Why Farhan Akhtar's 'Dil Chahta Hai' Is the Definitive Film on Friendship
How Aamir, Saif and Akshaye's 'Dil Chahta Hai' remains the definitive Hindi film when it comes to male friendships.
20 years ago, this week, a young urban relationship drama about three friends hit our screens and changed... everything. Infused with a rare restraint and new age sensibility, Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut rewrote the rules.. of cool.
Dil Chahta Hai changed the way Hindi films looked and how young people in them spoke. Much has been rightfully written and discussed ABout its game-changing sensibility, enduring cultural impact and what it meant, and continues to mean, to an entire generation who felt seen ...for the first time.
But among its many achievements, and the fact that it still very much holds up Today, 20 years on it remains The definitive Hindi movie about male friendships.
Dil Chahta Hai begins at the end. A distressed Sid, arrives at a hospital where he’s soon joined by the steadfast Sameer who arrives to comfort his friend. As the two reminisce, a flashback transports us back to a simpler time, where we’re introduced to our three friends.
There’s the cheeky man-child Akash, the sincere, stumbling puppy Sameer, who falls for every girl he meets, and the wise-beyond-his-years sensitive brooding artist Sid -the film’s beating heart. Three friends who are inherently very different people. Three friends who share the kind of winning chemistry and connection that you still want to revisit and talk about 20 years later.
It’s a time of freedom. College has come to an end, and the rawness of real life is about to begin. That confounding yet crucial coming of age period where carefree abandon gradually gives way to the aches of adulting. It’s a time of doing nothing together, and impromptu Goa trips and dancing the night away.
That is before things come to a screeching, painful halt when Sid and Akash fall out. The result of Akash’s instinctively immature reaction to his friend telling him he’s in love with an older woman. Something Akash isn’t equipped to process or able to understand at the time. You sense a rift between them was inevitable - the sensitive soul was always going to clash with the callous jokester, with Sameer caught in the crossfire. After that night, the three split off and life happens to them separately, each facing their own trials. They quite literally grow apart, before ultimately coming back together again.
But, more than its game-changing legacy, to me Dil Chahta Hai’s examination of friendship lies in its smaller, quieter moments. It’s Sid sitting on a beach in Goa comforting a distraught Deepa, having finally realised that Akash will never feel the same for her as she does for him. We sometimes feel the need to try and right the wrongs of our friends, as if we’re somehow responsible for the hurt they’ve caused. If their achievements feel like our victories, their harmful actions feel like our mistakes.
It's Sid wanting to give a shattered Tara the birthday she deserves, after she realises she isn't going to get to see her daughter. He calls Akash and Sameer and of course, they turn up to help comfort and celebrate a stranger. The important people in the lives of your friends sometimes become significant fragments of yours. Their people become your own.
It’s catching up with your friend after a long time of being consumed in your own world, and realising what they were going through in your absence, or perhaps... because of it. When Sid returns to Bombay, he meets Sameer and the two catch up. Sameer tells him he’s in love (but you know...for real this time) with Pooja. When Sid asks him why he hasn’t told her how he feels, in a fleeting yet heartbreaking moment, Sameer says he’s scared she’ll reject him and he’ll lose the only friend he has left. Akash and Sid went their separate ways to move beyond their rift, leaving Sameer behind, sidelined and forgotten.
In one of the film's most dramatic showdowns, Akash turns up to tell Shalini how he feels on the day of her sangeet. It's his moment, their scene. His grand confession of love, refusing to let the girl he loves marry someone else. With him is Sameer, who hangs in the background. A silent, supportive observer without a single word to say in the entire scene. He just quietly stands by his friend on one of the biggest days of his life. Because sometimes, that's what you do. That's all you can do. All you need to do. You show up, and silently stand by your friend.
All of this, of course, culminates in what I consider one of the all time great movie moments. Akash has cast aside his ego and come to terms with his guilt. He calls Sid at the hospital, offering a long overdue apology. Sid asks him where he is and when they can meet, to which Akash tells him to “just ..turn around”, as he stands there waiting to embrace his friend again. It’s a moment of pure aspiration. You want to be the ‘just turn around’ guy. The person who says Just the right thing and turns up at just the right time your friend needs you most.
There are echoes of friendship in the other relationships in the film, too. Sid’s wonderfully warm relationship with his mother and Akash’s with his father, as we see in one of the film’s most affecting moments when he breaks down on the phone, homesick and heartbroken.
Similarly, the film’s three romantic arcs are also rooted in friendship, something we don't often see in Hindi movies. It’s love based on something. Love was never the plan for Akash. His feelings for a (then engaged) Shalini happened out of him seeking familiarity and companionship in a new corner of the world.
For Sameer, love was always the plan. How it happened, perhaps less so. He meets Pooja through their parents trying to set them up, but she’s with someone else. Yet he perseveres. I can’t remember any other Hindi movie where the guy comfortably hangs out with the girl he loves and her boyfriend with no particular grand scheme in mind to break them apart.
Even Sid’s nameless connection with Tara is initially based on friendship. One old soul recognising another. Something which evolves to a strange kind of unselfish love. Sid loves Tara but wants nothing in return. He has no unrealistic hopes or impractical expectations. He understands the way of the world.
During their Goa trip, as Sid, Sameer and Akash stare out into the ocean, Sid compares their friendship to a ship in the distance that will soon fade away into the horizon. Sooner or later, they will start sailing to their respective destinations and they may drift apart, he says. An optimistic Akash instinctively disagrees, saying they’ll remain friends now and forever. Turns out they were both right.
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