It started with a spoof. In early 1997, 23-year-old Farhan Akhtar had dropped out of Mumbai’s HR College, and was copywriting for ad filmmaker Adi Pocha. For an ad for a mint brand, he created a character called ‘Afitabh Sachchan,’ who comes to Bombay but can’t make it big in the film industry because of his bad breath. Akhtar took clips from some of Amitabh Bachchan’s films and dubbed his copy over it. Pocha, adequately amused, encouraged Akhtar to write more regularly.
That was the beginning.
Adi Pocha, ad filmmaker and entrepreneur: In 1991, I left Lintas to start my own company called Script Shop. We were a small team, operating out of a little garage-like space in Mahim. Zoya Akhtar was one of my earliest employees. She recommended Farhan, who joined us as an Assistant Director (AD). Within months, Farhan was doing a bit of everything: from doing a budget sheet to scouting for locations to managing production to sitting on the edit.
I figured that this person has a unique sense of humour and was brimming with original ideas. More critically, I observed that Farhan had an insider’s perspective on the culture and idiom of Bollywood. He was a major De Niro fan and although he was inclined towards writing and was very sharp at thinking visually, he’d often talk about wanting to be a star, which is what he is today. Now I don’t remember the mint ad, probably because it was a terrible idea that never got made. But it’s likely that something like that played a part in me nudging Farhan to pursue scriptwriting and start thrashing out ideas from the office itself.
Akhtar would go in early to work and start writing. At first, they were just vignettes about the time he had spent in Goa with his friends. Around this time, his friend Kassim Jagmagia called with a story idea.
Kassim Jagmagia, creative head, Excel Entertainment: Farhan, Ritesh (Sidhwani) and I were school friends and headed to a birthday party somewhere in Juhu. And you know, how before going to a party, you get a few drinks at home? This was a time when we were all on the brink of deciding what we wanted to do in life. All three of us were film fanatics. At this point, I told him my story. It was basically Akash’s track  from the movie exactly the way it is now, including the prank he plays on Preity Zinta’s character in the bar, the opera house sequence in Sydney, the proposal at the wedding. I told him, we went to the party and got smashed. The next day, my mom woke me up to say that Farhan had already called four times.
Farhan Akhtar, actor and director: I loved the idea. It was the time when the NRI romance, as a story, sounded very promising. Since Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge had broken records, it was what was getting made. I started working on Kassim’s idea as a parallel script. I was writing my Goa diaries separately. When I finished the broad story, it felt good and not just sweet, fun, cheesy or romantic. But it wasn’t representative of me. It was a rehash of all the characters I had already seen, only with a different kind of humour.
In Akhtar’s original draft, Akash’s friends were around only in the first few reels. They vanished when his character fell in love only to pop up towards the last few scenes for a grand family and friends photo, signalling the hero’s happy ending. This submission to an existing template made Akhtar uncomfortable. Then, he had a brainwave.
Farhan: What if I juxtapose my Goa diaries with this script and see where it takes me? As I was doing it, I instinctively felt that the script would be so much more fun if it was about their friendship and not about Akash’s love story. That became Dil Chahta Hai. Through the story, what I was seeking was this desire to feel proud of my writing. I wanted a “Fuck, wow” reaction.
Akhtar said he never imagined the script would “turn into a film that would go on to reinvent an entire genre.” This is both an exaggeration and an understatement. Over the next couple of decades, other movie stars and producers made blockbusters whose impact was felt on the box office, and on Hindi-speaking India’s popular culture, in more immediate ways. But 20 years ago, Farhan Akhtar and his team did make the Hindi movie industry itself a different place. Dil Chahta Hai helped change Hindi cinema’s standards for coolness and prestige, its depictions of India’s elite, and arguably, even its conception of its core audience.
It wasn’t inevitable. The Akhtar siblings, Farhan and Zoya, were born to celebrated screenwriters and grew up steeped in the culture of the pre-multiplex Hindi movie business. But Dil Chahta Hai was unusual. Nothing much “happened” in the first half. Music company executives felt that the songs sounded like ad jingles. Distributors thought it was ridiculous.
This brief history of its making, told through dozens of interviews, is about the years of work and the range of talent that went into making it happen.
fter the 1970s, Hindi cinema had lost Akhtar as an audience. Then, Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak released in 1988.
Farhan: From the age of 9-10 till I was about 15, which is a massive movie viewing time in a kid’s life, there was nothing worth watching. There were very over-the-top, melodramatic films being made. On one side, there was an overdose of B-grade action. On the other side, things were getting vulgar. Even then I knew that these films are just way too loud for me.
So I’d go back and rewatch the movies of the 1970s. Now, I’m aware that there was this whole thing going on with Naseer, Shabana, and Om-ji but it felt very serious for a child.  Instead, I ended up discovering John Hughes. Films like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off spoke to me. And then QSQT dropped. Sure, it was melodramatic. But it spoke your language. When I went back to Dil Chahta Hai, that lesson stayed with me. I told myself, “Let me try and speak to these guys while writing about them. I belong to this time and nobody has been speaking to me.”
But first he’d need a producer.
Ritesh Sidhwani, co-founder, Excel Entertainment: Farhan and I were school friends. While I came from a family that sold home appliances, he came from a family of writers and we always knew he was going to end up in the movies. I, on the other hand, was a massive film buff. More than the movies themselves, I was curious about how they were made. When we’d travel abroad, I’d pick up bonus discs of films like The Terminator and The Godfather. The ones that had those behind-the-scenes clips.
The other thing was that I was least interested in my family business. I knew it’d run well whether I show up at work or not. With films, even today, everything is unpredictable. You could’ve the finest script, cast, director, promotions and yet, you find out the results only on the day the film comes out. I love that thrill. I felt it then, I feel it now. So one day, Farhan came and narrated the script to me. I impulsively said let’s do this. We were both very raw, very fresh and had this crazy energy and impatience to tell this story.
While Akhtar had no formal training in direction, he’d worked with Pocha, had assisted cinematographer Manmohan Singh on Lamhe, and been an AD to Pankaj Parashar on Himalay Putra. He understood what went on behind the scenes.
The film’s budget was locked at ₹15 crore. For perspective, the budget of Lagaan, also released in 2001, was ₹25 crore while the star-studded Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham was made at about ₹40 crore. Once Sidhwani was on board, Akhtar started meeting actors more confidently and began assembling the crew.
Reema Kagti, director, second AD on Dil Chahta Hai: We organised the set and the schedule in a manner that very few Hindi films at the time were organised. Other than Dil Chahta Hai, perhaps only Deepa Mehta’s Earth and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan were working with those sensibilities where we tried out a lot of new things for the first time.
Ritesh: The film was shot in one continuous schedule between 4 August to 22 December 2000, a rarity in those times. All the department heads sat in one room and thrashed out a meticulous plan for the shoot. Between sound designer Nakul Kamte  to costume designer Arjun Bhasin to production designer Suzanne Caplan Merwanji, we managed a lot of firsts.
Suzanne Caplan Merwanji, production designer: Dil Chahta Hai was my first Hindi feature film, although I had done a ton of ad films and a few foreign features. Farhan wanted his film to look slick because all the three characters in the film—Akash, Siddharth and Sameer—were boys from wealthy families.
“When I saw the houses, I thought, ‘This could be real,’ because when I see houses with two staircases going up on either side, it doesn’t feel authentic.”
Farhan: Suzanne has an incredible eye for design. She created distinct colour palettes for each of the main characters. It compartmentalised a lot of things in my own head. The houses that she created felt like somebody had lived in them. There were no props, but real things. If, say, at Akash’s house, one went and opened the drawer, there’d be books and stationery inside. At first, when I opened the cabinets and drawers on set and saw real things inside, I laughed and asked Suzanne, why do you have all this?
Suzanne: To which I said, maybe, Dimple’s character wants to open the bar cabinet and pull out a bottle of whiskey? Maybe Akash wants to pull out a beer can from the refrigerator? To my mind, it added a sense of realism to the space where the set didn’t look like a set but a young person’s house.
Farhan: I can’t tell you how much that empowered me in blocking scenes. It liberated my actors and me. I could instruct them to move around freely, as if we were hanging at a friend’s house. This wasn’t the norm. In the 1990s, when you were on set, you were largely frozen in your position. That’s the mindset I went in with. But within the first few days, my whole point of view changed.
Slowly, we all got into it. A character would get up mid-conversation and open the window while others kept talking. There’s a point when Aamir’s character is icing his face, and he told me, the ice is over, I’m going to go into the kitchen and get the ice. I was like, sure, and he’s gone but he’s still talking, almost screaming from inside so Sam and Sid can hear him from the living room.
It was so liberating to be able to construct scenes with that fluidity. When I was an AD on Pankaj Parashar’s Himalay Putra, the cameraperson lit everything, the director decided what the scene was going to look like and the actor came in and stood there and did her lines.
Suzanne: I wanted the spaces of the main characters to reflect their personalities. Akash is the wealthiest of them and so his house, especially by Bombay standards, is the most unrealistic. Who has a house like that in Bombay? Sameer came from a Sindhi family, so if you look at his living room it’s overly ornate and decorative and not in a good way. His bedroom is chic but not the living area, where perhaps the parents had a say. As for Sid, we thought he’s a rich South Bombay kid. His mother is perhaps one of those wealthy South Bombay ladies, so the house is spacious and has lots of antiques and nice paintings. Since he’s an artist, we came up with the idea of him having an attic studio.
Farhan: When I saw the houses, I thought, ‘This could be real,’ because when I see houses with two staircases going up on either side, it doesn’t feel authentic. You know you’re looking at a set. A lot of the film’s sense of reality came from its colours and spaces.
arhan: Casting the film was the hardest part, largely because the film didn’t have a conventional plot. The second half still leans into something you have seen before. But in the first half, you’re watching a series of episodes and friendships unfold, people falling in and out of love, but you have no idea what the film is about. A lot of actors were like, ‘I don’t understand, what’s the hook here?’ or ‘What am I watching this movie for, after 10 minutes into it?’
The managers of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan told Akhtar the stars didn’t have dates for another two or three years. Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Jimmy Sheirgill and Sanjay Suri were some of the other actors who turned the film down. Akshaye Khanna and Preity Zinta were the only two people who instantly agreed. Khanna, in fact, originally signed on to play Akash.
Farhan: My first thought was: Saif (Ali Khan) for Sameer’s role. I met him and he loved the script. He was just very unsure whether he wanted to be in a three-hero film. He asked me, who's the third guy? He was not ready to commit until I figured out who the third person was. As for Preity, I had known her for a while. She had come to test for Kya Kehna, which my mother (Honey Irani) had written. Much before I had the full script, I told her when I make my first film, she has to be in it.
Preity Zinta: A year or so after he first mentioned it to me, he came to narrate the film. Halfway through the narration, he saw a cockroach in the apartment and ran out of the house. Then somebody came in and killed it. But Farhan wouldn’t narrate the second half until he had seen the dead cockroach! After he finally narrated the story, I was so impressed that my first reaction was, “You really wrote this?” I made him swear on his mom and dad and he was so offended.
Farhan: By the time I went to her, she had a string of hits behind her. She was already a major name. But like Akshaye, she was extremely nice to me and after hearing the script, kept her word.
Preity: I told him I’d do the film, but I wanted to do Pooja’s part, the role that went to Sonali Kulkarni. I felt that was such a whacked-out character as opposed to Shalini who was quiet and simple and had, like, 14 dialogues. I loved the comedy and the dynamic between Saif and Sonali’s characters. But Farhan told me that wasn’t an option. So it had to be Shalini.
I was so mad at him because he didn’t even put me in the “Koi Kahe” song! While everybody would laugh and have fun, Shalini would be just nodding about. It was very difficult for me to be serious all the time because it was such a funny script. After the film was released, people would come up to me and praise my hair. Then, I’d tell Farhan, see, this is what happens when you give your leading lady 14 dialogues!
Sonali Kulkarni: I got the part by a beautiful accident. At some office, Zoya (Akhtar), who was doing the casting, bumped into one of my team members, and a bunch of photographs fell to the floor. Zoya saw those pictures and asked who it was. Apparently, I looked like the character she had in mind. When I went to the Excel offices, I was just so impressed. There was this very cool ensemble of young, quirky people. Next thing I know, I was on board and we were doing reading sessions at the Sun-n-Sand hotel in Juhu.
Farhan: The casting wasn’t complete. Since I couldn’t get a meeting with either Shah Rukh or Salman, I didn’t think of bothering Aamir. I thought: why would he do this film? Won’t it be too immature of a script for him? But since I had literally run out of options for the role of Sid, I thought let me shoot my shot. I was prepared to hear a no.
Akhtar reached out to Aamir Khan’s manager and assumed that he must have told him that Javed Akhtar’s son wanted to meet. Aamir did not return the call for some days. Years later, Aamir told Javed Akhtar that he was waiting for him to call in the days he kept Farhan waiting. Since he didn’t, Aamir figured that Farhan didn’t want to use his father’s clout for access. Impressed by Farhan’s sincerity, he agreed to do the film.
Farhan: His first reaction? “Yaar, I love it. But make this in English.” Because at that time, when I was making everyone hear it, the script was entirely in English. I said, “I don’t want to make it in English.” Then he said, “But these dialogues cannot translate into Hindi because the humour in it is very English. In Hindi, you’ll lose everything.” So, I said, “No, I’ll go back and write it in Hindi and I’ll come back to you.”
“People would come up to me and praise my hair. I’d tell Farhan, see, this is what happens when you give your leading lady 14 dialogues!”
There was a gap of eight months between Akhtar’s first and second meetings with Aamir. Akhtar decided to wait it out because there wasn’t anybody else left to go to although he had finished the Hindi draft of the script within a month.
Ritesh: I think Aamir wanted to test our commitment. Once, when he was shooting for Mann, he called us in the morning and said he had a few questions, can we meet him in the evening. We were like, okay, where? He said, Bangkok. We were like, oh, of course. Both of us flew down that very day only to be told that the crew was shooting on a cruise that had left port. In subsequent weeks, we’d have several meetings with Aamir at weird places and at weird hours. His main concern was that he hadn’t worked with absolute newcomers before.
Farhan: He was quite happy with the way the script translated in Hindi. He had finished shooting for Mann and had started preparing for Lagaan. He said, “My character in Mann, after a certain point, is serious. In Lagaan too, I’m playing a serious guy. I just don’t want to play a brooding guy. I’d much rather play Akash’s part.” That caught me off-guard. I had pitched Sid to him because I felt it’d be easier to get him to agree to play a ‘serious character.’
A nervous Akhtar drove to Akshaye Khanna’s Malabar Hill apartment to make the request about switching parts with Aamir. To his surprise, Khanna said, “Oh. Cool. I’ll play Sid.”
Then, there was the role of the older woman—Tara Jaiswal. Akhtar had been smitten with Dimple Kapadia ever since he’d watched Bobby, her 1973 debut film. The character was initially a friend of Sid’s mother but Javed Akhtar felt it would be better if they weren’t friends. After the cast was locked, Akhtar and the actors started hanging out as part of prep: going to dinner and drinks, hitting the clubs. They’d already had the haircuts they were to sport in the film, styled by Avan Contractor and Adhuna Bhabani.
Ritesh: We went to Juice in Worli for the haircuts. After playing around with various styles, we locked Aamir’s and decided to retain that little goatee. Aamir was very unsure but Farhan, Zoya, Avan and I said that it was looking good on him. Afterwards, we went to the Konkan Café at The Taj President for a meal. While he was in the loo, a few guests walked up to him and praised him for that look. They called it funky. Aamir thanked them but when he came out, he lunged at me and yelled, “Did you guys plant those people to fake praise me?”
n one of the script readings––a concept unheard of in the late 1990s––Aamir suggested Khanna try a different tone for delivering a line. Khanna did it the way Aamir wanted, then politely told him it sucked. Akhtar was watching this play out. “This is it,” he said. “This is the dynamic that you guys have in the film’s world too.”
There was also the matter of dressing the characters based on their individual vibes. Costume designer Arjun Bhasin, who Zoya Akhtar knew from her time in New York, came on board.
Arjun Bhasin, designer: I was coming to India to design Monsoon Wedding for Mira Nair. When I read the script, it spoke to me in a language that Hindi cinema hadn’t before. It was about young people being silly, wild, carefree. I had to do it. So for half the week, I was doing Monsoon Wedding in Delhi and the other half, I’d work on Dil Chahta Hai. We were all in our twenties and raring to go.
Dil Chahta Hai’s design palette was a departure from that of the preceding decade. The 1990s aesthetic was unsubtle to the point of loudness. Wardrobes were star-driven, with leads typically being individually dressed by stylists of their choice, rather than by a designer working on the film as a whole. To many, Dil Chahta Hai’s palette felt like a visual relief.
Arjun: We weren’t designing for stars, we were designing for characters. It was also a democratic process: we didn’t have separate briefs for stars and other characters. It had to look relaxed and effortless. None of them had to wear a Gucci shirt with the label on top for them to look rich, you know what I mean?
There was subtlety in the texture and the fabric. Since Sid was an artist, he had this romantic vibe about him. We gave him light-coloured linen kurtas and pyjamas, which were in sync with the interiors of his space. Sameer was more sporty. Akash’s journey was more interesting. He looks stiffer in his clothes. But as the movie progresses, he loosens up. The colours he wears get lighter as his character evolves. Suzanne and I worked very closely. She’d think my wardrobe ideas through in the context of the sets they were making.
Suzanne: I started with Akash. Blue was the perfect colour for him. That particular blue is a slightly greyed-off version: it’s soft, it’s cool. It’s not a warm colour, because he's not a warm guy: he’s distant. Saif, on the other hand, has a much darker shade of blue. For the hospital scenes, I did a blue-grey. It looks very weird now. I look at it and it looks far too fresh and not aged-down enough. I’m quite horrified. It looks like a set!
Arjun: I was conscious of not over-sexualising the female characters through their costumes. Shalini, Pooja or Tara aren’t objects to be gawked at. You saw the female lead not as an exotic creature but somebody who was very much a part of the life of the film.
Farhan: Both Arjun and Suzanne are people that I absolutely trust. They obviously know more about design than me and there is no shame in admitting that. It helped a big deal that after our cast, our sets and the costumes were locked, we had the magic of Ravi K. Chandran to make it all come alive through his vivid frames.
hen I called Ravi Chandran, he was in Kerala working on the Malayalam remake of Andhadhun. “Finally, a Bombay journalist wants to interview me!” he remarked, a comment on how relentlessly star-obsessed a large faction of the Hindi cinema entertainment press tends to be.
Ravi Chandran: It was a set full of young people. At 39, I was probably the oldest. Then, maybe Aamir, who was 36 or so. The rest of them were all in their 20s. But I learnt so much from that set. I had never worked with a gaffer (chief lighting technician). They were shooting it in sync sound, another new technology. The ADs coordinated with each other on walkie-talkies. We still don’t use walkie-talkies in Kerala. People just use phones to call each other.
Reema: I just want to point out that the ADs did a lot more than talk on walkie-talkies (laughs). Initially, Ravi didn’t quite like Zoya and I, but he came around.
Farhan: Ravi had done a lot of work in the South, but I had seen only the Hindi film he shot—Virasat. I loved the way it had been filmed. There was an instant connection when the two of us met. He just understood the way I wanted Dil Chahta Hai to look.
Ravi: Which was essentially to make the camera invisible. The idea was to take the feeling of watching a movie away from the viewer. So there weren’t any sweeping crane shots. We didn’t use any gimmicky lighting. If there was a window source for lighting, we’d go with that. We shot on a set but we didn’t light it up like one. The famous shot of the three of them at Chapora fort in Goa, which has now become so iconic, happened by accident. I just captured it when they stood there.
For Ravi, one of the most challenging sequences to film was the road trip to Goa, the sequence over which the title song played. He had to ensure the song didn’t end up looking like a car commercial.
Ravi: We thought of the regular clichés: chai, a dhaba, looking at girls driving past them. And then decide to scrap it all. Instead of making it a quick montage, we shot morning to evening because when you travel, you end up spending that kind of time. Now, you just see the three of them in different moods and positions, a close-up of the side-view mirror, them racing with a train and so on.
The train reminds me of another challenging scene to shoot. This was in Sydney, when Aamir’s character gets inside the metro while Preity is left behind on the platform. Aamir running down the stairs, getting inside, the doors shutting just at the moment Preity is expected to get in. We couldn’t control when the train’s doors would close so we had to prep meticulously. Luckily, we got that in one take, and without our shadows reflecting in the windows.
Preity: That’s one of my favourite scenes: the part where Akash runs up, looks at the tramp and says, “Did she scare you, mate!” It cracked me up every time I read it. Other than the 5am call timings, I remember the entire schedule as such a happy shoot. In fact, on day one, when we were filming the nightclub scene, I told Farhan that this was going to be a cult film. We were shooting in sync sound, the costumes were so real, there wasn’t a heroine shouting ‘Bachao, bachao!’ The dialogue wasn’t melodramatic. Eventually, I grew closer to Shalini than I had imagined as I began understanding her inner life.
The shoot was completed over 106 days in Mumbai, Goa and Sydney in a start-to-finish schedule. Looking back, Akhtar calculated that a schedule like that might be pulled off in under 60 days today, given how professional production units have become.
hankar Mahadevan, composer and singer: I’d pulled an all-nighter before I showed up for Farhan’s narration of Dil Chahta Hai. Now, narration is where you can easily doze off. Ehsaan (Noorani) sleeps in all the narrations. But when Farhan narrated the film, I didn’t sleep a wink. The story was so exciting, so new, so fresh. I was shocked that a 24-year-old boy had written this.
Akhtar was also in conversation with A.R. Rahman for the album. Zoya and he had previously directed the music video ‘Breathless’ for Mahadevan’s hit from the eponymous pop album, whose songs were written by their father. The Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy trio were locked after a few sessions at a small studio in Worli. Soon after, they drove to Ritesh Sidhwani’s bungalow in Khandala for a jam session with Farhan and Javed Akhtar.
Shankar: On the way to Khandala, it started raining. We were playing Celtic music and I think it stayed with us, laying the groundwork for the album. We did a small setup: keyboard, mics. Back in those days, we’d record on a cassette player. The album, believe it or not, was completed in three and a half days. We’d come up with a tune and make Javed saab listen to it. He would disappear into a room and come back with the lyrics in 20 minutes. I’m not making this up.
Mahadevan and Javed Akhtar sat on a swing in the garden and talked about a song that would play out as a conversation between a man who’s sceptical about love and a woman who believes in it. Mahadevan had a tune in his head that went, “Toong toong toong…” but it wasn’t working with Javed’s word fragment: “jaane kyun log pyaar karte hain,” who knows why anyone falls in love?
The next day, Mahadevan had a flash of inspiration in the shower. He grabbed a towel and ran to his team, yelling: “That tune—toong toong toong toong—it’s for the title!”
Shankar: We didn’t have any baggage. We didn’t have to deliver hit music. We were just three boys having a blast. Having Farhan around just helped me immensely. Creativity comes depending on who you work with, and Javed saab is a legend. While we were very satisfied with the entire album, not everyone was.
One of the dissenters was an executive at a major music label, who called the music a disaster—he said it sounded like a series of ad jingles.
Shankar: The chords in the DCH album are inspired by jazz music. The harmonic structure that Loy used is unconventional, the groove is minimal, there’s a whole sonic palette we created which didn’t have any precedence in Bollywood. Eventually, we did find a music label and the rest is history.
Mahadevan’s biggest validation came from a club in South Bombay, a venue that often refused to play Hindi music because it was too uncool for their crowd.
Shankar: After the release, when we went to hang there, I heard “Koi Kahe.”I was gobsmacked. It was the kind of album that made the snobs think Hindi music was cool. However, despite the success of the album, for nearly a year, we didn’t get any work. I still don’t know why. Things take time to come to you.
ut for all its innovations, Dil Chahta Hai changes track in the last half-hour or so. Suddenly the boys are in romantic turmoil. Their love for each other is subsumed by the resolution of their respective love stories, and the film returns to Hindi cinema’s melodramatic roots, as if to acknowledge, after all, that straying from the fold was only fun if you could return to safe ground. The shift in tonality is even more jarring as it appears in stark contrast to the film’s otherwise laidback appeal, making its climax appear more laborious than organic.
Farhan: That’s the only part of the film I wish I had done differently. I wouldn’t change the fact that Akash had to go to the wedding because I wanted to retain the line where Saif says, “Never thought the guy who didn’t believe in love would confess his love to a woman on her wedding day.” But I feel that scene could have been done less dramatically.
Preity: But I absolutely love the fact that the cheeky dialogue that Aamir says to me in the beginning, in the nightclub scene (“Shalini, main tum se aur sirf tum se pyaar karta hoon,” I love you, and only you), is repeated again at my wedding but has an entirely different connotation. Both those characters have been transformed.
Farhan: If I were to shoot it today, I would suck out a little bit of the drama. It appears way too crafted. I remember writing it and thinking that this is just something I’m doing to prolong the moment. Suddenly, it felt like the tone of the film had shifted. But well, you live, you learn.
he editor Shekhar Gupta called the plot of the film “thinner than Bangaru Laxman and Jaya Jaitly’s excuses”––a marker of the times. The film invited mixed responses, but some who weren’t yet the writers and filmmakers they would become, knew that things had changed for Hindi cinema.
Ritesh: At that time, distributors used to buy films based on the star cast. So we weren’t worried as such. We showed the film to the distributors four months in advance. Four major distributors—from Rajasthan, Delhi and Punjab—basically developed cold feet. They said, this is rubbish. Farhan and I thought we were finished.
We didn’t get an MG (minimum guarantee, a sum paid out by distributors to producers on purchase) for it. But it taught us a lesson. We started distributing films on our own, at least in some territories. Even today, we don’t really align with any studio. Excel self-funds and self-distributes. To do this at a time when there was only one multiplex—Priya in Vasant Kunj, Delhi—was unheard of.  The film introduced a whole new generation of youngsters to the joy of movie-going.
“As someone who was yet to dabble with screenwriting, the film told me that realism doesn’t always have to be gritty, say, the way Salaam Bombay was.”
Sukanya Verma, film critic: In the film media, there was curiosity for Dil Chahta Hai but the excitement was nowhere in the league of say, a Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Asoka, Lagaan or even Yaadein—all 2001 releases that received extensive coverage. Dil Chahta Hai’s urban, hip appearance and casual humour instantly struck a chord with the F.R.I.E.N.D.S generation. It didn’t do spectacular business outside Mumbai as far as I can remember. Back then, both media and box-office was overwhelmingly formula-driven—very set in their rules, opinions, predictions and patterns. They probably weren’t sure how to react to Dil Chahta Hai, which challenged how we perceive drama and emotionality in film.
Juhi Chaturvedi, screenwriter: I was working in advertising at the time. This film came out of nowhere, and my colleagues and I were awestruck. It spoke to our reality.
As someone who was yet to dabble with screenwriting, the film told me that realism doesn’t always have to be gritty, say, the way Salaam Bombay was. The dialogue was so free-flowing and organic—I remember it as one of the first films where the confluence of English and Hindi was seamless, something that’d influence my own ideas of writing. The friendship and the camaraderie between the leads transcended class and gender, it made you reach out to those friends who you had lost contact with after promising to stay in touch.
wenty years later, Dil Chahta Hai has become a cinematic milestone, and also one against which millennials continue to measure their Goa plans. It may have ended in formulaic sentimentality, but the manner in which it arrived there immediately set it apart from its peers. It was the beginning of a new sensibility in an industry that is too often self-satisfied by its own mediocrity.
Akhtar’s debut heralded the arrival of a filmmaker of great promise, but the success of the film also laid out a blueprint for others to wade into uncharted territory. It raised the bar for the technical aspects of film-making, but, arguably more fundamentally, it compelled filmmakers to look at movies beyond the hero-villain binary. Now, Hindi cinema could have protagonists instead.
The Hindi film industry has evolved over the years, but, in some ways, it is now more rigid than it was when Akhtar began. What director could get three A-listers to share space in a buddy comedy today—let alone one like this? Akhtar’s meditation on youthful abandon and the aches of sobering up felt both wholly original and intimately familiar. The blend has proven difficult to recreate. This was a film so comfortable in its coolth that it didn't feel the pressure to wear a necklace that spelled out the word ‘cool.’
Ankur Pathak is a writer based out of Mumbai. He was formerly the entertainment editor at HuffPost India.