For someone who never grew up watching Dil Chahta Hai, and instead grew up with its spiritual successors, it is difficult to find the soul of the film…not repetitive. I watched it about five years ago for the first time, after already having a brief affair with buddy dramas like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, 3 Idiots, and Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na. So, it is a little difficult to sequester my memory of these films when watching Farhan Akhtar's directorial debut. And it is equally challenging to disregard the cultural pedestal it's put on — as one of India's most seminal films. Here, after putting all that into perspective, I try to see if this film still works for me and whether it is an ornament to Bollywood's timeless classics.
A few minutes into the film, as I saw the trio — Akash (Aamir Khan), Sid (Akshaye Khanna), and Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) — douse each other with paint, I understood why it was a boffo hit for Bollywood. Right in the beginning (when Sid's in the hospital with Sam), you see a relatively fragmented group and in the subsequent flashback, an inseparable one. The questions — what could possibly drive a wedge between them and how will they reconcile? — immediately pop up. Finding out answers to that was the perfect escape for those that were still coping with the existential dread that came with a new millennium. And it still is.
For a YA like me, who already saw youngsters and adults take trips to Manali or Spain in a sky-blue Buick, Goa didn't seem quite as appealing or seductive. And it was their twee trip to the beach that defined the new cool at the time — no character had any qualms about their body as they bobbed a volleyball or sped on jet skis. But this romanticised bro-dom, which isn't entirely path-breaking for the older Gen-Zs I assume, never perked up the film for me. It was their conflict rather, a kind that I've rarely come across in Hindi cinema.
Akhtar never pares the bromance down to irresistible sentiment. Mukerji's YJHD provided an easy resolution to the tussle between Ranbir's and Aditya's characters. ZNMD, while not as solipsistically focused on one character as YJHD, ends up offering only a soft-boiled conclusion to Akhtar's and Roshan's hostility. In DCH, that hinged on the conflict between Akash and Sid, the answers aren't as raw, carrying much more gravitas. When Akash reduces Sid's love for Tara (Dimple Kapadia) down to simple MILF-driven desire, it takes the former a series of soul-searching and growth to move past his deliberately comical iciness. Akhtar gives depth to each character individually, their relationships, and conflicts. This narrative, placing it a step above its successors, is also the reason behind its current stronghold. While several friendship-led films ended up romanticising that central element alone, this one did not.
DCH's persisting relevance and urbanity can be a comment on either the society's lack of mobility or the film's prescience. The film has the same propulsive force now as it did when I watched it five years ago. And despite Aamir Khan's tight, maroon leather pants and mesh shirts, the coming-of-age story never grows old. The first half of the film shows the sparkly youngsters embodying Javed Akhtar's lyrics from the graduation song, Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe — "Hum hai naye, andaaz kyu ho puraana" (We are the men of today / Why should we be old-fashioned). And soon after the three separate, they are plunged into the throes of adulthood — one's a businessman, another's an artist, and the last's looking to get married. They are neither just youngsters nor just adults. They are on the murky ground in between — something my generation is currently trudging through.
The film permeates through generations as well as time. While DCH may not be entirely accessible to the generation after Gen-Z, maybe fifteen years later, it will hold up as solidly for them as it is holding up now. For our technologically clogged reality, the film's detachment from the material is especially refreshing. It engages us on a more personal level — when Sam tells Sid about how lonely he is in a tender scene, the emotions travel through our social-media-trampled lives.
Apart from this, however, the then trend-setting movie did not coat my notions of what's "cool" or what's "funny." It is a very charming film but I've already seen these embellishments before. I never felt the millennial urge to go to Goa or to attend a weepy opera. But I do understand why this film gets to watermark the Bollywood bromance. Placed in its context, it is novel and in certain ways, even now. There's no doubt about the fact that I would still snuggle on my couch and watch this again.