at the opportune moment as Reena comes to know that Maddy isn’t the person he claims to be. Rejected and in a fit of rage, Maddy channelizes his now-dormant old image of a ruffian and goes to confront Rajiv who’s by this time has arrived from America. Surprises, surprises! As Vrajesh Heerji would retort in the film – “Arey mind-blowing, Old Villain Re-entry!!” Rajiv turns out to be Rajiv Samra aka Sam, Maddy’s old nemesis from college days. Seeking revenge from the past, Sam gives a hard time to Maddy. Heartbroken, lost and now completely shattered Maddy decides to leave for America for that job offer he had rejected once. After a terrific sad song, customary Airport sequence and magnanimity from Sam ensures Maddy and Reena end up together. 

The supremely talented R Madhavan, who played Maddy made his Hindi film debut with ‘RHTDM’ along with an ethereal Dia Mirza who played Reena. Saif Ali Khan played Sam, the nemesis to the love story and completed the third angle of this troika. ‘RHTDM’ was a remake of the Tamil blockbuster ‘Minnale’ (2001) directed by Gautham Menon and was launched with a huge fanfare. Such was its craze that Sare Gama HMV had produced two cassettes and CDs for its music, among which one had the songs from the original album and the other featured four bonus title tracks. They had even run a contest to decide which song should be the title song. Each song of this film had become a chartbuster. Music by Harris Jayraj was scintillating. The title song sung by Sonu Nigam was fantastic. ‘Zara Zara’ and ‘Dil Ko Tumse Pyaar Hua’ are still the favourites of many whereas KK’s rendition of ‘Such Keh Raha Hai Deewana’ became the official breakup song, until recently when ‘Channa Mereya’ took up that mantle. Another reason this film is remembered is for its quirky dialogues and superb comedy especially by the ensemble cast led by Vrajesh Hirjee, Hemant Pandey, Kabir Sadanand and Anupam Kher. The friendly banters, the traffic signal and subsequent accident scene, the Titanic analogy, the confrontation scene, every sequence of this film remain memorable. 

In the last twenty years, a lot of water has flown under the bridge. By today’s standards, ‘RHTDM’ essentially highlights toxic masculinity. Its portrayal of a leading man accosting a woman, to get her attention and lying to her to get romantically involved with her and then getting abusive upon rejection, is deeply problematic. One can draw parallels with ‘Kabir Singh’ (2019) and can see the similarities. Having said that, ‘RHTDM’ remains hugely popular, because somehow people can see themselves in this flawed leading man. This man, having spent all his life in tomfoolery, gets serious about love and even then, his chequered past shows up to torment his present. Despite being wrong at each step of his life, his tryst with truth eventually makes him finally get to the love of his life. A fairy tale ending to a bad boy’s tumultuous love story gave hope to every lovelorn fellow out there. Deep down inside, every individual was a mere reflection of Maddy.

There is no simple way of offering an explanation of why people still like this film, which was a financial failure at its time of release but now has attained a cult status. Maybe it was a simpler time when people used to love fantasies laden with melodies. Maybe it was the breezy lighthearted comedy that made the film immensely watchable. Maybe it’s the sheer nostalgia of the film that is so intoxicating that it takes back the viewer to that vintage era that reminds of the good, old days of friendship and long lost first love. Perhaps there’s a reason why a certain group of people, of the same age hail this film as a classic whereas for others, it’s just another film. Perhaps seeing this film reminds them of the person they were once before.

At least for me, it does!

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