In 2001, the film Dil Chahta Hai was at least a minor revelation. Made with a technical skill and a disregard for many common Hindi film wisdoms, it set the bar for the many youthful movies in the following decade and beyond. At the time, one of the major reasons it caught the attention of movie watchers, before word-of-mouth made it a true hit, were its catchy and mostly music-montage trailers. These trailers were various scenes of three friends enjoying each other’s company in Goa. Those early trailers were pretty much shorter edits of this, the title song, Dil chahta hai
This film certainly had its impact on the film world, and on the world of Hindi and the wider Indian popular music, but more interestingly, it seeped into popular culture like only few pieces of entertainment manage, and this song has to do a lot with it. The road trip to Goa that this song depicted would almost single-handedly form the template to what every aspirational middle-class Indian under 60 would come to see as the ideal getaway. Goa has always been a popular holiday destination, but this song cemented its place as the cool destination, and all the activities you see our protagonists partaking in through this song, the para-sailing, the beach volleyball, the biking, all of them can still be seen in almost every Indian holiday photo album on Facebook to this day. All this thanks to some beautifully photographed shots by Ravi K Chandran. He manages a realistic depiction of the places and scenes while enhancing the colours and lighting just enough to add that little movie magic.
Farhan Akhtar in his directorial debut still manages to surprise us now with how much he manages to get out of the actors and scenarios of this song without a single word heard. Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna and Saif Ali Khan really do seem like close friends who just happen to be driving to Goa, with the right amount of silent camaraderie and adolescent antics appropriate to each of their characters in the film. There are no dances or strictly choreographed pieces here. It’s a music interlude which moves the story ahead as well as any can.
This song would come to define the music of Shankar-Ehsan-Loy like no song after it has. This has remained their signature, though they have perhaps created many superior pieces of music since. This one with its infinitely recognisable electric guitar riff, melodic piano bits and clever little sound effects, made it an anthem of sorts, the kind of status achieved by such songs as Papa kehte hai a decade earlier. Shankar Mahadevan sings at his enthusiastic and earnest best here, aided by a memorable chorus by Clinton Cerejo. The choral richness of this song, both in its actual vocal chorus and the many layers of synthesized and recorded sounds and melodies, is what still makes this song an irresistible foot-tapper. This is one of those songs you can leave playing on loop for a long time without growing tired of it.
The words, of course, played a significant part in the popularity of this song. They are relatable and universal, while also being written in short phrases and bits which lends it a certain urgency and simplicity. Javed Akhtar delivers such beautiful little verses which make this a song for the wondering part of all of us:
Kaisa ajab yeh safar hai,
Socho to har ek hi bekhabar hai,
Usko jaana kidhar hai,
Jo waqt aaye, jaane kya dikhaye
What an unusual journey we travel,
Every one of us in ignorance sealed,
About where we want to be heading,
What coming times will reveal.
Dil chahta hai is a song that made an entire film in many ways, and it is a song that defined an entire era of films and songs in Indian entertainment. But mostly, it’s just a rollicking good piece of music with just the right amount of elements, both aural and visual, to make it a pleasure to watch and listen to even after more than a decade. In an age of instantly forgettable popular songs, that’s a respectable achievement.