Chapter 11: The Making

Humein har saal kam se kam ek hafte ke liye Goa aana chahiye.”

Farhan Akhtar spent fifteen months writing the film and completed the film’s shoot in just 108 days. Two decades after its release, Dil Chahta Hai does not seem dated and still seems fresh. A lot has to do with the excellent quality of production design, beautifully done by Suzanne Caplan Merwanji. The surrounding spaces of the characters are designed and rooted in their lives. Nothing seems fake or out of place. As Sid is a painter, his room is full of colors. There is a giant prism in his room, along with ducks and birds. Expectedly, his paintings are present over the walls of his house. Sameer’s room is full of science stuff. A computer (his father also runs a computer business) and a telescope are in his room. Akash’s room is more spacious. It has Rolling Stone magazines, a big-sized TV, and a portrait of him, which Sid most likely made. I also recall the swinging prop containing a blue liquid in his room that kept oscillating. In an interview with Scroll, Merwanji elaborated further on designing the spaces in line with the characters. She said, “Aamir is cold in the film, a selfish young man, and his apartment, I hope, reflects that. Color allows you to say a lot about the characters, which is why Aamir has these blues and greys—a bit cool. Saif is a more simple kind of guy, so we used primary colors. Akshaye comes from an artistic background, and I had observed these apartments in Bombay that had this ethnic, sophisticated style.” Tara’s house is also beautifully designed, which is expected as she is an interior designer. It is ironic that someone whose own home is broken designs and makes other people’s homes beautiful. There are alcohol bottles on the shelves in her house, indicating the background of her drinking problem. Suzanne considers a compliment when people tell her that everything looks natural in the film, which means she did her job well.

The rooms of Sid, Sameer, and Akash.

Like the surrounding spaces, the costumes by Arjun Bhasin also fit the characterization. Sid, the artist, is often wearing cotton kurtas. Sameer has a more casual style and can easily carry colored pants with panache. Akash has a bit of a formal style with shirts and t-shirts. I was also curious about the kind of watches they wore. Arjun said that they thought about that as well, “Farhan and I discussed the characters endlessly. As I said before, to me, it’s important that everything one wears looks like it belongs to the person. Take the watches, for example. Saif’s character, Sameer, wears this beepy Casio number with games and stuff, while Aamir as Akash wears a heavy-duty branded watch. Then there’s Akshaye as Sid, who wears an old chor bazaar wind-up that probably belonged to his father or even his grandfather.” The women’s costumes are not elaborate and flashy but elegant, which at the same time demonstrate that these people are wealthy. By seeing Tara in her suits and Sid’s mother in her sarees, one can make out they belong to upper-class families.

Different types of watches are worn by Akash, Sameer, and Sid.

The characters also have distinct hairstyles, and in the title credits, the film mentions ‘hair designed by Avan Contractor (Juice Hair).’ Adhuna Bhabani (also Farhan’s ex-wife) had opened a salon named Juice in 1998 where Avan worked. Both Adhuna and Avan got a lot of recognition for their work on the film. In an interview with The Telegraph, Avan mentioned, “Films happened to me by chance. When Farhan was making Dil Chahta Hai, he said he wanted to change the way these guys are looking. They should look like city boys who are out of college. Aamir was the first actor who came in. I shared some references after reading the script, and it was such an urban film, and we did what we do for our client, doing a consultation and understanding what the need was, understanding the character. I had never done a film in my life until then. Aamir was the one who said, ‘All this is really good, but how am I going to do this every day on set?’ He said I had to be on set. I had no idea of continuity. Every few weeks, the hair needed to be cut and brought back to the same length that it was when we started shooting.

The film has music by Shankar, Ehsaan, and Loy with lyrics by Javed Akhtar. Initially, Farhan had approached A. R. Rahman for composing the music. But Rahman was busy and could not commit, and the film went to the music composer trio. Farhan had worked with Shankar earlier where he, along with his sister Zoya, had directed the video of his song Breathless. For Dil Chahta Hai, Farhan, his father, and the three composers reunited and went to Lonavala. Within four days, they were able to hammer out all the lyrics of the six songs. After returning, they booked a studio and completed the recording within three weeks. In addition to the six songs, the soundtrack has two instrumental songs—Rocking Goa and Akash’s Love Theme (credited to Michael Harvey), along with the reprise version of the title song. The soundtrack has various influences from the world of Indian and Western music, giving it an experimental feel. The music initially got lukewarm reviews, but it has become a landmark in contemporary Hindi music over the years, which also gave a massive fillip to the popularity of Shankar, Ehsaan, and Loy.

In addition to the music, the film has a great background score. There are distinct notes and tunes used in different situations. The flute is used in the scenes of Sid and Tara. Whether it is their first meeting or their last, the same background music plays. There is another one with the piano and the flute that is used in the sad scenes of Shalini and Akash. The guitar notes are played beautifully in the scenes when Akash is lost in deep thought after his argument with Sid. 

The film is choreographed by Farah Khan and is edited by A. Sreekar Prasad, both of whom won the Filmfare award for their work on Dil Chahta Hai. Talking about the film, Prasad said, “The scenes were very real and unlike anything I’d seen before. The preconceived notions and structure associated with Hindi films were avoided. The drama was kept to the bare minimum. Since the film was well-planned, I just had to maintain the even tempo in terms of dialogue, scenes, and songs.”

Dil Chahta Hai was also one of the few films that used the sync-sound technique where the sound is recorded at the time of shooting instead of asking the actors to dub it later. Saif almost did not do the film for this reason. Farhan, however, clarified, “I firmly believe that Indian moviegoers are ready for subtleties like sync sound. There was a time when directors had to keep hammering in a point to make sure audiences understood what was being said. Now audiences refuse to be considered stupid. This gives a director like me an opportunity to treat cinema realistically.” Perhaps, these fine changes have helped increase the longevity of the film.