this is one Sid who's already awake: Akshaye Khanna in Dil Chahta Hai


Wow. Wow. What a great film this is! I am a total sucker for any story about friendship, and Dil Chahta Hai is one of the best. How Farhan Akhtar managed to create such a loving, full, filmi heart under that cool, very careful surface is one of the great mysteries of cinema.

Because it's Khanna-o-Rama, I want to put aside the wonderful sum greatness of the film for now and spend some time with Akshaye Khanna's character Sid. It's tempting to see the three leads as a spectrum, with perhaps the most moderate character, Samir, as the ideal type if simply because he so often winds up in the middle of whatever tensions and contrasts the script offers. His woes do not result only from his own weaknesses, like Akash's self-protecting blinkered blitheness, nor do they come only from external circumstances beyond his control, like Sid's doomed affection for damaged Tara. Samir falls in love too easily and with too little judgment, but nothing truly bad happens to him (as it does to Sid), he doesn't get irreparably flattened by heartbreak (as Akash nearly does), and he just picks himself up and keeps going, slipping fairly easily into the "right" relationship, so ideal that his parents have approved of it before he has. While the three friends contrast nicely with each other, I don't think Akhtar is telling us that the "middle route" is the best one. It isn't as simple as the self-protecting jerk who learns to love, the flake who learns to think first, and the poetic dreamer who learns to be more realistic. I think the story is actually a lesson in being true to thine own self, so to speak, with each young man learning how to see who and how he really is and then figuring how to act with that knowledge. And what a useful, satisfying, glorious lesson that is!

For Sid (and Akash too, to a lesser extent), that lesson plays out with regard to his friends and family rather than romance, which I think is one reason this film has none of the fluff and much more interest than other stories about college-somethings and their romances. Sid is the most mature - as the back of my Spark DVD case says, he has "reached modern-day enlightenment," which we see in little things like him being the one to solve Akash's Rubik's cube (a little theme Akhtar returns to in Karthik Calling Karthik, I'm realizing) - but I love that the film does not punish him for being the most mature...or "too mature." Akash may laugh at his love for a much older woman, but the film as a whole does not, and we the audience certainly don't. We may wish Sid had fallen for someone else, but we can't really question what his heart decided to do. He and Tara share an intellectual bond based on their work, and each lets the other into their more private selves. I think it's important that Tara has a more complex back story than either of the other love interests; granted she's older and should have more to her story, but the fact that Sid loves her while knowing that she has suffered loss, disease, and probably mistakes (for which other films would no doubt sideline her) is so touching.

There's a bit of romantic fog around Tara for Sid - she's wounded and he loves helping people, as evidenced by his heart-to-heart with Deepa and even the way he and Tara meet, with him offering to help her move her suitcases and boxes - but I don't think there's any evidence that he feels he can, or should, try to save her or fix her life. He just wants her to be happy, and he does well towards that aim. You can see on Dimple Kapadia's face that Tara is very touched by Sid wanting to paint her portrait, as well as by the results, and her response to his impromptu birthday outing is one of confused pleasure. Tara never takes Sid for granted, either; she puts as much into their undefinable relationship as he does. Like Akash but with much better reasons, she tries to protect herself from particular emotions. For an example of how wardrobe choices can be important to stories and characters, look how her harder edge and determination are represented by a stiff, steel-colored dupatta that she struggles to control in an emotional confrontation with Sid.

But Sid never lets her push him away when he thinks she needs him. He knows what his feelings are and he tries to put them to the best service he can.

I...I just...I love this character. He's so interesting and so well-written. He's self-assured, he's warm-hearted, he sticks up for himself, and he struggles with balancing his principles and the people he values (Tara, his mother, his friends). I've written before about how much I identify with Deepa, but, at 35, there is a lot in Sid I recognize and empathize with too. Balancing what you think and what your friends think is still hard sometimes.

Thinking about Akshaye Khanna's performances, this is the one I return to again and again as his finest work. He had a ton of great material to work with, no doubt, and he really knocked it out of the park. (I'm currently getting cricket lessons but don't have the analogies down yet, so baseball it is. Please excuse.) Let's take a look.

Sid is the first of the major characters we meet. I think it's telling that we meet him at a time of heightened emotions expressed calmly, which is probably his default state, in keeping with being an artist. Arriving at the hospital, he runs with Tara's gurney as far as he can until he is closed out by the swinging door of the examination room.

Also important, I think, the first conversation in the film is Sid talking to Tara's doctor (also an older woman - Sid does great with this age group [Editor Self - call me!]). He's being an adult and very responsible - standing in for family, even. Each of the three leads steps up and comes to the aid of someone important to them - Akash most dramatically, but even Sameer's mere presence probably helps Pooja realize the mistake she might be making with her dud boyfriend - and by doing so all get resolution to their emotional arcs.

Here's Sid in happier times, excited to show his friends his new painting.

I love that he calls his friends over to come see his paintings because it shows how at peace he is with that aspect of himself; I also love that Tara actually asks to see them as soon as he says he's a painter. She gets him in a way his friends don't.

There's a lot of levity in Sid despite his dreamy nature. Akash, you smartass, get ready for the paint attack!

He loves to be part of the group's teasing, and Akshaye pulls lots of great faces showing us Sid's looser side.

Having thoughtful conversations with Tara about his art.

I appreciate that for such an earnest 22ish-year-old, Sid is remarkably unpretentious. All the self-called artists I knew at that age were ridiculous.

This is the only time the film shows anyone being honest with, or truly decent to, Deepa.

Of course Sid is the one who bothers to wonder how she's feeling. I so wish we got to hear from Deepa after this. Sid's advice seems to calm her a little bit, but we just don't know. Akshaye is at his effortless best in this film, easily changing his expressions and voice to show us Sid's layers and thought processes. Here's a nice "What the eff is wrong with you, yaar?" face.

If I stopped to point out every little thing I love in this film, the post would be ten times longer, but I cannot not say how funny it is that Samir's dream girl is Swiss. Samir lives in a post-modern, post-YRF-song-sequence world!

Moments of delight with Tara. Here, she describes her divorce and the custody settlement, and while the story is sad, Sid is happy to have been let in to her past. Personally, I interpret his request to paint her not as an artist's pick-up line (well, maybe it's about 10% that) but as his way of showing her he accept who she is. In her story, he has seen her true, or at least more complete, self, and that knowledge speaks to him. It's also reciprocal; if she trusts him with her story, he can trust her with his work.

The moment of glee and anticipation punctured by bad timing - right after she agrees to let him paint her, he races home to get his sketching supplies, only to return to her house to find her on her way out the door for work. Look at that smile, crinkling in the unanticipated delay of pleasure...

and then another smile growing as unexpected pleasure appears. Tara coming to his art show means the world to Sid - it shows that she sees the real him and values what he values in himself.

This next expression reminds me so much of his sensible "villain" in Aaja Nachle: a little bit smug from confidence, but also a little wink of anticipation of time spent with someone he enjoys.

Aaaaand the stupid bubble song. Sid's all alone in his pleasure in this one. Thank goodness. Tara does not seem like a bubbles and dolphins kind of woman, does she?

At least his painting isn't as bad as his fantasy. And he loves seeing her happy. He can hardly handle it, like it's going to brim over.

And then of course it does, and unfortunately Akash criticizes his feelings and doubts his intentions, an unbearable offense to this very sincere person.

Thank goodness Akshaye does not get shouty in this scene. It's so well done by all the players - so painful yet true to them.

More earnestness.

And a more teenage-type reaction, an eye-roll when mom asks him about getting married.

Reuniting with one of two loves he's afraid of losing...

and saying goodbye to the other.

But at least he gets closure in her dying words: "Life is so strange. Some relationships don't have any name. Siddharth, you and I will always...." How perfectly written for Sid, to have that acknowledgment. So even in the retrospective and gloomy days that surely followed her death (which we aren't shown), he has the confidence of being recognized, that together they had something, some unnamed but lovely thing. There are dramatic words and reactions but not at all out of scale with what is happening.

Sid is the only one of the boys to get two love interests, noteworthy not just because of number but because both are suggested to be true and good. Tara may have been a more private romance for Sid, since she could never really be integrated into his social life (including his family), while Mystery Girl is friend-sanctioned from the beginning (he meets her in their presence, as she wanders by the group picnic in Goa, which is a location that represents only goodness for the three leads) and quickly incorporated, as we see all three couples in a big, lively-looking dinner as the credits roll. So, to end, here is Sid in Love #2, the artist who responds to visual beauty, and quickly thereafter the friend who invites her into his social world.

Oh Sid. The man we wish we knew in real life. I don't feel like I watch enough contemporary films to say whether there are many roles like this one around, but if there are, I really wish people would remember Akshaye Khanna's fantastic performance in this one. Wow. Wow.


Sunny said…
Wonderful. It is very rare cinema celebrates earnestness. Bollywood even more so, given its obsession with OTT gestures and grand filmi flourishes (huge generalisation, but am talking wrt to the stock mainstream stuff pumped out in 80s and 90s). This amazing aspect of the post-modern urban consciousness revival that DCH started with so much sincerity was rarely followed up. We got a lot of menkids or boychilds of Akashs and Sameers kind with their growing-up arcs in Salaam Namastes, Wake Up Sids, Hum Tums, Bachna Ae Haseenos etc etc. but such layered, inherently good characters as Sid from the word go haven't really been followed up in the ensuing decade (Apart from maybe Shahid's terribly underrated character in Jab We Met and, bear with me here, maybe Abhishek's character from Delhi 6 and that Hrithik character in Farhan's Lakshya complete with the whole army-joining overture).

Virtuosity in young men is such an interesting and intriguing facet. These wizened, unassuming, matured creatures who have an appreciation of the greys and blacks of life are such a rarity. I myself find really aligning with these male characters, so reading the dissection was absolute joy to the eyes.

Akshaye was a total revelation. Not one nuance, one gesture amiss. Used every furrow and laughter-line to invest gravity and levity beautifully.

Phenomenal writing as ever Beth!
VLoveMovies said…
You just nailed several reasons why DCH was such a revolution in Hindi cinema when it came around. Unfortunately everyone has gone on to mimic the hairstyles and the clothes and the banter, with none of the subtlety and the quiet assured writing and onscreen delivery. Dolphin song aside, it is a near-perfect movie (okay, so I love Lakshya for many of the same reasons, though I may be the only one), and now you know why (after Meenaxi) it is hands down my pick for the best Indian film of the last decade.

It is quite frustrating that there aren't more like it.
Ness said…
I have seen SO LITTLE of Akshaye's work, but I am so so glad this was the first film I saw with him in it. He is outstanding in DCH, and I really really hope he gets a role even half as good one day.
Cardamom Kisses said…
Beautiful post, Beth! I love it :) Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Thank God, that no silly fun is being made on Akshaye Khanna's hair! I'm relieved now!

Thanks a lot, Beth! I really enjoyed reading your take on Akshaye Khanna as Sid. Akshoo is outstanding, brilliant and fabulous in Dil Chahta Hai. It's his mature role. Exceptional performance by our Akshoo. Akshaye Khanna was a rare revelation and phenomenal actor in 2001! Now I want to watch DCH again and again only for our finest and the most gifted actor of Bollywood Akshaye Khanna. Filmfare did give him the Best Supporting Actor Award for DCH! He truly deserved that trophy! But other award functions like Screen and others were unfair to Akshoo by giving all the awards to Saif Ali Khan though he was merely a comedian! Akshaye Khanna should have got all the awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in DCH instead of Saif who deserved only the Best Actor in a Comic Role!

The Khanna-O-Rama week especially about Akshaye Khanna was a fantastic reading experience!

Beth, now the week of Khanna-o-Rama is over...But, please don't stop writing about our suave Akshoo and his performance in other flicks including Himalay Putra, Border, Mohabbat, Doli Saja Ke Rakhna, Aa Ab Laut Chalen, Taal, Humraaz, Deewangee, Hungama, Deewaar, Hulchul, 36 China Town, Aap Ki Khatir, Salaam-e-Ishq, Naqaab, Gandhi My Father, Aaja Nachle, Race, Mere Baap Pehle Aap and Shortkut The Con Is On! Tough you have already written about some of those flicks! U can still continue elaborate...
Ava said…
I agree with you... but I liked the kaisi hai ye rut ke jisme.. as a song.

Rest assured this movie will never go out of fashion, hence, no one will ever forget Akshaye.
Rum said…
Beth you made me faint this morning from all those Akshay cute-ing up the screencaps! I really loved Akshay's character in this and I'm hoping he'd retire the hair plugs and Priyadarshan comedy films for a role as brilliantly nuanced and good as this one or even Gandhi, My Father!
Liesie said…
Beth, loved the post ... loved DCH! Definitely one of my favorite Akshaye performances (can I say performance?). The bubbles and dolphins ... I thought, "what the hey, but let's go with it!" ;)

I agree, with all the bubblegum-23 year-old roles out there; Sid's is the best. I haven't seen another one either. He is mature beyond his years, intelligent, sensitive, compassionate, has integrity and is a sweetie-pie c",) Any Sid's out there?
ajnabi said…
He's such a wonderful guy. I do know a couple like him in real life, and I'm very grateful. :-)
Shalini said…
I absolutely loved this reading of "Dil Chahta Hai" and the character of Sid. Perhaps because it echoes my own thoughts so completely. Often, when a work of art really resonates with one, you become tongue-tied and have trouble articulating your response, but you clearly had no such problem, Beth. This really is a beautifully *expressed* piece.

I'm off to read what you said about Deepa...
Emily said…
I loved this. While on a shallow note, I love Sid because Akshaye was my first Bollywood crush, it's the character himself who really appeals to me.

Now I want to go re-watch Dil Chahta Hai. I always overlook it now that I've seen I can't remember how many more Indian films, but it's such a wonderful movie and still close to my all-time favorite.
Anonymous said…
Beth lovely post on Sid and can I also add how much I love your writing. This post seemed like a conversation not something being read off a LCD monitor as I was commenting along with your points.

Your cricket analogy would be he hit it for six or maybe he hit it like Sachin.
Pitu said…
Sid was my favorite character from DCH. You wrote such a nice article about him. I always like to imagine he found a wonderful, wonderful girl and lived happily ever after :-D
Anonymous said…
Hmm. My first comment got eaten. :(

I really like this movie, and I really enjoyed your review. In fact, I think I should watch it again!
Nabeel said…
what would you say if i told you this description of Siddharth made someone realize, 9 years later, how fundamentally he relates to the character...and how closely the relationship with Tara mirrors a real life one?

i am lost for words, which is rare.

thank you, beth.
Aaaah I'm way behind on all these comments! Sorry everyone.

Nabeel - I'm really glad you had a strong response to this piece! This was really fun to write, and the more I thought about it the more I had to say. I think this is an exceptionally well-written character and I'm so g;ad that it was brought to life on screen by someone so well-suited to it (and up to the challenge). Definitely one of my favorite performances of the 2000s...though wow, what a list that would be!
Mira said…
Am I the only one who wished the girl at the end had been Deepa?
Aarkayne said…
Lovely write up. Wonder if you have seen HUNTERRR and your opinion of the same. Its NOT a sex-comedy as was wrongly projected and never sort of corrected. I sure would love to hear back on that.

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