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Ten Years of Dil Chahta Hai

July 11, 2011

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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

    Lovely 🙂
    Although more than the proposal at the wedding, I always thought the weakest link was the way the Saif-Sonali story got wrapped up with that song. It was almost as if the writer didn’t know what to do with them and just brought them together somehow.
    But well, minor quibble with what was after all one of the best movies I had seen in a while at that point. Or have, since.

  2. liberalcynic permalink
    July 11, 2011 8:06 pm

    I must admit I enjoyed the movie a lot when I saw it. I also cop to your suggestion that most criticism of this movie has come in retrospect. My criticism of the movie has come of late too, but that’s more because I’m older and wiser. Some of the symbolism is a little too forced and obvious in my opinion.
    While the movie is definitely entertaining, I find it annoying that the Preity Zinta & Sonali Kulkarni characters are so one-dimensional. Also methinks your logic is a tad suspect when you suggest that the movie has failed for the viewer who questions such seemingly mundane and not so esoteric aspects of the movie. It feels like a slightly disingenuous way of suggesting that some of us haven’t grasped the essence of the movie or something.
    What I loved about the movie was the rich feeling it gave me. I knew that I would never go to Goa with friends on a Mercedes or live in such plush hotels right next to the beach or do nothing and join daddy’s business etc etc, but it still gave me some pause.
    Very well written review by the way

  3. July 12, 2011 8:24 am

    Well written.
    DCH is one of the few movies i can actually watch without cringing in between… so taut, so well-written and filmed
    And the marriage scene, though cheesy, happens to be one of my faves *shuffles feet*

  4. July 14, 2011 5:11 pm

    Lovely Adi, just lovely.

    Of the criticisms that you bring up – I cannot rebut any of them, feeling as I do that most are justified critiques of the film. However, that takes nothing away from the central point of your post (or at least the first half of it), which is that DCH was in many ways the subtle pioneer that showed a whole generation of Hindi movies the bushes behind the playground where they could shed their inhibitions and really get a taste of what it meant to be grown up. And all this, without trying to be that.

    A movie that I am most thankful for, now as I was then.

  5. July 15, 2011 2:09 am

    I dont remember DCH well enough to comment on the finer points. But it was a good movie and quite refreshing for that time, when Bwood scripts were getting stale. However, there is an interesting comparison one can make between DCH and another Aamir Khan movie released in 2001. I am talking of course about Lagaan. Another hit, but a vastly different setting and theme.

    It seems that Lagaan was the last major Bwood success set in a village. The 2000s saw a flood of movies with the DCH urban male friends theme, quite a few were successful. We saw a trickle of movies set in villages but none achieved any substantial success. Will the 2000s be remembered as the decade when the Indian film industry bifurcated firmly along class and urban/rural lines ?

  6. July 20, 2011 2:18 am

    I didnt really give dil chahta hai that much of a thought ….and definitely not from this angle. While you have glibly expressed its valid flaws, criticizing a movie 10 years later seems counterintuitive…..very much like deeming a yesteryear fashion trend ridiculous! It was a movie designed to pamper our comfort zones with the crisp script and the swankiness rather than some coming-of-age genre.

  7. July 20, 2011 2:46 am

    I forgot to add that it was a very well-written review

  8. July 26, 2011 6:39 am

    that was one film that i saw twice


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