Directed By: Gauri Shinde
Produced By: Dharma Productions
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Alia Bhatt, Kunal Kapoor
I’d pay anything to get diagnosed by Shah Rukh Khan. Also, I hope he’s not homophobic because I’d be twice as intimately mopey as Alia is towards the end.
Reminiscent of Raju Hirani in its breezy handling of sensitive issues, Dear Zindagi leaves you with a heart smouldering in childlike wonder and unabashed delight at the discovery of something so simple and pure as a happy and contented life. I have never been prouder of Bollywood than I am in 2016 (one good thing out of the year, huh). We may have had our occasional brain-deaths in Sultans and Dishooms, but we also boasted of an impressive lineup of pathbreaking cinema that tickled as much as it provoked. Kicking off with the well-balanced Airlift, meandering its course through Aligarhs and Neerjas and Rustoms, Hindi cinema has certainly coaxed our teeth into the biopic genre, holding on as fiercely as many of the real-life counterparts of these protagonists held on to their undulating lives. Horror finally donned a realistic equivalent in Phobia, and Udta Punjab and Pink successfully revealed the darker sides of two indispensable components of a run-of-the-mill Bollywood flick- Punjab and women. What more could one ask for?
Dear Zindagi begged to differ; it showed me exactly how much more I could ask for. How wrong I was in assuming Bollywood could not unleash another off-beat venture into the wild; how miscalculated was the assumption that this film would just be an icing dispenser to close the year on a smile; that a mainstream superstar and a mainstream actress could not create anything removed from mainstream cinema. For how can Shah Rukh and Alia be closer than a hundred feet of each other and not fall in love? How can lesbianism be broached and even joked about as casually as an offer for arranged marriage? How can philosophy embrace realism and still elevate into something intellectual? More importantly, how can one spend three hours on a straight, no-twists journey to happiness and still enjoy every fleeting moment?
Dear Zindagi teaches you exactly what its titular psychologist tries, and manages, to teach an estranged Alia- sometimes, easy is right and complicated is not. Your movie doesn’t need to be a replete bandwagon, catacombed with every varied fibre of human emotion to reach out from the celluloid and grasp the viewer by the heart. It is a psychological romcom, so sure-footed in its treatment of the oxymoronic genre that by the time the end credits roll by, you have unknowingly blended two conflicting ideas into seamless one. Satisfyingly (and to some, yawningly) languid in its pace, its biggest achievement is the remarkable unobtrusiveness with which it lays down its opinions. Nothing is forced down your throat; every vantage point is discussed and smilingly examined. A monumental credit for inducing this friendliness, of course, goes to the unbeatable Alia Bhatt, an actress so unperturbed by anything the script throws at her that you really begin to doubt who the veteran out of the two is. She grins, laughs, weeps, fumes and outright bullies with such transparent passion that you can’t for once let go of her, lest you never get to see that disarming smile again. A special recommendation for a scene where she is talking and shouting to herself, trying to get a botchy breakup out of her mind. Heartbreak from a heartthrob.
Despite everything he’s done and every way he’s weakened our knees, Dear Zindagi is where Shah Rukh gets closest to a real person as opposed to an entertaining character. The old hand plays off every prop in his environment, and understates with such laid-back panache that the film is instantly salvaged from the grounds of ridicule or emotional overkill. Will this mark a welcome Bachchan-esque transition from protagonist to character actor? I hope so.
Supporting cast in Bollywood have seemingly taken It upon themselves to spring back from neglect with unprecedented vengeance. For almost two years, every movie has boasted of such a magically believable array of character actors that a review now looks broken without a platitude or two for these armies of unsung heroes. None of them had the tiniest flaw; in fact, Fatty and Jackie behaved almost identically to two of my own friends. The parents were so cutely misled in their flawed ideologies, and Karia’s young brother, Kiddo, was every elder sibling’s dream. Kunal Kapoor, Angad Bedi and (raised eyebrows) Aditya Roy Kapoor were all perfect as the several ‘kursis’ Sweet Alia tries on in search of her Right One. Ali Zafar brought out the incessant passion of a singer well, reminding me of a lot of my singing acquaintances. Fit like a glove, every one of them.
Amit Trivedi is back in the game. Go to Hell, Dil was a relatable diamond. All of Ali Zafar’s songs were honey to the ears, although I’m not sure exactly who composed them. A musical masterpiece, in Dear Zindagi, awaits every moviegoer. Or illegal downloader, for that matter.
The camera was beautiful and inconspicuous, delving into the wondrous poetry of Alia’s and Shah Rukh’s daily sessions with a toddler’s delight. A little too many static cams dangerously tipped the middle portion towards boredom, but the pulsating performances of the titular two made even boredom sit-throughable.
Did this December Dessert have any bitter raisins? Well, admittedly, the film leant too acutely on the philosophical to come through as a pander to the average duncehead Indian. But it’s fucking high time we stopped expecting pan-Indian movies, and just went for what we liked. Leaving that aside, a huge part of the journey was fixated on Alia, which, courtesy Alia’s breathtaking performance was a good thing, but I felt that a lot of other interesting people, including Shah Rukh’s Jehangir Khan, were depressed into two dimensions so our leading lady could frolic freely. The end itself felt too confused and labored to drive home the point powerfully, like the director didn’t know where to period this frothy journey. An unnecessary dream sequence and a broadly repetitive storyline certainly didn’t help.
In the end, as is almost mandatory with my reviews, all is forgiven on celluloid. Dear Zindagi is a movie that consciously tries to integrate abstract psychological therapy with the Average Indian Practicality, and succeeds for the most part. I’d give it a resounding three out of five, a certain recommendation for anyone in need of instant self-help, and an excellent way to end this debacle of a year with something so unusually optimistic. A delicious piece of pie with radiating innocence. And Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt. Seriously, damn the both of them. Ugh.