The Beauty of the Brooder in Dil Chahta Hai

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The Beauty of the Brooder in Dil Chahta Hai

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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he movie that introduced a generation of actors to good haircut and made spontaneous road trips to Goa legit adult behaviour, came at an interesting time in Hindi cinema. Karan Johar was mobilising the trifecta of A-listers to remind us that life is all about “loving your families”, Sunny Deol was wielding his vocals and his “dhai kilo ka haath”, and historical epics around “teen guna lagaan” were being spun. It was a time for big, ambitious, blockbuster movies — big on drama, movie stars, and glycerine.

And then came a movie about three friends that had none of the above.

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Farhan Akhtar’s writing and directorial debut starring Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Akshaye Khanna, was a wondrous oddity in the world of Hindi movies. At the time, nothing like that had ever been seen. The film did not invoke family, tears, or country, and instead talked about this odd thing called friendship. It was all about fun, laughter, and games, and yet running through it all, was a bond we didn’t quite understand and an unlikely hero we didn’t know we needed.

Siddharth Sinha is the first person we meet in the film. It’s a time of great duress for him. He is wearing a light blue kurta and a look of restrained worry, as he arrives at a hospital, running alongside a gurney, until he is left behind the swinging door of the hospital room. His eyebrows are slightly furrowed as he stares blankly through the glass door of the room, catching his breath, and blinking several times before looking away, forcibly coming to terms with the idea of losing a loved one. Tara, the woman just wheeled inside the room, is the older, divorced woman Sid is in love with, despite the disapproval of his family, and friends, and despite her refusal to acknowledge his feelings. For Sid, none of that matters. He does not even want reciprocation unlike the whiny Ayans of the world who cannot take a piss without longing for their Alizehs. He is an artist, and for him, the chance to be in love is incredible enough.

Siddharth Sinha’s screen time is considerably less than that of the rakish Akash Malhotra played by Aamir Khan, but it is ultimately Akshaye Khanna who has our heart. Sid’s delightfully evocative graph as the thoughtful yet dreamy 22-year-old who learns to be more realistic is as much a product of Akhtar’s able writing, as it is a result of the reticent Akshaye Khanna putting in his finest performance. His boyish charm coupled with his trademark brooding intensity, the subtle shifts in expressions to highlight different thoughts in Sid’s mind, are masterful.

Sid’s role in the movie is not that of a man on a quest. It is, in fact, a lot like that of the side character Deepa, who is in love with Akash, and who in turn runs from the very idea of her.

Sid remains the introverted friend for most parts of the film, but his character has shades of lightness and love like when he splashes paint on Akash and Sameer or his uncontained anticipation and glee when he rushes off to get his sketching supplies after Tara agrees to let him paint her. But for most of the film, Sid is a painting in melancholy. Before Sid came along, we’d never seen such acute sadness delivered with such control.

You’re aware from the start that Sid is the sort of person who gets everything but the girl. He is losing the woman he loves in a cruel and heart-breaking way. It is a setting where a dramatic burst of uncontrollable tears, aided by a nice, hammy monologue wouldn’t have been out of place. I can’t think of any other actor — take SRK, for example — who wouldn’t have happily splashed in a lachrymose pool. It is a scene that makes you realise that not all emotionally affecting moments need to find their crescendo in tears.

Tara is the older, divorced woman Sid is in love with, despite the disapproval of his family, and friends, and despite her refusal to acknowledge his feelings.

Image Credit / Excel Entertainment

At a time when nearly all of cinema’s men are embarking on journeys to “find themselves” and the Sids of the world are making movies on the simple act of waking up, Siddharth Sinha was a character of immense maturity. He might have been vulnerable to the world and consumed with love, but he was comfortable with all that it entailed. He sat on the other end of the spectrum from the impish, a-joke-a-minute Akash who would go on to become the first in a long line of overgrown men who fall apart at the very idea of commitment or responsibility.

Sid’s role in the movie is not that of a man on a quest. It is, in fact, a lot like that of the side character Deepa, who is in love with Akash, and who in turn runs from the very idea of her. Both Sid and Deepa love people who do not love them back, but they could not be more different in their outlook toward this truth in their life. There is a scene by the beach in Goa where Sid sits next to Deepa, and comforts her while tears stream down her cheek. He maintains eye contact with her, and talks to her in his quiet way about his idea of love and the problem with holding on too tight. In that short scene, Deepa transitions from being a character who is mocked for being obsessed with someone, to a girl having a hard time dealing with heartbreak. The transition is the work of Sid. I can’t be the only one who’d happily sit on a couch in Dr Sid’s office and tell him all about my love problems.

Dil Chahta Hai

Siddharth Sinha’s screen time is considerably less than that of the rakish Akash Malhotra played by Aamir Khan, but it is ultimately Akshaye Khanna who has our heart.

Image Credit / Excel Entertainment

His could not have been an easy character to play considering that Sid would never be a crowd favourite. It was a role rejected by Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, and Abhishek Bachchan. Sid could only have been Akshaye Khanna, which is ironic since he was first offered the role of Akash Malhotra, which he declined.

Thank goodness for small mercies, because it is only with Akshaye Khanna’s layered portrayal, that Sid went on to become the emotionally attuned man we crave to know in real life. Where are men who don’t need any waking up, and seem to know exactly dil kya chahta hai?

Until I find that number, I’ll have to make do with reruns and trust me, Sid gets better with every watch.

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