Monday, August 4, 2008

Dil Chahta Hai, or, Metro Male Luv

I had heard nothing but good things about Dil Chahta Hai (The Heart Desires), the 2001 film starring Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Akshaye Khanna. So, when I found it at Nehaflix for a mere $5, I said, "Whoot!" and bought it without hesitation. My (rare) adventurous purchase worked out very well. DCH is easily worth many times more than what I paid.

Here's the setup: Sameer (Saif), Akash (Aamir), and Siddarth, or Sid (Akshaye) are best friends who have recently graduated from college and embarked on their adult lives. At the beginning of the film, we see that there's been some sort of rift formed between Akash and Sid, but we don't see why until halfway into the film.

Sameer is a sweetie, desperate for love and indiscriminate in his search for romantic involvement. He's the kind of guy who always shows up in videos of parties, pleading with his bitchy girlfriend who has her back turned and her arms crossed while her toe is tapping. Akash is the kind of guy who films that video and zooms in on his friend's frantically waving hands while his muffled laughter overlays the music in the background and his girlfriend of the week searches without success for her date. And Sid is the kind of guy who walks up behind his friend with the video camera, sees what's going on, and hits the red button to shut down recording before one friend can humiliate the other any further.

Sid is an artist, perceptive and more serious than his friends. He's also more mature (although I have to say that most artists I've met take the long road to that goal, so his adultness didn't strike me as all that realistic) and empathetic. Akash doesn't believe in love except as an unwanted complication or hindrance to his own life. And of course Sameer mistakes attraction for love on a regular basis.

The movie focuses mostly on the relationship between the three guys, but each also has a love interest that's somewhat secondary to the plot, although each is also necessary to the progression of the story in her own way. Tara, played by Dimple Kapadia, is an older woman, divorced, alcoholic, and living alone when Sid helps her move into her own place. Touched by her perceptiveness about his paintings, he asks her to sit for him and eventually falls in love with her. Sameer's parents try to arrange a marriage to Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni), much to his dismay--and then he's even more dismayed when he falls for her and finds out she's already got a boyfriend.

Akash's storyline is definitely the most developed. On business in Sydney, he meets up with a girl he'd previously acted offensively to back in India. Shalini (Preity Zinta) is already engaged but, as an advocate for true love, does her best to convince Akash of its reality and necessity. She eventually succeeds better than Akash is willing to let her know.

This movie continues the same sort of context I've seen in many Hindi films from the 2000s: upper-class metropolitan Indians who regard international travel as a matter of course and don't seem to have to work much--I never did figure out what, if anything, Sameer did for a living, and the other two seem to be able to jaunt off at will with no repercussions. It's the same sort of escapism that's rampant in most Hollywood films, and I don't have a problem with it at all, but I do wonder what the 80-90% of Indians who don't live that way think about those kind of storylines. Just curious, you know?

The music is great! I appreciated its diversity, from the club number Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe to the adorable Jaane Kyon to the hilarious Woh Ladki Hai Kahan, which pokes loving fun at Bollywood from the forties through the nineties. By the time it got to the most recent era, I was helpless with laughter; seeing Saif twirl his sweater and jerk Sonali slowly toward the ground a la SRK and Madhuri made me fall onto the floor gasping.

I wasn't at all surprised to see that Farah Khan choreographed the movie; clearly this segment was a precursor to Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om's pastiches.

Oh, and speaking of pastiches, it would be impossible to parody Akshaye's ode to Dimple, Kaisi Hai Yeh Rut, mainly because it is so bad it couldn't get worse. It reminded me of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the love sequence from Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy, and one of those cheap Wal-Mart New Age music CD's covers all rolled up in one cheeze extravaganza. Seriously. It's so awful. I kept on covering my eyes in sheer mortification, peering through my spread fingers and shrieking at intervals, "No! No, they didn't!" while my husband confirmed, "Oh, they did." At the end he broke the stunned silence with a, "Wow. All that was missing was a unicorn."

And yeah, I know it's supposed to be an artist perceiving his love through the idealized world of his paintings, but what is he creating, a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper? Jeez. (Oh, and speaking of Superfantastic Bollywood Moments, Beth, if you haven't fugged at least half of the pants Saif wears in the movie, it should be done ASAP.)

Those're just minor quibbles, though. The guys do a fantastic job of conveying friendships that have gone back most of their characters' lives. I really liked Aamir's acting, although his character was initially the most off-putting of the three. The story kept messing with my expectations of what he would do, until at last I did believe in his transformation at the end. Saif did his usual good work, and Akshaye--well. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed he could have pulled off a character so completely different from his role in Salaam-e-Ishq. Fantastic.

Preity and Sonali both do great with what they have to work with, which especially in Sonali's case isn't much except in Woh Ladki Hai Kahan--she so perfectly captures the hilarity of each era that she had me in stitches. Still, of the three women Dimple has the most interesting character and does the most with it. The camera doesn't spare her--no moonlit glow here, just cruel lingering on each line age and pain have drawn on Tara's face, while Sid succumbs to the magnetism of her personal tragedies. I liked how they didn't rely upon stereotypes of drunkeness to convey her illness--no staggering or slurred speech, no sloppy tears or pathetic attempts at seduction. It was the most realistic portrayal of the condition I've seen coming from either side of the Pacific in quite a while.

Anyway, Dil Chahta Hai is without a doubt worth every penny. In my opinion this song alone would be worth the price of admission (gotta love the didgeridoo):


  1. Thanks for the memories. DCH is one of my all times fave films. I have too many, huh? This is the movie that I always recommend to newbies, any gender. I think females and males will love it. It's modern yet you can feel that traditional touch. Aamir is too good. I may have to pull out an old Aamir movie or something.

  2. Nicki, I don't think you can have too many fave BW films. ;-) I agree, it's a great newbie film; not too many big dance numbers and some of the songs are incorporated into the action instead of becoming the action. Now, I like both of those things but they tend to be offputting to those unfamiliar w BW.

  3. Completely agree with the review- DCH is just SUCH a satisfying movie in ever way, its soul food for any bolly lover :)

  4. Shweta, "soul food" is right on! Nothing like some buddypyaar to make my life feel great!

  5. This movie marked Saif Khan's transition from side-hero to cute side-hero and eventually, successful hero as well. (I never liked him before this and still remember being really surprised by his cuteness here!)

    I watched this one in India when it came out years ago and recall not caring much for anyone but Saif. Aamir's character was such a jerk that I didnt like him even though he redeems himself at the end. And the glossy veneer that covers most of the movie didnt appeal much, either. Guess I should re-watch - might like it better now that I am used to the glossing-up of Mumbai and also used to older Aamir playing college-boys!

  6. Great movie, great review! Agree on all counts, except (forgive me for this) that I didn't dislike the way 'Kaisi hai yeh rut' was shown :) And yes, about the only thing missing was a unicorn ;)

    Also liked that in the last 40 minutes or so, Aamir's story takes over without him really taking over (all right, maybe he did, but he still did well to not make it all about him). That bit from 'Tanhaayee' through the scene at the 'sangeet' was just fun fun fun. Much like the sequences with Aakash and Sameer's girlfriend at the beginning. Too good, and for the ages. I've never tired of this, so I love it! :)

  7. hv seen it 17 times and now planning 2 see it once more in the coming week ends.

  8. Bollyviewer--I think it helped that Saif finally got rid of his mullet. There's nobody who can carry that off well. LOL I think you might like it better on a rewatch.

    Bollywood Fan--I thought it was hilarious that Akash's storyline ended up being the most conventionally Bollywoodish. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it either. :-D

    Saheli--17 TIMES??? Wow, I am impressed! Of course, now that it's gone so high on my list I don't doubt that someday I'll catch up. LOL

  9. Ajnabi,

    I saw this one before "Dil To Pagal Hai" and thought the parody song hilarious---I'll have to rewatch it now because, as you said, its totally SRK and Mads!

    I think this movie is so special because there is really so much going on with all the plots and subplots and yet it is just really calm, never over the top.It just tells its story and makes you feel like you're a fly on the wall in the actual lives of the characters. And, of course, the amazing performances by pretty much everyone involved, particularly Aamir, Akshaye, and Dimple (although Saif is spot on with his comedic timing, as usual).

    Glad you got to see this one!

  10. Nida, I think your appreciation of Woh Ladki Hai Kahan will reach a whole new level after watching DTPH. LOL I think Dimple had one of the best roles offered a BW actress in quite some time--a mature divorced alky who isn't evil? Quite cool.

  11. Fabulous film, all around. I got giddy and wanted to rewatch just by reading your review of it. The distinct personalities of the three main characters really speaks volumes about the film's script and overall, it's just a great effort. I agree about Kaise Hai Yeh Rut being the worst picturization of them all .. just wtf. But Jaane Kyun, Woh Ladki, Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe (disco baby!), Tanhaiyee.. so many great songs. One of the few films I have two dvd's of - one two-disc edition, one ordinary editio (two-disc contains making ofs for the film and songs, it's a gem).

  12. Wow, veracious, you *are* a true DCH fan. I couldn't agree more at the excellent differentation between the characters, and the greatness of the songs. I've got Jaane Kyon on constant replay. LOL


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