When Farhan Akhtar was shooting the title track of his debut feature Dil Chahta Hai (2001), he chose to put the song in the background. Music composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy tried to unsuccessfully persuade Akhtar to make at least one of the three male leads lip-synch Javed Akhtar’s lyrics. Popular cinema has benefitted tremendously from Akhtar’s vision.

Dil Chahta Hai, sung by Shankar Mahadevan and Clinton Cerejo, is intricately woven into the plot to echo the thoughts of the characters. The theme is summarised by Akhtar’s words, “Dil chahta hai kabhi na beete chamkeele din” (The heart wishes that these shiny days never end).

Should everything that the heart desires be verbalised? Farhan Akhtar did not want the characters to express their feelings, and chose instead to use stunning visuals to capture their emotions.

Best friends Akash (Aamir Khan), Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) and Sid (Akshaye Khanna) are confused about their love lives in Mumbai. They need a break. Akash lands up at Sameer’s house in the wee hours of the morning and instructs him to pack his bags.

The three young men head to Goa in an open-hood purple Mercedes Benz 300 SL. The posh car is used with the casual indifference available only to the privileged. The sight of the three men driving without a concrete plan not only mirrors the aimlessness of the young but also kindles wanderlust as a mode of self-discovery.

The cool quotient is already high when the title track plays in the background. The song is interrupted to include scenes where they check into a hotel in Panjim, play volleyball on the beach and indulge in water sports.

A moment of silence passes right after, showing them relaxing at the Chapora Fort with their backs turned to the camera. Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran’s camera follows the friends from the ground upwards, rising over their shoulders to film the great sweep of clear blue sea and sky above. The friends soak in the sights and make a pact to return to Goa once a year. Akash says “Hum dost thay, hain, rahenge, hamesha” (We were friends, are and will remain, always).

The characters are framed in shots of them looking out into the sunset on a yacht, riding bikes and traveling on a ferry boat. This includes the iconic shot of Akash swallowing a tiny fish that he has caught. The song is an unofficial promotional video for Goa tourism, showcasing it as a postcard-perfect destination.

The simple yet stunning visuals have been referenced in several buddy films since. The breezy track Khwabon Ke Parinday in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) is a tribute to Dil Chahta Hai. In the buddy drama Kai Po Che (2013), Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput), Omkar (Amit Sadh) and Govind (Rajkummar Rao) also pays a handsome tribute to Akhtar’s movie by showing the three characters jump off the Fort of Diu into the sea, as if to prove their loyalty to friendship and to Dil Chahta Hai itself.

The title track of Dil Chahta Hai (2001).