In the pre-YouTube era, I loved going to the theatre early as that was where we first got to see movie trailers. In June 2001, I was excited to watch Lagaan, which was playing at our local single-screen theatre, where no movie stayed longer than a week. I had told my parents that I simply had to see it before it was replaced. But before we could go back in time to 1893, a movie trailer reminded us that we were now firmly in the twenty-first century. Three young men stood before us, holidaying in Goa and dancing in a club. My father turned to me and asked if this was next on my watchlist. Solid guess: obviously.
Almost two months later, my parents, my grandmother and I watched Dil Chahta Hai in the same theatre. I don't think my achamma enjoyed the experience nearly as much as my parents and I did, as she did not speak Hindi and had to turn to her son each time the audience erupted in laughter, asking what the joke was. (Honestly, that is my main memory of watching Dil Chahta Hai in the theatre.)
The movie has a special place in our home. My mother and I have watched it several times over the coming years—when it was on TV and later when my parents gifted me its VCD and later still, on OTT. It was so different from everything we had known about films until then. It was funny without being slapstick or vulgar; its soundtrack had songs of a kind we had never heard before; and most significantly, the friendship at the core of the film was more important than the three love stories in it.
I am only able to truly appreciate the movie's take on friendship now, as an adult. Most movies show us friendships that are too perfect or too one-sided or too exploitative. For most of the first half of Dil Chahta Hai, Akash, Sameer and Sid are a trio that hangs out together and makes fun of people, including laughing at one another. The scene where Sameer reveals how his ill-fated romance with Christine turned out is definitely a top contender for movie scenes that have made me laugh the hardest. Another scene that I always look forward to while watching the movie is the one where Sameer describes the car ride he shared with Pooja and Subodh to Sid. The duo laughing breathlessly at the daily transaction of one 'dil wala' balloon is exactly the kind of thing that happens in real-life conversations between friends.
The other realistic treatment of friendship seen in the movie is, of course, the fight between Akash and Sid. In real life, friends fight. And when it is this kind of ugly spat, it can feel like the end of the world as you know it. The event clearly impacted Akash the hardest, as Sid was invested in his art and his love for Tara at that point, and Sameer was a bystander. Akash had nothing exciting in his life then, except his friendship with Sid and Sameer.
The two of them reconciling at the end is even more touching now than it was when I was a kid because I now know that like romantic relationships, not every friendship has a happy ending. Sometimes, the fights are too difficult to forget and the ease that existed before them is impossible to return to. And at other times, people just drift apart, without a showdown to end things. But seeing Akash and Sid hug while Sameer watches with relief and joy is important. It tells us that even a friendship with depth cannot be taken for granted. But it also tells us that some friendships will pass the toughest tests; those are the friends with whom you will actually go to Goa instead of making empty plans. When the credits roll, we see a dinner party of the three friends with their significant others, which tells us that rather than closing in on itself, the friendship has grown to include more people. And these are the people that Akash, Sid and Sameer will grow old with—their romantic partners and one another.