Dil Chahta Hai (2001) – Ace Mini-Review

Dil Chahta Hai
Starring: Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshaye Khanna
Written by: Farhan Akhtar, Kassim Jagmagia, Karan Kashyap
Directed by: Farhan Akhtar
India, 2001

How good is this movie?

Three hours of fun, feel-good, mindless entertainment, as nutritious as a bowl of Skittles – and every bit as tasty! The story, about the evolving relationship between three college friends, is sweet and easy to relate to. Yes, my brain frequently found it silly or even objectionable, but on an emotional level I was completely seduced!

How ace is this movie?

More than any of the other (admittedly small number of) Bollywood movies I’ve seen, this one really foregrounds friendship and places it on a footing equal to romance. Early in the film, Sameer finds himself torn between his girlfriend, Priya, and his friend Akash. This rivalry sets up a parallel between the romantic and platonic relationship. It also reflects the heteronormative pressure on young adults to abandon their platonic relationships in favour of romantic ones. The main crisis of the movie is the fight between Sid and Akash, which leads to a period of estrangement they both treat like a break-up. When they are finally reunited, Bollywood’s anti-kissing rule means that their gesture of reconciliation – a hug – is the same one used to signify romantic union.

There are three romantic arcs in the movie, which take up a good deal of the plot. Two of them are fairly conventional: Sameer falls in love with Pooja at first sight, while Akash is gradually charmed by Shalini. Sid’s relationship with Tara is more interesting than either of these, though, sadly, it is also the least successful. Although he seems to be in love with her, he shows no interest in pursuing her romantically. He does not care if she returns his feelings; he doesn’t even want her to know about them. Tara says near the end that “There are certain relationships that cannot be labeled,” and this seems to be one of them. While it would be simplistic to attach a label to Sid, his experience does evoke certain ace-spectrum identities: asexual, demisexual, demiromantic, lithromantic. In fact, the three friends could be broken down much like Romeo, Mercutio, and Tybalt in my review of Romeo & Juliet: if Sameer is the romantic and Akash the hedonist, Sid is the one for whom sex and romance seem to hold little interest. At least until the film’s final seconds, when a more conventional love-interest suddenly drops into his story and grabs his attention.

What I actually find most interesting about this movie, though, is the title. According to the subtitles, “Dil Chahta Hai” means “The heart yearns”. Yearning, want, desire, etc. usually suggest movement towards a goal, and are often associated with sexuality. However, the yearning described here is not for sex or any other goal. The phrase is actually the first line of a song, which continues, “…for these sparkling days never to pass. The heart yearns, for me never to be without my friends.” It plays during the scene where the friends go on a road trip to Goa, enjoying each other’s company, having fun, and just generally living for the moment. During this visit, they express anxiety about drifting apart as the years go by and hope that they can retain their friendship. This desire is not only non-sexual, it is without any goal. The boys are not yearning for the relationship to change, or to acquire what they don’t have; they are yearning for the relationship not to change, and to preserve what they do have. This is a less common understanding of desire that is, by its very nature, asexual. It’s one that’s been all too important in my own life. And I think it deserves more recognition.

3.5 Stars; 3 Aces

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