When it comes to great films about friendship and bonding in Hindi cinema, the first movie that comes to my mind is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. However, as we celebrate a decade of this Zoya Akhtar classic, we cannot overlook the film that catapulted this hip, trendy, 'true-to-life friendship' genre to the forefront. This is the movie that made watching Hindi movies 'cool' again – the film that set the tone of the aesthetic we see in Hindi cinema today. It's time to celebrate twenty years of Dil Chahta Hai.
Dil Chahta Hai released the same year (2001) as Lagaan. Whilst the Oscar-nominated Lagaan was groundbreaking in many ways, it was Dil Chahta Hai's innovative take on friendship (with a familiar genre, yet 'hatke' treatment) that quietly made its way to everyone's heart. Over the years we haven't seen many Lagaan inspired movies, however Dil Chahta Hai is solely responsible for the paradigm shift that happened in Hindi cinema in the early 2000s. It's a landmark film that laid the foundation for the prevalent multiplex cinema culture seen in India today.
It forced everyone to sit up and take heed – there was a newfound, chic way to tell stories. No over the top dialogues, no melodrama, no idealistic characters but a witty, engaging, wholesome tale of friendship that made us laugh out loud and warmed our hearts.
Simply told, Dil Chahta Hai is a story of three young men, finding their way through life. It's a coming-of-age story deeply entrenched in friendship – friendship that is hugely celebrated yet intensely tested during the course of the movie. In Akash (played by Aamir Khan), we see a spoilt, privileged boy who questions the very notion of love, in Sameer (Saif Ali Khan), we witness a confused, unambitious soul who wears his heart on his sleeve, meanwhile Akshaye Khanna's quiet portrayal of Sid, who is grappling with unrequited love makes him the most evolved character of the three.
It's not like we hadn't seen stories of friendship on celluloid before, but what made Dil Chahta Hai stand apart was the treatment of this camaraderie. Previously friendships in Hindi films were romanticized – like Jai-Veeru in Sholay and we, the viewers grew to accept this as the only projection of friendship there was. These were legendary, aspirational friendships portraying undying loyalty and reverence that made the genre unrealistic and unrelatable. Dil Chahta Hai turned all of that on its head to give us a fun experience, a relevant story that showed the real side of relationships. The wisecracks and the pranks between the three central characters uplifted the movie several notches. With robust, resilient, complex, complicated relationships that were narrated authentically, this movie gave us so much that had never been seen in the Hindi movie space before.
Has it stood the test of time? Well partially, yes. Of course, better, more evolved and aesthetically sound movies have been made since then. Movies with strong female characters for instance, (except for the character of Dimple Kapadia who played Akshaye Khanna's love interest in the movie, the roles of the other two ladies weren't very well fleshed out). Female leads who have their own distinct voices have been essayed in countless films following Dil Chahta Hai. Yet there is tons of nostalgia associated with Dil Chahta Hai. Even today, at its core Dil Chahta Hai is all heart, passionately told by the then first-time filmmaker Farhan Akhtar.
Dil Chahta Hai not only ushered an era of realism in a commercial Hindi setting, it also redefined friendships. So, take a bow, Dil Chahta Hai – for motivating innumerable filmmakers who since then have directly or indirectly emulated this fresh and classy portrayal of friendship on celluloid.