One cannot help but feel generally pleased after viewing Farhan Akhtar's debut feature - Dil Chahta Hai. The film is refreshingly different (yes it is actually 'different') from the standard run of the mill fare one is accustomed to in mainstream Hindi Cinema (Thank God for Lagaan too!!!) and establishes Javed Akhtar's son as a director to look out for.
The film takes a look at the friendship of three graduates Akash (Aamir Khan), Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) and Siddharth (Akshaye Khanna) and their efforts to find love. Farhan gives us a much more warm, witty, poignant and humorous portrayal of young friendship treated in a refreshingly candid manner without bowing to the dictates of loud melodrama and self-sacrifice. The three boys are characters one could have met at any St Xaviers or Sydenham College - Akash the incorrigible flirt not believing in long term relations, Sameer the one who falls in love with any girl he meets and Sid - the more serious and most mature of the group and also the most creative - an aspiring painter. The film works best when it sticks to the three of them - their scenes together are truly heartwarming and a great representation of what friendship is all about as they laugh and holiday together - All for one and one for all!
The romantic interludes of the three lads even though treated well enough in their own manner actually takes away from the film because whenever the film goes off on the individual tracks you miss the easy rapport that the three obviously shared even off-screen which translates remarkably well on screen. So Akash falls for Shalini (Preity Zinta), an orphan, who is to be married off to the obnoxious son (Ayub Khan) of the couple who have brought her up as 'gratitude', Sameer for Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni) a girl who has been 'arranged' for him after resisting the whole concept of arranged marriage and Sid falls for an older woman who moves in next door - a divorcee and an interior designer, Tara (Dimple Kapadia). While the tracks of Sameer (the romance is treated in a comic manner culminating in a well done parody song) and Siddharth, the latter tender and poignant, work well enough the most boring and hackneyed track is that of Akash and Shalini like a typical filmi romance with a villainous third party redeemed only to some extent by the expert performances of both Aamir Khan and Preity Zinta.
The film is strictly modern, young and urban in its look but upto a point. All the characters are from the hip side of society and thus all pretty much moneyed in designer clothes and swanky cars without having to worry about trivial things like careers - they conveniently don't have to think about it if they don't want to. Only after a fall out with Sid does Akash go to Australia under his father's order to look after the family business. (Again the career side is restricted to carrying on with the family business - even Sameer later joins his father's IT business; surely these three young smart men have minds of their own to do what they want to - Sid does in a sense that he wants to be a painter but the film fails to look at his aspirations and struggles - one exhibition and we are told how talented he is!)
Thus. one major complaint one could have with Farhan is that even in a modern yuppie film, Hindi Films have certain rules that cannot be broken - the role of the women. Both Preity Zinta and Sonali Kulkarni - the so called representations of the modern, young woman have nothing to do except wait to get married and the older woman Dimple Kapadia who does have a career of her own and even drinks is made to pay for it by having to lose her husband and daughter and to die in the film. This also serves Farhan the other purpose of avoiding this relationship to move towards its completion as perhaps a younger man - older woman relationship is not easily digested in India anywhere. In fact Dimple was deliberately kept out of the film's publicity before the release of the film.
The splendid performances of Aamir, and Saif carry the film through. Aamir, though a trifle studied, still manages to let go and infuse Akash with a zany sense of film thus endearing him to audiences while Akshaye is obviously introspective and intense role of the creative artist. Yet, it is Saif Ali Khan who is the surprise packet of the film. Dil Chahta Hai sees the actor's finest performance yet - he is spot on with his sense of comic timing and is equally at ease in the more dramatic moments of the film. It is a remarkable performance coming from totally unexpected quarters. Coming to the women, it is refreshing to see Dimple Kapadia on the screen after a considerable period and she expertly and effortlessly plays the much misunderstood Tara to perfection. Preity Zinta too rises above the script and has perhaps never looked better but Sonali Kulkarni is a disaster. Overrated even in her offbeat roles, her transition to mainstream Hindi films in films like Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya and now Dil Chahta Hai is nothing short of catastrophic. She just doesn't have it in her and trying to be a glamorous Hindi Film heroine is just not her! The sooner our filmmakers realize this the better!
While the film is aided by its fine, sharp and funny dialogues, picturesque cinematography, fine sound design and a hip and trendy production design the music by Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy is a bit of a let down. What could have been a youthful, peppy soundtrack really fails to get off the ground barring the title song and the Jaane Kyon duet between Aamir and Preity. Also, the screenplay meanders when looking at the individual tracks of the three young men - at times the film gets stuck with one protagonist and stays with him for too long suddenly realizing there are others to deal with as well. Perhaps a more clearly developed parallel development of all the three characters could have resulted in a more complex and richly layered film while giving it an inherent pace as well as the film does sag in the long and lengthy Australian sequences with Aamir and Preity in the second half.
All in all, Dil Chahta Hai is still miles ahead of your run of the mill Hindi Film and does bring you out of the theatre with a smile on your lips. One can only hope that Farhan Akhtar is able to take it from here and grow film by film.