WTF ASIA 44: Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Sometimes Indians have first-world problems too.
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Siddharth, or Sid for short, is in a hospital stressing out over a woman who is suffering from liver damage. He calls up Sameer, whom he has not talked to for a while. Sam thinks to call up another friend, Aakash, but Sid does not think that Aakash will want to come. And, indeed, Aakash does not feel comfortable being part of Sidâ€™s life again. Why?
With absolutely no warning or hints, the movie stealthily slips into a flashback to their college days, where the three guys are still close friends. Sid has called up Sam and Aakash to rush over to his place in the middle of the night. They burst into his room, thinking that he is in trouble, but it turns out that he has just simply finished a painting and wanted them to see it. Aakash thinks that the figure in the painting looks like their economics teacher, and implies that he had a fling with her. It is not long before they are throwing paint at each other.
And we are suddenly back at the hospital, where Sam and Sid meet for the first time in a long time. It turns out that Sid has only just returned to Mumbai that day. They kind of dance around the issue of the woman and, instead, try to catch up on old times. Sid is still living at his uncleâ€™s place and Sam is working in his fatherâ€™s business. But Sam is getting married. He tells Sid that Aakash is as well. Sid is not surprised at Sam getting engaged, but he has trouble believing that Aakash would settle down. Flashback again.
As the movie chronicles the end of the menâ€™s college years, we get a pretty good picture of how they are. Aakash is a charming and charismatic dude-bro douchebag. He lives life in the moment, with little regard to his past actions or future consequences. Sam is a bit of a goofball, somewhat gullible, emotionally unsure, and hopelessly romantic. Where Aakash is content to plow through women while avoiding emotional attachments, Sam has fallen too many times. Sid is quiet and contemplative. He is a somewhat gentle soul and maybe the most mature of the bunch. He is more reserved, more attached to drawing and painting people than talking to them. While they are on post-graduation vacation on a trip in Goa, he is the one who muses that they will eventually go their separate ways. The other two dismiss his thoughts, but he is eventually proven right.
Not long after graduation, Sid strikes up a friendship with a new neighbor, a 40-year-old divorced woman named Tara. She is happy for his company, but he starts falling for her, even more so when he finds out that she has a daughter whom she has lost custody over due to a supposed drinking problem. Meanwhile Samâ€™s parents set him up with some girl named Pooja. Ever the modern romantic, Sam objects to this attempt at an arranged marriage, but his principles start to fall apart when he actually meets her for the first time. Unfortunately for him, her principles on arranged marriages do not fall apart, so Sam is immediately friend-zoned. Aakash is perfectly content to mock his friends and their woman issues, until Sid tells them that he is in love with Tara. For real. This seriousness is too much for Aakash and he insults Sid for getting emotionally attached to a damaged woman. Sid accuses Aakash of being heartless. It is not long before Sid leaves for art school and Aakash goes to manage the Australian branch of his fatherâ€™s company. With Sid caught in the middle and left in Mumbai, the three friends separate on unfriendly terms. And that is the first half of the movie.
I think that this movie works on three levels. The first level is one about the friendship between three men. This was a bromantic movie for 2001. When they inevitably break up around halfway through the film, one of the main questions is whether they will reunite. The second level is romantic drama. The three characters (yes, Aakash included) end up in their own sort of romantic storylines, which ramp up in the second half of the movie. The third level is about the transitional phase in early adulthood. It almost seems as if the other two levels serve as the hook and fun window dressing for this third part.
A lot of movies about manchildren seem to let their manchildren to descend into childish debauchery before forcing the manchildren to become mature men and better people through either man-bonding or woman-romancing. This is not one of them. For one thing, it is Bollywood, so the debauchery is rather tame and mostly implied. The romantic subplots do provide the catalyst for the characters to grow and develop, but it is not forced. The development of the romantic relationships are simply the most blatant symptoms of their maturation, but it provides for the opportunity for changing as opposed to presenting an ultimatum to change. This change is what initially upsets the friendship between the three main characters. Their different personalities may have led to them gradually drift apart, but their differing attitudes towards women and romance accelerates the breakup. The change in their viewpoints, behavior, and personalities may eventually allow them to calm down to the point where they could possibly reconcile, but a question is whether they really should make the effort to become friends again after all that time, when they have all moved on.
By themselves, the romantic storylines of Sam and Aakash are rather boring to me. If this were purely a movie about romance, then I would have preferred to have seen more about the story of Sid and Tara. On the other hand, the promotion for this movie had, apparently, completely omitted the character of Tara and the actress who played her. You might have noticed only two women in the poster at the top of this post. It could be because they did not think that she was a draw, but I would rather assume that it was an attempt to surprise the audience. But, taken as a whole, I enjoyed the inclusion of the other two storylines just fine.
There are very few surprises in this movie, and the movie pretty much knows this. It is almost an exercise in inevitability. There is one segment about two-thirds of the way into the movie where two of the characters go to see a movie. The movie itself is not actually a real movie, but an opportunity for the actors to reenact Bollywood genre movies from previous eras. On the one hand, this could be seen as part homage and part parody. On the other hand, this could be seen as a story about storytelling; that the same story gets retold and updated for the modern era. It is about both the journey and the destination. This movie is a journey, split into three journeys, with the possibility of the journeys rejoining. The destination is almost a given; even the journeys are rather a given. The presentation of these givens, however, make what otherwise would have been predictable seem more like the natural inevitability of life. That we know generally what is probably going to happen allows us to focus on other aspects of the story and the characters. If that sounds really deep and pretentious, well, maybe that is where the romance and bromance come in; giving such ideas some highly accessible shine. Or maybe I am just reading too much into this rather light and inconsequential movie.
One issue that I did have with the Aakash romance storyline (well, one of a few) was that it took place in Australia. Supposedly, this section of the movie was originally meant to take place in New York City, (where the director had spent some time), but that would have involved filming in a foreign country during the winter. So, it was decided to film in a foreign country in the summer. The issue for me was that the foreign aspect added pretty much nothing to the story aside from separating one character from another. Aakash does not fall for an Australian woman, we barely see him interacting with any Australians, even during his brief scenes at work. Despite his ease with speaking English, most of the characters with whom he interacts in Australia are Indian. It seemed rather unnecessary other than to provide a sense of exotic locale. Yes, I am saying that Asians can exoticize White people.
To be sure, the characters in this movie seemed to be quite rich; upper middle class at the very least. They live in big, lavish houses, they vacation in Goa, they work skilled jobs where they take a lot of time off. Aakash was sent to Australia to manage that branch of his fatherâ€™sâ€¦import-export businessâ€¦despite him having no interest in doing it and not seeming to have any training in the position at all. These are rich boys in a modern urban world, and their struggles are struggles of who they are and what they are. Perhaps this is why the movie did not fare quite as well in rural India as it did in the urban areas.
Supposedly, this movie is an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, though there have been comparisons to Reality Bites. Fineâ€¦I suppose. To me, it takes a bunch of well-worn storylines, characters, and tropes, and presents it in a way that lets it stand on its own. Yes, the movie is extremely long by Western standards, but it is highly accessible while slipping in something slightly more substantive amongst the fluff.
Next Time: Osama (Afghanistan: 2003, approx. 85 minutes).
Time After Next: Battle Royale (Japan: 200, approx. 120 minutes).