Dil Chahta Hai (The Heart’s Desire)
Director: Farhan Akhtar
Written: Farhan Akhtar, Kassim Jahmagia
There is one saying from Bollywood scene that states “If it’s an Aamir Khan’s movie, it must be worthwhile” and I tend to follow it. I usually follow directors, not actors, but in this case Aamir Khan has been the best guide to contemporary Bollywood film one can get. If the movie is not a masterpiece, then it is at very least highly enjoyable to watch. “Dil Chahta Hai” or “The Heart’s Desire” falls in to the latter category.
The story revolves around three friends – Akash (Aamir Khan), Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) and Siddharth “Sid” (Akshaye Khanna). Each has one main characteristic that drives them through the story and the changes the experience. Akash does not believe in love. He is carefree, quite a rascal and a joker. Sameer is a polar opposite – he is very romantic person, who believes that every girl he starts a relationship with is “the one”. Sid, on the other hand, is an artist, quite detached from others, mostly in his own world and I think we never really get to know him. The film starts of at the point of graduation, a time for these youths to be thrown out of their cozy nest and face the world by themselves. The three friends go for a week vacation to Goa, the last peaceful and fun period before things start to crumble. Sid meets Tara, an older woman divorced and with alcohol problems. She seems to understand the artist more than his closest friends. Sid is inspired by her as a muse. At a critical point Akash mocks his affection, insults Tara and the friendship breaks apart.
Akash is sent by his father to do business in Sydney. Unexpectedly on the plane he is seated near Shalini, a girl he had met once before. As their first meeting can be defined as meet-cute we know that a romantic story is about to envelop. Surely enough, Shalini is enamored by charismatic Akash and he also falls for her. But as required in such circumstances there is an obstacle for their love – Shalini is already engaged to another man. She leaves Sydney with her betrothed while Akash never dears to admit to her his true feelings. He falls into depression and is summoned back to India by his father.
Meanwhile, Sameer’s storyline is much more upbeat and close to a romantic comedy genre. His parents take Sameer’s love life into their hands and try arranged marriage, a tradition not well accepted by the upper middle class youth portrayed in the movie. Pooja is invited to come and meet Sameer, after some awkward silence them alone in his room they both admit that this “arrange marriage” thing is not what they want (on a side note, I do find this scene quite off even in Western standards – who sends a young girl meeting a guy for the first time in her life to the privacy of his room, it’s weird for both sides). Pooja admits having a boyfriend already however romantic Sameer falls in love again. In the end, the love and friendship triumphs providing us a pleasurable Happy Ending.
“Dil Chahta Hai” was quite a hit when it landed to the movie theaters in India. It struck a chord with the urban youth whose lives, language and more global influenced culture it was depicting. (Source: Rediff). It had its share of criticism as well for following Hollywood style and losing the filmmaking traditions of India. “Dil Chahta Hai” was indeed one of those movies that could appeal to global audience, breaking out from the shell where local movies are confined by being watched and understood by the locals. Many more movies followed in the decade opening up Bollywood to other parts of the world. One tempting example would be another friendship story, among three friends and featuring Aamir Khan – the Bollywood big hit “3 Idiots”. On the surface, these movies have a lot in common, but when one digs deeper they bring very different messages. To understand this requires a closer look into “Dil Chahta Hai”, thus spoilers ahead are unavoidable.
Every coming-of-age movie shows a struggle of a young generation to make their mark in the world. Youth is usually idealistic and views itself as better replacement of the old world. The tension of old and new, tradition and novelty, conformity and revolution is a given in this genre. When faced the “real world” youngsters realize that things are much more complex than they expected, they are humbled and make compromises. How much of a compromise they make and how much of actual changes they bring to the world varies from film to film.
Sameer believes in romantic love and that one can only marry if they love someone. He reacts very much against arraigned marriage suggestion by his parents as this would not be the ideal of accidental love, a meeting of two hearts arraigned by fate, not family (actually this ideal mostly comes from romantic narratives from the Western culture). His attitudes demine the tradition and also authority of the older generation as more knowledgeable. In the movie he is taught that arranged marriage can actually be the better path involving romantic love as well as tradition and acknowledgement of authority and will of the older generation.
Sid falls for an older woman, a divorcee with a child as well, thus crossing the boundaries of traditionally allowed sexuality and procreation. His pursuit for such an illegitimate love interest is the cause of breaking up of friendships, damages his relationship with his mother and is not welcomed by his love interest either. In my opinion, movie was rather cruel to Tara’s character. She was married once and had a child, this did not work and she is shown trying to rebuild her life again in other place. However, she is not given a chance for happiness, like stating “Well you had your chance in life, lady, and you can have no more”. As a matter of fact, this film is very patriarchal at its core as lives of every woman are determined by men – fathers, step-fathers, boyfriends or the romantic pursuers. Going back to Sid’s story, Tara is even killed off in the film, dying from liver failure that was caused by her excessive drinking, just to emphasize the impossibility of such interaction between generations. As the “spell” is broken once Tara dies, Sid is free and finds a legitimate love interest in the end.
Akash says he does not believe in love, which actually means he refuses to marry and procreate. This is basically the biggest “sin” in this generational conflict thus Akash becomes the main character in the film who “must be converted” or otherwise he defies basic laws of humanity – to create new life. His transformation becomes such a core interest of the movie as on a subconscious level it is such an important issue to all of us. Just like other characters, he is also given a lesson of life after which he conforms to traditional patterns of society.
There is one powerful scene in the film when Akash suggests they should come to Goa every year, a ritual reaffirmation of their friendship. Sameer agrees without a question, but Sid has much deeper thought there:
I’m looking at that ship that’s about to disappear over the horizon. The three of us are like that ship. Soon, we’ll set out looking for our destinations and it might just be that our destinations are different. (…) Who knows where life will take each one of us. Ever wondered, let alone come here every year for a week it might be difficult to meet once in ten years.
Sid is looking at life with eyes of a much more mature person (maybe that is one of the reasons he fell for older woman). In the film, it almost happens as he prophesized when friendship breaks up and each are living different lives for a while. However, the ending shows them all in Goa again with their sweethearts having a good time. This brings quite a traditionalist message – if you follow the tradition, the rules of the elders, the life will be pleasant and fulfilling, otherwise only misery awaits you.
Viewing from this perspective, “Dil Chahta Hai” and “3 Idiots” are very different, almost polar opposite movies. “3 Idiots” emphasizes pursuit of one’s heart desires, let it be in career or love over the tradition and that brings the happy ending to the characters. Nonetheless, even with different ideals, “Dil Chahta Hai” is highly enjoyable movie, one of the best ones of the decade. Its appealing characters, more cosmopolitan outlook provides one of the entry points for Western audience to peek into Bollywood.