In 'Come Fall in Love,' the music brings it home
"Come Fall in Love – The DDLJ Musical" is the next big Broadway-bound musical getting its roots in San Diego. The Old Globe officially opens the production Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.
The play is an adaptation of a beloved Indian film, the 1995 Hindi-language rom-com musical "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge." It's the story of Simran, an Indian-American young woman with an arranged marriage awaiting her in India. But first, she sets out on a summer trip across Europe, where she meets someone else.
The stage adaptation is by prolific Broadway lyricist Nell Benjamin, and new music from the Mumbai-based musical duo known as Vishal and Sheykhar. Vishal Dadlani and Sheykhar Ravjiani spoke with KPBS Arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans, and here's their conversation.
Vishal, can you give our listeners a sense for the story and why this original film has been so enduring and so beloved?
Vishal: So "Come Fall in Love" the musical is based on, or is rather an adaptation of an Indian film called "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge," popularly known as "DDLJ," which is a seminal firm in the history of the Indian film industry. A film that has transcended being a story and become sort of part of the fabric of modern Indian culture. Why this happened, I think, is because of the beauty of the love story and the fact that at the core, the film talks about the commonality of human emotion. The film itself is about the fact that people are people, across various sort of boundaries of, say, culture and so on and so forth. And the musical is about that as well. It's about unifying people from across various backgrounds. It's about the meeting of cultures through the love of two young people. Within a few minutes of starting to watch the musical, it's your story. Wherever you're from and whatever your background is, it's your story. So that's, I think, why people relate to it so strongly.
Sheykhar, I was wondering what your own background is with the original film, whether you'd grown up watching it and maybe how that shaped your approach to penning new music?
Sheykhar: I think it's very rare to find anyone who is not a big fan of the film. The film came out in the year 1995, and I remember going and watching this film with my wife, and I was 19 years old when I went to see this film. It just became an iconic love story ... and still it's been talked about. Every character is spoken about even today, every line, every dialogue, every comic moment is even used in everyday banter, even now. This movie is still in theaters right now. And when Adi (Aditya Chopra, the original filmmaker and director of The Old Globe's production) kind of offered us this script, which was actually an adaptation of "DDLJ," we were very excited and very thrilled because all the memories of the songs, all the memories of the dialogues, the characters in the film ... it just took us a little time to figure out how to disconnect from the film, because this is a totally new adaptation altogether. And for Vishal and I, we immediately jumped into what Nell had written. Nell has written — she's the author and the writer for "Come Fall in Love." She's written all the songs down, lyrics and book. And then we kind of started making music and we realized something really, really cool — we have 18 brand new English songs which we've composed in "Come Fall in Love." And the movie has, I think, five or six songs which are very popular. But we've made 18 new songs for "Come Fall in Love."
Vishal, what are some of the elements or the songs that have been maintained from the original movie?
Vishal: I just want to say that there are hat tips to the songs from the film, because we are fans as well, but they don't feature as songs — as much as they feature as transitions and moments. The audience explodes with joy when they find these little Easter eggs that we've popped into the underscores or the storytelling. And I think it's magical to see that. It's magical to see the effect that nostalgia still has on our audiences. And it's also magical to see that we're able to give them an entirely new story with entirely new music and just hints of the original songs, and it all works as one because of the universality of the story itself of "Come Fall in Love."
Vishal, on the flip side, what are the biggest things that have changed in this adaptation?
Vishal: The fundamental thing is that this is now a story of the meeting of two cultures. It's the story of the American culture, as well as the Indian culture or the Indian-American culture meeting through the love of these two characters, Roger Mandel and Simran Singh. For whatever it's worth, that in itself is a major change. There's also entirely new music. The songs are very celebratory. India is a huge character in this show. India is right up front and center. Sheykhar and I, when we set out to do this, one of the fundamental things we really wanted to sort of have running as a thread through all of it, was that anyone who watches it, if you're South Asian and you watch it, you feel like you're home and you feel like you want to go home. You feel like you want to reconnect with your roots. And if you're not South Asian, you feel all the same things, but you want to reach out and learn more about India or South Asia. You want to be part of that culture, of that sound, of that music, of the colors and the joy and the magic and the vivacity of that part of the world.
So the film was a story of an Indian boy and girl, but it was conceived as this story by Adi (the original filmmaker and director of The Old Globe's production) when he was a young writer writing his first film. What he wanted to make was a story of the love between an American boy and an Indian-American girl and tell of the meeting of the two cultures. And both cultures finding understanding.
And Sheykhar, have you had any pushback from big fans of the original? What has the reception been like so far?
Sheykhar: My reception has been absolutely brilliant. Actually, in the last about eleven — last twelve previews, the reaction has been — it's very weird, but the reaction has been that 'we like this better than the film.' And a lot of South Asian people coming in and them actually reacting like this, that it's better than the film, gives us even more joy and confidence that, 'yes, we are doing something right.' And for a lot of non-South Asian people who are coming to watch the show, they are planning their next visit to India and really want to know more about our colors, our festival, our people, our culture, our food, all of it. So I think it's going really well and we can't wait for the show to open.
So, Vishal, I wanted to shift gears and talk a little bit about your career and the work you've done so far, composing and producing music across many genres. You've also written for a lot of movies. How was this project different than writing film music for Hindi cinema?
Vishal: Well, this is something that we started literally when the world shut down because of COVID. We were all having a tough time. Everyone was having a tough time, and staying level in that time was quite difficult. This is the project that kept us sane, kept us connected, kept us level. And while we were all in different locations — Sheykhar and I were in different locations, Adi was in the third location in India and Nell was, of course, in New York. And we were connected by Zoom and working on this magical piece of storytelling. And I think that's what brought us some joy. We've done, as Sheykhar said, 65 or 70 films, 350 or 400 songs, pretty much 99.5% of that would be in Hindi. And this was an opportunity to showcase Vishal and Sheykhar songwriting to an entirely new audience in an entirely new medium and entirely new language, as well. So very exciting for us, a huge challenge because obviously, anything based on DDLJ also has to bear in mind that the original is so iconic. You don't want to mess with that. You want to get it right. You want to go a step further, a step ahead.
And I think the primary function of the music was to bring "Come Fall in Love" to the people as their story, which is what we tried to do.
"Come Fall in Love – The DDLJ Musical" opens Sept. 14 at The Old Globe, and is on stage through Oct. 16, 2022.