Dil Chahta Hai is an exceptional film. Exceptional because those are exactly my thoughts after watching Dil Chahta Hai, even 16 years after its release. There are many things that make Dil Chahta Hai an exceptional piece of cinematic work. The fact that it was helmed by debutant director Farhan Akhtar is one and may be the subtlety with which Akhtar explores bachelor bonding or friendships at large makes another. But to say that Dil Chahta Hai is one of the best bonhomie films ever made in Bollywood is a huge understatement. After all, it is not as easy for feel-good films like Dil Chahta Hai to stay alive in our minds for more than a decade.
Going back to 2001, the new millennium had just began and Bollywood was just about done with the commercial potboilers that marked a major part of the 90s. The relatively unknown son of Javed Akhtar was releasing his directorial debut. But who cared? Because on paper, a coming-of-age story about three bachelors faring through love, life and friendship was not new. But something about the film clicked with the audiences then and it continues to do even today.
So what was it in this romantic flick that made fans tick? It could be the flawed and relatable characters that Akhtar sketched with Sid, Akash and Sameer. It could also be the film’s realist portrayal of the tiniest of moments in everyday life with no over-the-top shenanigans. Or it could be the way Akhtar dealt with friendship. Because till the 2000s, the paragons of on-screen camaraderie were Sholay’s Jai-Veeru and while their ‘sworn-till-death-do-us-part’ friendship was hugely entertaining to watch on screen, it was not something that the audience connected with.
With Dil Chahta Hai, however, probably for the first time, Hindi film industry saw friendships that were fragile enough to break at any point. That were not set against the most unusual standards. It was everything we were or ever wanted to be. Akash, Sameer and Sid share each other’s best moments but they also have a good laugh at each other’s goof-ups. Heck, they even manage to successfully plan a trip to Goa. And that’s the thing about Dil Chahta Hai, it showcases Indian youth the way it is, moving away from the exaggerated and larger-the-life landscapes that Bollywood was accustomed to.
Even the love stories in this atypical coming-of-age are very interesting. They are different yet relatable. More so because the way these three friends look at love is very different. The first, Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) is always after girls, falling in love every other day (never vice versa) but he finds ‘the one’ in a girl already dating someone else. The second one, Sid (Akshaye Khanna) falls for an older woman who is already a divorcee and a mother. Lastly, Akash (Aamir Khan) is a non-believer in love and he doesn’t even realise when the special feeling kicks in for Shalini. But the best thing about these intertwined tales is that they are presented with the most non-judgmental and real lens there ever could be.
For that matter, even the sub-plots and supporting cast of Dil Chahta Hai have been given huge attention to by Akhtar. Talk about Shalini (Preity Zinta) and Rohit’s (Ayub Khan) relationship. In the very least, Shalini’s fiance is a possessive chauvinistic pig of a man. But it’s her strong character story that makes her act believable. Her parents die in a car accident. Had Rohit’s parents not taken her in, she may have had a very different life. She wouldn’t be in Sydney in the first place. And her practical approach to her situation is perfectly summed up in her dialogue, “But Rohit’s a good guy. He has a few flaws. Who doesn’t?” Even Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni) tugs the strings of our hearts when to Saif’s goofed-up proposal, all she has to say is laugh. Not in the coy, feminine kind of way that women are ‘supposed’ to, but in the way when we laugh your hearts out, like the way when a friend is duped of all his money by a Swiss blonde in Goa.
There is no second guessing the fact Aamir, Akshaye and Saif are remarkable in their characters as Akash, Sid and Sam. And together with Akhtar, they have brought out one of the most relatable situational comedies of modern cinema. Their reactions are natural, the situations normal, but Dil Chahta Hai is still exceptional. And watching Dil Chahta Hai, you can never deny the kind of guts that Akhtar showed releasing it at a time when films like Gadar: Ek Prem Katha and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum were breaking box-office records. The audience didn’t know they were ready for a film like Dil Chahta Hai but Farhan knew. And that is why DCH has lived on.
Farhan not only directed DCH but he also wrote the screenplay, story and dialogues for the film. And while we are still not over binge-watching Dil Chahta Hai sitting between friends on a lazy Sunday, on Farhan’s 44th birthday, we sincerely request him to give more outings to his directorial genius with films like Dil Chahta Hai.