Chapter 7: The Subtext of Fear

Tu Priya se itna darta kyun hai?

Many times, I have wondered about the challenges faced by the characters in Dil Chahta Hai. They belong to high-income families, possibly, except Sid, who appears to be only slightly less well-off than the others. Akash’s father has an export business, while Sameer’s father owns a computer business. We never get to know what Sid’s mother does for a living, but it seems that she makes enough not to force Sid to work on a high-paying job. Similarly, Pooja and Shalini belong to prosperous families. Shalini’s parents had died in an accident; her father’s business partner raised her. Tara works as an interior designer, likely, in a senior role as her company has given her a fully furnished house. Money or the lack of it is not a factor in these people’s lives. Dil Chahta Hai is not just a coming of age story of the three friends; in many ways, it is also a coming of age of the Hindi film industry, showing that wealth is no longer a dirty word. The rich have problems, too. Shekhar Gupta, the former editor of the Indian Express, in his column National Interest, called Dil Chahta Hai as a turning point for the Hindi film industry. He writes, “When was the last time you saw a Hindi film that celebrated riches, the high life, luxury so unapologetically? In the usual formula, one of the three friends (Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, and Saif Ali Khan) would have hailed from a poor family, brought up by a widowed mother. His would have been the one home with happiness and his mother’s shoulders his friends cried on, for she would have been the fount of wisdom, generosity, and hers a genuinely contented life. Not in this case. Here all of them are rich. They (including the women) drink champagne. They coolly ditch old boyfriends/girlfriends and move onto new ones. They flaunt the symbols of affluence: cell phones, resort holidays in Goa, 51-inch flat-screen televisions. Can we name another Hindi film that was so relaxed, so non-judgmental, so merrily in your face about being rich?

Traditionally, Hindi films have demonstrated the differences in economic status and, in some cases, the religious affiliation between friends. In 2009, Raj Kumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots broke all box-office records becoming the biggest hit ever (at that time). Starring Aamir Khan, Madhavan, and Sharman Joshi as Rancho, Farhan, and Raju, respectively, the film questioned the rote learning culture in India’s higher education. It spread the message to the youth to follow their heart. The three friends in the movie share a strong friendship despite the differences in religion and economic status. However, wealth is a factor that they have to deal with, particularly Raju. He belongs to a low-income family with a paralyzed father, a cranky mother, and an unmarried sister. For Raju, getting a job is more important than the other two. He cannot afford the consequences of being thrown out of his college because of his limited options. In 2006, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti depicted another splendid portrayal of friendship. An English filmmaker comes to India to prepare a documentary on India’s freedom and casts some aimless young men as freedom fighters. The film stars Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi, Siddharth, Kunal Kapoor, and Madhavan as DJ, Sukhi, Karan, Aslam, and Ajay, respectively (coincidentally, the three main actors were also there in 3 Idiots). At one point in the film, Aslam’s father admonishes him for having friends outside their ‘quam‘. The friends again had differences in their economic statuses, but the film underscored the differences in their religion more. Hindi cinema is replete with numerous other examples where wealth (Ishq (1997), Student Of The Year (2012)) and faith come between friends.

In Dil Chahta Hai, money and religion do not impact the relationships among friends. The challenges that the people face in the film are more internal. There is a subtext of fear or ‘darr’ in all three friends, and it is this fear these people have to overcome. Early in the film, Sameer is given an option by his bossy girlfriend Priya to choose his relationship with her or his friendship with Akash. He forgets to call her and realizes that his relationship is almost over. Seeing his predicament, Sid remarks to him, “Tu Priya se itna darta kyun hai?” as to why he is afraid of Priya. Sameer replies that he is not scared of her, but he loves her, and he does not want to hurt her. This manifestation of fear is seen in Sameer again when he is in love with Pooja. On being asked by Sid why he has not yet told Pooja about his feelings for her, he remarks, “Mujhe darr lagta tha, yaar. Agar Pooja ne na kardi toh thori bahut jo yeh dosti ho gayi hai, vo bhi chali jayegi aur main bilkul akela ho jaunga. Tu bhi yahan nahi tha aur Akash bhi nahi.” He is again afraid of speaking his heart out because he does not want to lose his friendship with her. In both instances, he has this fear of losing someone.

Sameer feels afraid.

While Sameer is afraid of losing love, Sid is afraid of not being understood by the person he loves. Though he is head over heels in love with Tara, he does not want her to know the same because he feels that she will not understand. In one of the film’s best scenes, when Tara discovered his feelings, he said he was sorry that he hurt her though he was not sorry for falling in love with her. On an earlier occasion, Sid advised Sameer that since he loves Pooja that much, he should tell her, “Agar tu Pooja ko itna chahta hai to abhi tak use bataya kyun nahi?” While in his situation, he, too, loved Tara immensely, but still, he does not want her to know ever. It is the hesitation, apprehension, and fear that his mother saw which made her ask Sid as to what was it that was eating him from inside, “Main dekh rahi hun koi cheez tumhe andar hi andar khayi ja rahi hai.”

Something is bothering Sid from inside.

The theme of fear is the most visible in Akash and his relationship with Shalini. While Sameer is afraid of losing love, and Sid is afraid of not being understood by his love, Akash fears falling in love. His relationships do not last more than two weeks. He says he has seen his friends who have gone through emotional turmoil in their relationships. Therefore, he feels he is happy the way he is. He believes that all relationships eventually make the person heartbroken, and he wants to avoid ending up in that state. Thus, in a way, he is scared of the emotional consequences of love. When Shalini says that love simply happens, then he replies, he does not let it happen as if he deliberately tries to stop himself. When he finally falls in love with Shalini, he refuses to accept that he could be in love, too. He never once confessed to Shalini that he is in love with her and only manages to say it right before her wedding. Interestingly, the song Jaane Kyon also highlights this element of fear in Akash. The lyrics of the song are like the conversation between Akash and Shalini and their views on love. At one point, there is a stanza that says, “Log chup chup ke pyaar karte hain, jaane kyon saaf kehte darte hai?” People love stealthily but don’t know why they are afraid to admit it openly.

Why are people afraid of love?

In this context, it is also worth mentioning the elements of fear in Shalini too. When Akash and Shalini are at an amusement park in Australia, he asks her why she is so scared of the roller-coaster ride. He calls her a coward, and to disprove him, she goes on the ride with him. She loves the roller-coaster ride. In many ways, the roller-coaster ride was a symbolic reference to the roller-coaster of life itself. Shalini is a quiet and subdued girl who has probably led a protective life. She has made compromises in life. It is Akash who takes her on this joy ride and helps her remove some of her inhibitions. Immediately after the amusement park scene, we see another depiction of fear in Shalini. Both Akash and Shalini end up in the train station. Akash runs to the train, which then starts moving. Shalini is left behind at the train station. At that instance, a disheveled older man starts approaching her. There is a palpable fear on Shalini’s face, but Akash comes back to the station just in time, and she feels a sense of relief. On seeing Shalini’s trepidation at the man, it appears that he is going to punch the older man, but instead of that, Akash embraces him. Although it is a hilarious scene, the thing to note is it again underscores an important message for Shalini and others as well—to embrace your fears with open arms to scare them away.

I can’t help but think of Deepa, perhaps the bravest character in the film and, indeed, much more courageous than the friends. Akash is afraid of falling in love, Sameer is afraid of falling out of love, and Sid is afraid of not being understood in love. In contrast, Deepa is not afraid of falling in love, does not care if her love is not reciprocated, and never gives up trying to fight for her love. And, they all made fun of Deepa. Really.