Anniversary Special #20YearChallenge: When Dil Chahta Hai Made Hindi Films ‘Cool’
Dil Chahta Hai, now a cult film, changed Bollywood. It introduced money, urban lifestyle, easing of morals, questionable facial hair trends, and most importantly, it introduced “cool”. Back then, Farhan Akhtar was a burst of freshness in the industry, trying to step out of his father’s legendary shadow. The following is an excerpt from our March 2002 cover story when JERRY PINTO spoke to the father-son duo, a year after the film’s release and monumental success.
Farhan Akhtar, director of Dil Chahta Hai, inventor of male bonding, harbinger of a new direction in popular cinema, comes in. He takes an armchair, sits down and then flips his feet off the ground to curl up, elf-like, in its depths. His eyes are unclouded, his bearing young. At 28, he has only begun thinking of the future because of his daughter. Otherwise, it didn’t concern him. Not until Dil Chahta Hai was declared a hit.
Dil Chahta Hai
“Everyone who asks me about the next film asks with a sadistic pleasure. Of course, I’m carrying around the burden of people’s expectations. But I don’t think I’m letting it filter into my life.”
Farhan bears the name Akhtar lightly. He does not seem to have a problem with following his father’s footsteps into cinema. Farhan skipped antithesis and went straight, pragmatically into thesis. He has already made his first film and is planning his second. He admits candidly that he did not have to shoulder his way into any rooms, did not have to carry a dog-eared script to a hundred producers, never bore the label of ‘struggler’ which in the filmsoaked suburbs of North Mumbai is a legitimate job description. “I suppose the difference lies there,” he says. “I never had to go without food for three days or write dialogues for minor films to pay the rent. It’s easier to be cool about things, not to take them too seriously when you haven’t been through the grind.
Cool. It’s a word that has been used to describe Dil Chahta Hai again and again. The boys were cool. Akshaye Khanna’s hair was cool. The sets were cool. Dimple’s ikat clothes were cool.
What does cool mean to Farhan?
“Being comfortable with yourself,” he says.
How cool is he? “Semi-cool,” he laughs.
He will need to be. The next project will bring Javed and Farhan together. Javed is currently writing two films, one for the Moranis and another for his son. So who’s going to be director?
“Me,” says Farhan.
Javed has a reputation.
Who’s going to be director?
“Me,” he repeats.
“Each artist must bring his own sensibility, his own morality to his film,” Javed opines. It’s a great way to define the hatke element that went into Dil Chahta Hai. It was an amoral film. None of the three boys were bothered by their histories. None of them were worried by their privilege, by their ability to enjoy their lives. Their neuroses stemmed only from their love lives. Where Javed pitted father against son (Trishul), parents are strictly supporting cast in Farhan’s cinematic world, if one can judge from a single film. So how would Farhan define that in terms of sensibility, morality, big words that come so effortlessly to his father?
His father replies. “This was the first time in Hindi films that all the girls had previous boyfriends or associations. One of them had a fiance, one was divorced and one was in love, or so she said, with someone else. That was new.” Farhan interrupts: “And yet in the 70s, a couple of brave young scriptwriters put their hero in bed with his woman, and gave them each a postcoital cigarette.” He is referring to Bachchan and Parveen Babi in Salim-Javed’s Deewaar. Of course, both of them died in the end, thereby proving a point about women who smoked or about prostitutes who thought they could go straight by marrying agnostic gangsters. Like Dimple dying. “Her character was an alcoholic in the film. That tends to happen to alcoholics,” Farhan says drily. And adds, with a sudden trace of his father showing up, “Whatever you think and say, films do affect people. And showing an alcoholic drinking and then marrying a nice young man…”