A Decade Apart, How 'Dil Chahta Hai' and 'ZNMD' Taught a Country to Road-Trip
Made by sibling directors, Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara touch milestones in 2021
For Indian cinema, 2021, more than anything, is a year of milestones. Twenty years ago, after the turn of the century, 2001 saw the influx of what have now come to be landmark films. The year that saw the exceptionally groundbreaking Lagaan, the highest-grossing film of the year and countrywide guilty pleasure Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, and intrepid stories like Chandni Bar and Nayak, also saw a quiet inception of an era of "cool" in Bollywood in the mould of a 24-year-old Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut — Dil Chahta Hai.
Dil Chahta Hai was truly seminal in which it was a paradigm shift in the treatment of friendships, love, and not to forget, road trips on the celluloid. Road movies as a genre was still a fairly uncharted territory in Bollywood at the time. What is astounding is that DCH is not even a road movie. It only took one song to change the entire course of representation of road trips in Hindi cinema. The mental image of a Jai and Veeru singing Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge... as they hit the road had now been replaced by three 20-somethings in a Merc convertible taking turns to drive, napping, racing against trains.
The next decade followed a refreshingly great, out-and-out road movie from the same family. Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara offered similar sensibilities but with massively extravagant ideals of road trips for Indians. The breathtaking panoramas of Spain, the open roads and the quaint bylanes, the sunflower fields, coupled with the rush of adrenaline and adventure, effortlessly concoct the road trip of our dreams. ZNMD unbolted the doorways, yet again, for road movies for the decade after, mending the absence in the 2000s.
The Culture Defining Experience of the Films
Both films, especially DCH, ordained a new manual on relationships and what is cool and what is not. The tiniest of details of the two have become iconic stand-alone symbols of popular culture — the Convertibles, the jokes, the hairstyles, and of course, Bagwati. While DCH was charmingly relatable, ZNMD was highly aspirational. The influence of the films hasn’t shaken with time.
What indisputably makes a significant part of the colossal success of the films in having the kind of effect they did has to be the music. Shankar-Ehsan-Loy’s terrific albums, the lyrics penned by Javed Akhtar, beautifully capture the essence of the film and the time they embody. No road trip is complete without the upbeat tunes of Dil Chahta Hai or the involuntary hand wave to Khaabon Ke Parinday.
Our Fascination with Goa and Bachelor Trips
DCH marked the onset of the country’s obsession with Goa. After all these years, it continues to be the gold standard to measure all our Goa trips against. Goa is almost inseparable from the film.
ZNMD, on the other hand, revived bachelor trips and forced us to make pacts with our friends that may never see the light of the day. Both films extensively boosted the tourism of the places they were shot at. ZNMD singlehandedly doubled the number of Indian visitors in the subsequent year. It is wild, the impact that ZNMD had on Spain tourism, so much so that the film is included as a case study in a university marketing course in Spain.
A Gen-Z Perspective
For someone like me who didn’t watch DCH in its true path-breaking glory in 2001, and was still a school-going kid when ZNMD first came out, the relevance of the films could be mildly questioning. The innate Gen-Z in me does not approve of the overdone jealous girlfriend trope in both the films, or the male gaze and the over-the-top pronouncement of love by crashing a wedding in DCH. And well, the leather pants. But when there was a general lack of female voices and an overwhelming hero versus villain narrative in Bollywood, DCH gave us a complex and layered female character in Tara Jaiswal (Dimple Kapadia) — a divorced mother with an alcohol problem sharing a friendship with a young guy.
It’s difficult to view DCH past its cult status as the coolest film in Bollywood, so probing its relevance can be challenging. But what makes it truly special is that you cannot grow out of it. The many aspects of the film, naturally, may grow old but the world it created, the conflicts it presented, and the doors it opened for the future, will remain timeless. ZNMD, staying true to the foundation laid by the former, is just as refreshing as it was ten years ago.
The Genre of Road Movies in Bollywood
It’s fair to say that Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara has a little bit of Dil Chahta Hai in it. Most dramedies around friendships do. DCH carved a blueprint for years to come with its rule-bending sensibilities, characterization, and courage. It compels one to reckon if the genre of road movies in Bollywood is suffering from repetition. The intrinsic nature of road movies and dramedies has, indeed, stayed uniform. But they still work brilliantly, blanketing us with comfort and journeys to self-discovery and fulfilment. They are so cathartic in their telling that we keep coming back to them.
Post-ZNMD, a plethora of road movies covering diverse themes made their way — Finding Fanny was a brave move in making a road movie entirely in English, exploring Goa like no other film had done before. Highway was a break from the usual romance attached to road films in Bollywood. Karwaan and Piku had underlying themes of family and death. Then there's the extremely beloved dramedy, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. All of them keep coming back to find traces from what Dil Chahta Hai first fashioned.
Twenty years later, DCH shines even among its future counterparts in which it represents friendships being as messy as romantic relationships. It made it okay for friends to grow apart and have boundaries with a sobriety that even ZNMD didn’t. The film defines an entire generation of audience and how it understands friendship. It touches notes that feel personal and real, lending authenticity, and more importantly, depth to bromances on screen. What can I say, Ya toh dosti gehri thi, ya yeh film 3D thi.
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