Colleges in most of our mainstream cinema are either sets for action sequences or utopian spaces with flash mobs for students. Manish Tiwary’s Dil Dosti Etc backed by Prakash Jha productions was a welcome departure in this trend. It placed the story in realistic college corridors. This is a movie that came before the multiplex audience had their palates cleansed by filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee. Dil Dosti Etc begins with some random banter between two friends about sexual prowess. The scene cuts to opening credits midway, but we come back to it later as this seemingly innocuous banter ends up becoming the central conceit of the movie.
The entire screenplay is erected between two quotes: “When you are young, you believe the possibilities are endless” and “You must act out your passions before you stop feeling them”. The protagonists – Sanjay Mishra (Shreyas Talpade) and Apurv (Imaad Shah) – are manifestations of these quotes. While Sanjay is a middle-class boy with dreams of getting into politics even as his father wants him to clear the civil services (‘Bihar se hai na” he explains), Apurv is the upper class, wildly ignorant and directionless youth more concerned about following his passions in the present, than worrying about the future. When Sanjay introduces himself to anyone, it is always as Sanjay Mishra. He comes from a background where the surname is a crucial part of one’s identity – a marker of which caste they belong to. Apurv’s privilege, on the other hand, has made him blissfully ignorant of caste and the related politics: he always introduces himself as Apurv, we never know his last name. He exists as the representative of the rich youth whose privilege gives them the luxury of random musings.
Dil Dosti Etc depicts a world that is more realistic and ubiquitous in the country, as opposed to the fictionalised college life of many big budget films. A majority of young hostellers might dance to ‘Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe’ at a nightclub, but in a hostel party would end up singing ‘Dum laga, lagare’ , a song from this very film. A college goer in a tier-II city would get inspired to take a trip to Goa, but it is more likely to be in a crowded bus filled with classmates, smoke and loud music rather than in a convertible with wind blowing in their face, bringing along epiphanies.
Dil Dosti Etc should be revisited, keeping in mind the time it was released, and the ambitions of the film. The movie does not pass the Bechdel test, and it does not even aim to. This is a movie seen through the lens of two young men. This is a movie about the largely testosterone-filled hostels and campuses where college elections are a matter of pride and the crowd is confused between the optimism of holding on for endless opportunities and the hedonism of acting out their passions. The dilemmas faced by Sanjay and Apurv do not amount to even a molehill in the world outside the campus. Yet, in their cocoon, the campaign for the upcoming election or search for love translates to prolonged deliberations. Some of the dialogue is visibly pretentious, especially the voiceovers by Apurv (Imaad Shah’s dreary delivery does not help). The women in the film do not get neatly fleshed out character arcs. If you can look beyond these imperfections, Dil Dosti Etc has its moments for a nostalgic watch with college friends.
One can walk into a college/university campus from a tier-II city today and see versions of Sanjay hanging out in canteens, surrounded by lackeys, discussing campus problems like the nation depended on it. Or find a Apurv trying to woo girls by quoting Jean-Paul Sartre. Coincidentally, Gulaal builds on the campus politics touched upon by Dil Dosti Etc. One can also find a pre-cursor to the ragging scene in 3 Idiots. The liberal yet indistinct views of Apurv are placed in stark contrast with the maturity of Sanjay who has conservative notions. The movie needs a revisit to be appreciated for the effort of going against the prevalent norm. Does it falter at places? Yes. Is it a perfect film? Most definitely not. However, Manish Tiwary dared to experiment and Dil Dosti Etc momentarily burns bright before fading out.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.