Akhtar, after establishing a production company named Excel Entertainment along with Ritesh Sidhwani, made his directorial debut with Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and received critical acclaim for portraying modern youth. The film also won a National award. Following it, he made Lakshya (2004) and had his Hollywood debut through the soundtrack of Bride and Prejudice (2004), for which he wrote the lyrics. He went on to make the commercially successful Don (2006). He directed a short film titled Positive (2007), to spread awareness on HIV-AIDS.