Dil Chahta Hai Turns 20: Farah Khan On Why She Didn't Charge a Penny

On Dil Chahta Hai's 20th anniversary, Farah Khan talks about the film's making.

5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Farah Khan worked as a choreographer on <em>Dil Chahta Hai</em></p></div>

On the day that marks 20 years of the release of the Farhan Akhtar-helmed cult youth film Dil Chahta Hai, its award-winning choreographer Farah Khan is affronted when I ask her how she landed the project.

“Now that’s some question,” she exclaims. “You should know that Farhan is my first cousin. And may I remind you I was the top dance director those days? So, what choice did he have? And if I may add, I didn’t charge a single rupee. After all, we’re family.”


In an exclusive chat with The Quint, the choreographer-turned director-and TV personality, says that when she came into the project (originally titled ‘Hum Teen’), all the actors had been firmed.

Yet, Bollywood natter still claims that initially Hrithik Roshan, on the heels of the super-success of Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, was approached but nixed the project. Ditto Abhishekh Bachchan. Enter Aamir Khan as Akash, who at 34 had to fashion his look and demeanour to the age of 24, and the project was set to roll. To that Farah’s response is, “Often there are so many nonsensical conjectures about the casting. But to be frank, this could be true. As far as I know, even Shah Rukh Khan was approached.”

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Saif Ali Khan, Aamir Khan, and Akshaye Khanna in&nbsp;<em>Dil Chahta Hai.</em></p></div>

Saif Ali Khan, Aamir Khan, and Akshaye Khanna in Dil Chahta Hai.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Saif Ali Khan, too, was uncertain about signing up as Sameer, but assented on being persuaded by Dimple Kapadia and Javed Akhtar.

The partly-autobiographical film shot in Mumbai, Sydney and Goa by the 26-year-old first-time director and writer Farhan Akhtar had a cool corporate vibe, Farah narrates, “It was as if Miami had landed in Mehboob studios. For the first time, I’d hear words like PA and DA (Personal Assistant and Director’s Assistant) and they’d be carrying walkie-talkies to announce that actors whom they called ‘talent’ was on his or her way from the vanity van to face the camera."

"Farhan was organised and sorted. I never saw him lose his temper but he wouldn’t do that when I was around, would he?”
Farah Khan

She points out that Dil Chahta Hai was one of the first Bollywood films to opt for sync sound (instead of being dubbed) by Nakul Kamte and H. Sridhar. Music composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy were just “upcoming as they say”. And for the first time, too, extra emphasis was lavished on styling – be it all the actors’ hair-styles or the micro-pointy-beard on Aamir’s chin designed by Adhuna Bhabani, the costumes by Arjun Bhasin and the set-designs by Suzanne Caplan Merwanjee.

“From the upbeat response at the cast and crew preview and the popularity of the promos of the songs, we were confident about the DCH’s success. My cell-phone was jammed with congratulatory messages. So you can imagine Farhan’s cell must have probably conked out with the overload!”
Farah Khan

Trade pundits pegged DCH as a ‘moderate hit’ since the film did its major business, essentially at the urban centres. On the other hand, the ode to buddy-bonding was toasted by the critics and won seven Filmfare Awards for Best Critics’ Film, Best Supporting Actor (Akshaye Khanna), Best Actor in a Comic Role (Saif Ali Khan), Best Screenplay (Farhan Akhtar), Best Editor (A. Sreekar Prasad), R.D. Burman Award for Rising Music Talent (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) and Best Choreography (Farah Khan for Woh Ladki Hai Kahan), besides two National Awards for Best Hindi Film and Best Male Playback Singer (Udit Narayan for Jaane Kyon).

Ask Farah Khan about how the award-winning ‘Woh Ladki Hai Kahan’ was conceptualised and she says right away, “We had already shot a ‘date song’ – 'Jaane Kyun' – on Aamir and Preity Zinta in Australia. So, the song with Saif and Sonali Kulkarni had to be different. Someone suggested that they should go on a date to a movie, and I pitched in that in their fantasy they should step into the screen and become the characters of the vintage movie they’re watching.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Aamir Khan in 'Jaane Kyun Log' from&nbsp;<em>Dil Chahta Hai</em></p></div>

Aamir Khan in 'Jaane Kyun Log' from Dil Chahta Hai

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Arjun Bhasin was thrilled, that would give him an opportunity to design retro costumes. We shot it at the Liberty cinema at nights, and the black-and-white old-worldly dance, if I may say so, had a wow effect. Since then, such black-and-white song-and-dance sequences have been used quite often, even in 3 Idiots I think.”

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The iconic song Wo Ladki Hai Kahan' picturised on Saif Ali Khan and Sonali Kulkarni</p></div>

The iconic song Wo Ladki Hai Kahan' picturised on Saif Ali Khan and Sonali Kulkarni

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Farah exults that another dance sequence – ‘Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe’ – set in a night club also became a trend-setter. On being prodded, she agrees that she had faced tough competition at the Filmfare Awards that year for ‘Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan’ from Ganesh Hegde’s Urmila Matondkar-Fardeen Khan dance sequence ‘Kambhaqt Ishq’ (from Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya). “But I guess all’s fair in love and awards,” she adds.

“Mercifully, Ganesh Hegde is not the sort to hold grudges. In fact, he stays in the same high-rise that I do. When he had a baby boy, I had gone over with a small gift. And he was very cordial.”
Farah Khan

Bring up the picturisation of the Dil Chahta Hai montage song – ‘Tanhai’– shot on Aamir Khan standing by cars zipping by him in Sydney and she admits, that there was a boo-boo, “That moment was shot at very low speed, just the opposite of shooting at slow speed. I should have asked Aamir to hold his breath for that shot. He isn’t, so it looks as if he’s breathing way too wrong.”

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, and Saif Ali Khan as Akash, Siddharth, and Sameer in&nbsp;<em>Dil Chahta Hai</em></p></div>

Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, and Saif Ali Khan as Akash, Siddharth, and Sameer in Dil Chahta Hai

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Okay, what if the movie were to be remade today, whom does she see as the ideal cast? Answer: “Nope, I don’t think it can be redone at all. All the characters –Akash, Siddharth and Sameer– played by the male actors have become so iconic. I can only see Tabu perhaps in Dimple Kapadia’s role. The three guys can’t be replaced, no way!”

Any last words on Dil Chahta Hai, then? To that she ripostes, “Un Jaisi Filmein Hain Kahan?”

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