DIL CHAHTA HAI/THE HEART DESIRES (2001)
(Director: Farhan Akhtar. Cast: Aamir Khan (Akash), Preity
Zinta (Shalini), Akshaye Khanna (Siddharth), Dimple Kapadia (Tara), Saif Ali
Khan (Sameer), Sonali Kulkarni (Pooja). Music: Shnkar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani
and Loy Mendonsa (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy). Cinematography: Ravi K. Chandran. Screenplay:
Akhtar and Kassim Jagmagia.)
Storyline and plot
The story follows the enduring friendship between three middle-class young men living in Mumbai as they adopt the usual (socially
expected) trajectory of moving away from each other to find female partners. They are perhaps rather stereotypical characters: the romantic (Sameer), the somewhat introspective artist (Sid) and the self-confident extrovert (Akash). Although we follow several plotlines particularly between each of the three male leads and their female love interests, the crucial plot relationship is between Akash and Sid. The heart of the film is the breakdown and final restoration of this relationship. More than any of the others, it is Akash who is taken on a journey that enables him to learn about himself and the world and eventually to return to his friendship with Sid.
ACTIVITY What is the Hindu festival of Holi? How might an understanding of this festival be relevant to the opening section of this film? (What you should recognise after this exercise is the way in which we can understand a scene quite happily in an Indian film without certain background cultural awareness, but how that little extra knowledge can add to our depth of understanding.)
Song (and dance)
The opening song is strongly connected to the theme of the energy and unbounded optimism of youth. However, it could equally refer to the style of this film that uses the traditional Bollywood form but in new ways that perhaps move it away from sections of the conventional audience towards increasing identification with an emerging global middle class. We are today: why should our style be old? The earth and sky are created for us. In terms of the songs, the most obvious departure from normal Bollywood fare lies in the absence of dance
routines. (Only in the song ‘Woh Ladki Hai Kaha’ that gently parodies the older style do we see dancing and sudden changes of exotic location and costume.) For much of the time there is an intense seriousness to the music and lyrics that often counterpoints the colourful images we are being shown, allowing the audience to respond to the usual (expected) pleasure of the spectacle but also to consider issues on a more thoughtful level than perhaps Bollywood usually demands. As we see the ‘boys’ enjoying themselves in Goa, for example, we are
asked to contemplate, ‘How strange is this journey’, that is to say, the journey of life.
Comedy (and melodrama) Comedy is clearly present, as in Akash’s attempt to dance with Shalini without knowing she is engaged to Rohit, or Sameer’s clumsy introductions when his family attempt to instigate an arranged marriage with Pooja. But the more usual melodrama sometimes takes on a cutting edge of tragic realism in this film: Tara’s pain at being denied the chance to see her daughter on her birthday, for example, becomes tragic rather than melodramatic
ACTIVITY Choose a section of the film where the mood seems to change from comedy to something more dramatic. Analyse this section
carefully to see how the change is achieved. You should make sure you consider not only each aspect of the performance of the actors but also location, lighting, camerawork, editing and sound. This is not to deny that melodrama is an important part of the genre mix in this film and you may like to identify where and when we experience this most intensely. You could start by considering, first, the relationship between Akash and Sid, and second, the nature of the resolution phase.
Duty, responsibility and family. This film focuses on the sense of duty and responsibility faced by young men, especially those who might be inclined towards a more Western outlook on the world. Sameer’s mother tells him as she tries to introduce the idea of an arranged marriage with Pooja: ‘Your father and I had an arranged marriage. Listen to me: we are not forcing you to get married. We have known
them for years and we thought we would turn friendship into a marriage alliance, that’s all.’ Even among young, quite Westernised friends Sid’s
transgression of social norms and expectations in loving an older woman who has a daughter and has been married (initially at least) seems to be too much of a departure from tradition. Akash cannot comprehend such behaviour. At the heart of this film is the challenge to traditional values currently being offered by an increasingly Westernised Indian middle-class youth. As Sid’s mother tells him: ‘This is the problem with your generation: you think anything goes. But that is not so, Siddharth.’
Dil Chahta Hai was a critical success (winning the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 2001, for example). It was also
commercially successful but its main audience tended to be from the urban middle classes. The challenge to traditional values offered by the film was perhaps too much for more conservative parts of the Bollywood audience. After several moments when the audience has been teased into expecting Akash to profess his love for Shalini he eventually does so in such a way as to challenge the whole concept of arranged marriages in the most dramatic fashion possible. The arranged marriage is made to concede to the concept of destined love between soulmates.
Presence and absence in Bollywood films. Bollywood films are filled with spectacular visual images and intense melodramatic moments designed to engulf the senses. The locations are often scenically spectacular, the sets and costumes lavish (the opera scene in Dil Chahta Hai was specially commissioned for the film), and the drama emotionally overwhelming. But while recognising the special presence of
Bollywood films it may also be worth considering the absences. Primarily, there is no indication of the poverty that is to be found everywhere in India. In Dil Chahta Hai the only sign of these sorts of social issues comes when we see a down-and-out on the Sydney underground!
A2 Film Studies: The Essential Introduction, Second Edition (John White, Sarah Casey Benyahia and Freddie Gaffney)
To what extent are spectacle and escapism the key features of the film?
What role do song-and-dance sequences play within this film?
How important is comedy within the film?
To what extent are traditional gender stereotypes challenged (and to what extent are they simply reconfirmed)?
Is this a genre film or a masala film*?
Could this film be re-made in Hollywood?
*Masala is a term given to films of Indian cinema that mix various genres in one film. Typically these films freely mix action, comedy, romance, and drama or melodrama. These films tend to be musicals that include songs filmed in picturesque locations. The genre is named after the masala, a term used to describe a mixture of spices in South Asian cuisine.