Many a time, I wonder about the challenges faced by the characters in Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai. All the people in the film appear to belong to high-income families, possibly, with the exception of Sid who appears to be only slightly less well-off as compared to his other friends. Aakash’s father has an export business while Sameer’s father owns a computer business. We never get to know what Sid’s mother does for a living but it seems that she makes enough to not force Sid to work on a high-paying job. Similarly, Pooja and Shalini belong to prosperous families. Shalini’s parents died in an accident, and she was raised by her father’s business partner. Tara works as an interior designer, perhaps, in a senior role as her company has given her a fully-furnished house. Money or the lack of it is not a factor in these people’s lives. The film is not only a coming of age story of the three friends, but in many ways, is also a coming of age of the Hindi film industry which finally showed that wealth is no longer a dirty word. Shekhar Gupta, former editor of the Indian Express, in his column National Interest, called the film to be a turning point in the Hindi film industry. He writes, “When was the last time you saw a Hindi film that celebrated riches, the high life, luxury so unapologetically? In the usual formula, one of the three friends (Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, and Saif Ali Khan) would have hailed from a poor family, brought up by a widowed mother. His would have been the one home with happiness and his mother’s the shoulders his friends cried on for she would have been the fount of wisdom, generosity, and hers a genuinely contented life. Not in this case. Here all of them are rich. They (including the women) drink champagne. They coolly ditch old boyfriends/girlfriends and move onto new ones. They flaunt the symbols of affluence: cell phones, resort holidays in Goa, 51-inch flat-screen televisions. Can we name another Hindi film that was so relaxed, so non-judgmental, so merrily in your face about being rich?
Traditionally, Hindi films have demonstrated differences in the economic status and in some cases, religious affiliation between friends. In 2009, Raj Kumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots broke all box-office records becoming the biggest hit ever at that time. Starring Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi as Rancho, Farhan and Raju, respectively, the film talked about the rote learning culture in India’s higher education and spread the message to the youth about following one’s heart. The three of them share a strong bond of friendship in the film despite the differences in religion and family status among the three. However, wealth is a factor that they have to deal with, particularly, Raju. He belongs to a poor family that comprises a paralyzed father, a cranky mother, and an unmarried sister. For Raju, finding a job is more important than the other two. He cannot afford the consequences of being thrown out of his college because of his limited options.
In 2006, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti depicted another splendid portrayal of friendship. An English filmmaker comes to India to prepare a documentary on India’s freedom and casts a bunch of aimless young men as freedom fighters. The film stars Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi, Siddharth, Kunal Kapoor, and Madhavan as DJ, Sukhi, Karan, Aslam, and Ajay respectively (coincidentally, the three main actors were also there in 3 Idiots). At one point in the film, Aslam’s father admonishes him for having friends outside their ‘kaum’. Again, the friends had differences in the economic statuses, but the film underscored the differences in their religion more. Hindi cinema is replete with numerous other examples where wealth (Ishq, Student Of The Year) and religion come between friends.
In Dil Chahta Hai, money and religion do not play any part to impact the relationships among the friends. The challenges that the people face in the film are more internal. There is a subtext of fear or ‘darr’ in all the three friends, and it is this fear that these people have to overcome. Early in the film, Sameer is given an option by his bossy girlfriend Priya to either choose his relationship with her or his friendship with Aakash. He forgets to call her and realizes that his relationship is almost over. Seeing his predicament, Sid remarks to him, “Tu Priya se itna darta kyun hai?” as to why he is so afraid of Priya. Sameer replies that he is not afraid of her but loves her and does not want to hurt her. This manifestation of fear is seen in Sameer again when he is in love with Pooja. On being asked by Sid as to why he has not yet told Pooja about his feelings for her, he remarks, “Mujhe darr lagta tha, yaar. Agar Pooja ne naa kardi to thori bahut jo yeh dosti ho gayi hai, vo bhi chali jayegi aur main bilkul akela ho jaunga. Tu bhi yahan nahi tha aur Aakash bhi nahi.” He is again afraid of speaking his heart out because he does not want to lose his friendship with her. In both the instances, he has this fear of losing someone.
While Sameer is afraid of losing love, Sid is in a way afraid of not being understood by his love. Though he is heads over heels in love with Tara, he does not want her to know the same because he felt that she will not understand. In one of the film’s best scenes, when Tara finds out about his feelings, he says that he is sorry that he hurt her though he is not sorry for falling in love with her. On an earlier occasion, Sid advised Sameer that since he loves Pooja that much, he should tell her, “Agar tu Pooja ko itna chahta hai to abhi tak use bataya kyun nahi?” While in his own situation, he, too, loved Tara immensely, but still he does not want to her to know ever. It is the hesitation, apprehension, and a fear that his mother saw which made her ask Sid as to what was it that was eating him from inside, “Main dekh rahi hun koi cheez tumhe andar hi andar khayi ja rahi hai.”
The theme of fear is the most visible in Aakash, and in his relationship with Shalini. While Sameer is afraid of losing love, and Sid is afraid of not being understood by his love, Aakash is afraid of falling in love. His relationships do not last more than two weeks. He says he has seen his friends who have gone through emotional turmoil in their relationships and he feels happy the way he is. His belief is that all relationships end up making the person heartbroken, and he wants to avoid ending up in that state. Thus, in a way, he is scared of the emotional consequences of love. When Shalini says that love simply happens, then, he replies, he does not let it happen as if he deliberately tries to stop himself from falling in love. When he finally falls in love with Shalini, he refuses to accept that he could be in love, too. Not once did he tell Shalini that he is in love with her, and eventually only tells Shalini moments before her wedding. Interestingly, the song Jaane Kyon Log Pyaar Karte Hain also highlights this element of fear in Aakash. The lyrics of the song are like the conversation between Aakash and Shalini and their views on love. At one point, there is a stanza that says, “Log chup chup ke pyaar karte hain, jaane kyun saaf kehte darte hai?” People love stealthily, but don’t know why they are afraid to admit it openly.
In this context, it is also worth mentioning the elements of fear in Shalini, too. When Aakash and Shalini are at an amusement park in Australia, he asks her as to why is she so scared of the roller-coaster ride. He calls her a coward and to disprove him, she goes along on the ride with him. She loves the roller-coaster ride. In many ways, the roller-coaster ride was a symbolic reference to the roller-coaster of life itself. Shalini is a quiet and a subdued girl, who has probably led a protective life. She has made compromises in life. It is Aakash who takes her on this joy ride and helps her remove some of her inhibitions. Immediately after the amusement park scene, we see another depiction of fear in Shalini. Both Aakash and Shalini go to the subway station. Aakash runs to the train, and the train starts moving. Shalini is left behind at the train station. At that instance, a disheveled old man approaches her. There is a palpable fear on Shalini’s face; but, just in time, Aakash comes back to the station and she feels a sense of relief. On seeing Shalini’s trepidation at the man, it appears that he is going to punch the old man, but instead of that, Aakash embraces the old man. Although it is a hilarious scene, but the thing to note is it again underscores an important message for Shalini and for others as well—to embrace your fears with open arms to scare them away.
I can’t help but think of Deepa who was perhaps the bravest character in the film and certainly, much braver than the friends. Aakash is afraid of falling in love, Sameer is afraid of falling out of love, and Sid is afraid of not being understood in love. In contrast, Deepa is not afraid of falling in love, does not care if her love is not reciprocated, and never gives up trying to fight for her love. And, they all made fun of Deepa. Really.
(To read more of the author’s work, log onto his blog: http://dichotomy-of-irony.blogspot.in)