Dil Chahta Hai (“What the Heart Wants”) is my favorite movie of all time. Ask any of my closest family members, and they will tell you of my persistent (annoying) love for this timeless movie. Whenever there was a movie to be watched, everyone knew instinctively what my first choice would be, even before the words left my mouth. Fortunately for my family, I outgrew this fervent infatuation once I entered college, having less time to devote to Bollywood movies.
However, to this day, Dil Chahta Hai is a film that stays close to my heart. The movie has not only stood the test of time for many South Asian audiences but was a trendsetter for the entirety of the Bollywood industry at the time of its release in 2001. Back then, movies were largely focused on a single protagonist and their journey towards a cathartic resolution, whether it be finding the perfect girl or finally robbing the bank. Instead, Dil Chahta Hai focused on the interconnectedness of three friends through raw emotion and layered storytelling. With a debut director, Farhan Akhtar, and equally young cast members, the movie was often regarded as “fresh” and “original.”
The narrative is told both as flashback and in real time in Bombay, India, when two of the main characters, Sid and Sameer, recall their first couple years out of college with their third friend, Akash. While Bollywood movies often insist on portraying cheesy, over-the-top scenes of friendship and romance, Dil Chahta Hai stood as a non-conformist, instead focusing on internal conflicts each character suffered from in response to societal standards. Every character has their own difficulties with what exactly their heart wants: love.
While Sameer believes there is only true love, Akash doesn’t believe in love at all, and Sid is convinced no one will understand his definition of love. In the arc of the story, each character slowly draws away from their initial understandings, finding that love is not so black-and-white. The character growth seen in the film is gradual and subtle, in stark contrast to the many Bollywood movies that leave character growth solely in the last 20 minutes.
Additionally, film shots are often much longer than in regular Hindi movies, allowing the actors to truly set their characters into their surrounding environments. While Sameer sleeps in a small, intimate bedroom meant to showcase his desires for emotional connection, Sid stays in a reserved, upstairs loft with no windows, revealing his social timidity. Simply put, while many Bollywood movies are plot-driven, leaving the audience to guess what will happen next, Dil Chahta Hai is character-driven, inviting the audience to live alongside the characters themselves without the need for extravagant disasters like car crashes or sudden deaths.
Equally important is the stark diversity in personalities that really allows the movie to be relatable so many years after its initial release. Each of the three main characters embody different levels of human nature. Akash epitomizes our desires for pleasure, often displayed via conduits of impulsivity, humor and action while Sid is the complete opposite, someone who is cautious, rational and introspective. This leaves Sameer to constantly mediate between his two best friends while trying to understand his own self in the process. Like them, many audiences have been influenced to act based on certain emotions, making Dil Chahta Hai very engaging to various audiences.
Human nature is exemplified by these rather normal characters in ways that transcend what South Asian movies usually did at the time. While I can’t say you will love this movie, I think whoever is reading this should take a shot and see what the best of Bollywood brings to them. Regardless, I know that Dil Chahta Hai will be one of the best movies I’ll ever watch.