Ten Years of Dil Chahta Hai
Writer: Aditya Shrikrishna
Ten years ago, when the first trailer of Dil Chahta Hai appeared, it didn’t exactly pique anyone’s interest in a significant manner. Yes, there was a new director called Farhan Akhtar, who happened to be Javed saab’s son. It was a pretty straight forward looking trailer with snatches of the lives of three guys who were the best of friends, holidaying to the score of Shankar Ehsaan Loy. The trailer only showed a film, which looked from the outset, a product of those times from the Hindi film industry – multi-starrer, good music, great locales and a Khan added to the list. Make that two. Oh, of course, they all sported cool, closely cropped hairstyles. But it also featured the most cliched – Shaadi karne ke liye kisise pyaar karna bahut zaroori hai – line uttered by Sonali Kulkarni, little conspicuous among that cast. The next frame was our hint – the three men having a laugh at it. This was no joke.
That Dil Chahta Hai was nothing like what the Hindi film industry had produced till that point and it really went on to usher in a new era of what we call “multiplex films” is stuff of legend and requires neither exposition nor repetition. The so called multiplex era, a decade on, has now reached a point of ennui where we are actually turned off by DCH-esque looking promos of Zoya Akhtar’s(who wrote and directed the excellent Luck By Chance) Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. But the phenomenon that is DCH still lives on, not just as a trendsetter that gave a beacon of hope for young directors to rediscover from within, but also as a very fine film that stands on its own.
And this “rediscover from within” forms the piece de resistance of DCH. We have always talked about how, in this country, commercial combined with critical success is news and how mainstream is so divorced from the artistic and ambitious. It won’t be a stretch to say that till 2001, most Hindi films and in turn the audience, sadly settled for less. This is from the top of my head so apologies if I am wrong, the biggest hit of 2000 was Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai? It was Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam/Taal in 1999? And Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in 1998? Go by history or go by the themes that existed then, most of Dil Chahta Hai’s narrative was par for the course. The “multiplex films” is not a genre by itself; DCH did not introduce a new genre. What it surely did was act as a genre pusher in more ways than one. It was more of a New Wave. The grammar of the film, both visually and with respect to its characters, remains unique to it. It’s like there was an artwork hung all crooked on the wall and Farhan Akhtar straightened it making the wall look more beautiful than before. And he did this from within the mainstream format. The remarkable factor about DCH was that it was a debut, a tautly written and directed one, that personally communicated with every member of the audience without an elaborate plot or a conceit. In other words, it didn’t ask us for any investment from our side, but just showed up and gave us plenty.
With a theme of friendship, it augured well for the film that the narrative was more character driven than plot driven. In Akash, Sameer and Sid, we had a broad sample space of each one of us. Akash, the funny guy, who can’t be expected to act serious at gunpoint and whose mostly playful ways are immensely likable. Sameer as somewhat similar to a 90s Hindi film lead, falling in and out of love under the spell of toying girlfriends but who is really only philandering in all ways possible. Sid the archetypical brooding loner, whose sense of privacy can be so infectious and volatile at the same time that the rare moments of disclosure feel like an airplane fast losing cabin pressure. There is very little that happens in the first half but there is so much pleasure to be found in every sequence. First rate dialogs and staging does the trick. A special mention for Farhan Akhtar’s use of props – neatly arranged used liquor bottles in the alcoholic interior designer Tara Jaiswal’s home, a colloidal weighing scale like accessory when Akash is in deep thought. Also the consistency in characterization throughout the film no matter minor or major. The “time-table” Subodh casually checks his watch in his very first appearance, when we don’t know anything about him. Lastly, and quite frankly, there isn’t a bigger generation(class no bar) defining line than – hum cake khane ke liye kahin bhi jaa sakte hain.
If you dig in, the proposal scene at the wedding still rankles. There was nothing “New Wave” about that surely! But you can see how Farhan Akhtar wanted that relationship to come a full circle and therefore gave in to the temptation. The criticism often levied on Dil Chahta Hai is about how these characters are far too privileged to be considered real and relatable (ht @equanimus for this link); that, it is a little disconcerting to call this lot the new India and a more confident younger generation. Those claims would indeed be a big call and I don’t agree with them either. But the film engages itself and its audience with beautifully staged moments. It shows us the kind of fun we would like to have or at some point may have yearned for. It’s a bit like getting to know Ferris Bueller and wanting to have a day off like him. With friends and holidays like these. I do believe that when you start to focus on extraneous details like what these people do for a living or what their life ambitions are, the film has essentially failed for you. Also, most of these criticisms have come in retrospect which further establishes the somewhat subliminal nature of the payoffs. The “new bold generation” praise for the film is routinely misconstrued and misrepresented. It had more to do with a young new director being subversive with respect to mainstream aspirations and paving way for others, than the characters that constituted the film. Though inspired, the subtle, laconic aesthetics adopted by the film were welcome change in a loud and boisterous industry that largely dominated then.
This is one of the few timeless Hindi films of its generation. I watched it again this week after more than a couple of years, and was surprised and elated to find that it remains fresh even after a decade. Especially considering how a movie lover quotient changes over a period of time. Dil Chahta Hai has had a more lasting effect, on mainstream films and filmmakers that followed than any other Hindi film of its time. Why, even Ashutosh Gowariker is smiling.
Note * – Dil Chahta Hai is a Hindi film that released on August 10th, 2001. Only a moderate commercial success, it marked the beginning of change in Hindi cinema’s urban landscape. Through its style and characters, albeit inspired from Hollywood, it brought about what was to be termed as the multiplex era.