Movie Review: 'Dear Zindagi'
Opened: 25 November 2016
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Alia Bhatt, Kunal Kapoor, Ali Zafar, Angad Bedi, Ira Dubey, Aditya Roy Kapur
Director: Gauri Shinde
Producers: Gauri Shinde, Karan Johar, Gauri Khan
Mild spoilers ahead.
"Dear Zindagi... I know we haven't spoken in a while... But... I just wanted to say 'hi!'"
Once in a blue moon, there comes a film like Dear Zindagi that literally takes a small piece out of your life and re-plays it right back at you. This is that film. Whether it's the counsellor-patient relationship, the fears that ensnare literally every bond you ever form or create, and subsequently self sabotage, in an attempt to over-complicate your life, while you stupidly forget that the time you have on this planet, in the grand scheme of things is limited... Oh so limited, it will all hit a nerve with you in some shape or form.
However. The conundrum here is that while director Gauri Shinde gets literally every nuance and characteristic of her protagonist right, she's so engaged with her that she forgets that sadly, this film is unlikely to resonate with every one. Especially not with the people that are yet to go on this journey of self awareness and discovery. As a result, she needed more in terms of plot instead of a film that meanders and is stretched so endlessly, that you get frustrated because there's so much here that is bang on, and yet you can't help but feel defeated by the end of it all, even if you've invested so much in its characters. If the film's writing had been tighter and major plot points unravelled much earlier, then Shinde was definitely on to a winner because of where she was ultimately hoping to go here.
Dear Zindagi revolves around Karia (Alia Bhatt) and her disastrous relationships with three men, along with her career aspirations which seem to get dashed every time they seem within reach. When she's evicted from her flat she moves back to Goa, her home town, where a chance encounter with an enigmatic psychiatrist Dr Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), forces her to hold up a mirror and take a closer look at effectively how literally each and every one of her issues, is a result of her own self destructive behaviours which themselves stem from a key problem she encountered as a child, and essentially never really dealt with, causing her to repeat a cycle until she herself learns to break free of it.
For all intents and purposes, Dear Zindagi is a brave film - one devoid of any theatrics or dramatisation and one that relies solely on dialogue and experienced delivery to see it through. And it nearly succeeds because Shinde has in her arsenal, Bhatt, who dishes out a performance that is nothing short of spectacular – whether it's her effervescence, the child-like rebellion that comes deep from within her past, or the front she puts on every time she sees her needs slip away even though they are within her grasp. It's a gem of an act and one that often rises above the discrepancies in Shinde's inconsistent writing.
SRK too, is as charming as hell and even though he has nowhere near as much footage as the film's central protagonist, I won't fib I heart this new version of SRK. He's embraced his age – wrinkles, warts and all and seems to be on journey of self discovery of his own as an actor. Notice how, even when the spotlight's not on him, he literally smashes through the few scenes he's in, displaying a masterly yet subdued command of the craft, effectively ushering a new era in his career – an era which I'm quite looking forward to, mind.
The problem with Dear Zindagi is that with the focus remaining almost solely on Bhatt's character, the other characters by and large suffer – whether it's Kunal Kapoor's Raghu who despite being as charismatic as ever, is one we never really empathise with purely because his romance with Karia is not as fleshed out as it should have been. Ditto for Kaira's other liaisons with Ali Zafar's and Angad Bedi's characters. I for one would have much preferred to see these relationships explored rather than the focus being on Kaira's abandonment issues which are effectively the root cause of her erratic behaviour. They aren't even that interesting and don't really justify why she's feeling the way she does.
Similarly, the other major downfall with Shinde's film is that it thinks its smarter than it actually is. As such, whether it's Laxman Utekar's subtly lit frames or Amit Trivedi's mellow soundtrack, almost nothing can cover up the film's hap-hazard script or rev up its alarmingly sluggish pace.
What then did I make of it all? It's a tough call because there's a fair bit here that really resonates, but I'm on the fence because ultimately the film proves to be a tad indulgent and a bit of a slog and fails to focus on the elements it should have really fleshed out. What were the implications of Kaira's growing fascination for her therapist – did they kickstart yet another cycle of abandonment issues? There's a scene which implies it but did Jehangir, anywhere down the line, reciprocate Kaira's feelings for him? Would there have been repercussions on his profession if he had? What of Kaira's support system? What did they make of her self destructive bratty decisions? What was their story? These are facets of the film that should have been explored, rather than the path it ultimately chose to go down.
Still, despite its bloatedness I'm going with an on the fence three stars out of five for Dear Zindagi. You'll either love it or find it a bit of a drag but whatever the case, you'll more than likely take Bhatt's knockout performance home with you and inevitably do a bit of soul searching of your own.