(Dil Chahta Hai was released on August 10, 2001. This post was first published in 2011)

Summer of 2001. Bhopal. Bharat Talkies. Dil Chahta Hai.

A decade later the experience is still as fresh. On that overcast afternoon, I stepped out of the theatre with a heady head. I had just witnessed something phenomenal. The last time I underwent something similar after a Bollywood movie was when I watched Satya, but that was a different high. Asked my brother to go to the hotel (we were in Bhopal for my admission to a university there) and logged in to the nearest cyber cafe to send across an excited email to all my friends. The subject line read “Don’t miss Dil Chahta Hai. It’s great.”

Till the year 2001, I had lived my entire middle-class life in the small hill city of Shillong and ostensibly had nothing in common with the three well-to-do protagonists from South Mumbai. Yet, there was a connection. The zeal, the fun and frailties of friendship, the pangs of love. Things that are not bound by geography or economic strata. We saw ourselves and our friends in the characters. This film was us.

Akshaye Khanna, Saif Ali Khan and Aamir Khan in a still from Dil Chahta Hai (2001)

Dil Chahta Hai is not escapist. It is not Yash Chopra. It is not Karan Johar. It is not (the original) Ram Gopal Varma. It is Farhan Akhtar, who has a flair of mixing the bitter and the sweet in a way that his films leave a lingering taste. Pity that he neglects his strengths and instead prefers to pain me with his acting (and singing).

Friends have always believed, and Bollywood further tried to establish it, that friends remain together. Forever. Dil Chahta Hai showed that friendship is not yeh dosti hum nahi todenge, but something that is fragile but also need not be handled with great care.

The film didn’t have the pretensions changing lives. It, in a way showed us our lives, in a different tinge. It made us relish those little moments that we didn’t think had a place of pride in our memories.

Without the burden of expectations and experience this is what maybe only a first time director can deliver. Farhan’s later directorial ventures Lakshya and Don while being good films were not Dil Chahta Hai.

While some reviews initially trashed the soundtrack, it was a film that established the Shankar-Ehsan-Loy trio as one of Bollywood’s music powerhouses. It brought to us a new sound. Something we had, till then, believed only AR Rahman could do. Each song had a different appeal and one listener’s favourite was different from the other. Amongst us friends, at the university, we had one song dedicated to each. Tanhayee was my number (for some specific reasons).

Also not all reviews were very kind to the film. Many branded it as movie meant only for the English-educated urban audiences and left it at that. But then the same reviewers while reviewing later films, lauded Dil Chahta Hai in retrospect. Dil Chahta Hai is wine.

I have always loved films and as a child when someone asked me the question that every child is subjected to, throughout their entire growing up years, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “A movie director,” was my cocksure answer to the bedaffled grownups expecting a familiar sounding doctor or an engineer. And film stars I occasionally aped. I tucked in my pullover inside my trousers for the Salman Khan look, kept my hair long at the back and short on the front because Sanjay Dutt did and (I shouldn’t be revealing this, but what the heck) once had a hairstyle similar to Rahul Roy’s (Laugh. But don’t forget that Aashiqui was a big enough hit for impressionable kids to get carried way). But never has a fad become my style, till Dil Chahta Hai. The soul patch, inspired by Aamir Khan’s look in the film, has been a constant feature on my face for the last decade-and-a-half (also because my then-girlfriend-and-now-wife believes that I makes me look a bit ‘mature’. I still carry the soul patch, even though the grey in my hair adds more than enough ‘maturity’ to my looks).

When my future sister-in-law asked what gift I wanted, I asked for a Dil Chahta Hai VCD, then ripped the audio track out of the movie to make my own Dil Chahta Hai music album with dialogue in it. If Sholay can have it, why not Dil Chahta Hai? When friends come to stay over and browse through my movie collection they invariably pull out Dil Chahta Hai for a ‘friendly’ watch.

None of my friends owned a swanky Mercedes convertible (none still do), so we had to be content with a ramshackle Maruti Omni. As the van drove along the long and winding Meghalaya roads I felt the rain drops on my feet sticking out of the rear window and Shankar Mahadevan’s voice filled the air that smelt of pine. We had created our own Goa in a corner of the North East.

The first year of the millennium was a momentous year for me. It was then when I first stepped out, in search of a future, from the cosy confines of the wet and moss covered hills into the heat and grime of the Hindi heartland. It was also the year when one of my all time favourite Bollywood films released.

I didn’t become a filmmaker. I still aspire to be. A kind that can make films that can leave an indelible impression as Dil Chahta Hai did.