There's just the 'perfect' boy in front of you. 'Gosh, isn't he hot?' a friend has already crooned a few hundred times. Goodness, he sings too? He speaks Italian, cooks, talks with a drawl that you've read about in middle school Mills & Boons. Oh, and the clincher (apparently), he has turned you into the centre of his universe faster than you can spell 'uni'. No, you don't dislike him. You are probably even attracted to him. But occasionally... okay, let's be honest... quite a few times when you are with him, you wish you did not have to hear his voice at all. Or feel like a child with way too much homework when he looks at you, adoringly, from across a room full of people.
If you have ever felt like the most rotten, ridiculous person on this earth, there's a part of you that squeals with utter, sheer joy when Alia Bhatt looks at a gorgeous Ali Zafar -- who is cooking and singing at the same time -- like he is a calculus problem she has to solve. Flip the genders, and you have still been there. That's the best part of Gauri Shinde's Dear Zindagi. It serves you a warm, hearty serving of these 'been there' moments, which otherwise, make you feel broken, damaged, angry or plain wary. It's like someone has been listening to everything you have never dared say aloud and has now come out to say, "I KNOW RIGHT?????"
It's like someone has been listening to everything you have never dared say aloud and has now come out to say, "I KNOW RIGHT?????"
The premise of Dear Zindagi is vulnerability. Rather, how each one of us go out of our way to tell ourselves, 'Nope, you're not vulnerable." So when Kaira (Alia Bhatt), fresh from what could be termed a 'heartbreak' but not a 'break-up', is seen pacing around her room muttering "All's good", you smirk a bit because the scene feels a bit overwrought. A pretty girl with perfectly tousled hair and just the right clothes, stretching, jogging, shaking her head in a quaint but perfectly messy room -- all the cliches. Yet, it stares right in your eyes and asks, "Say, this doesn't ring a bell?" And it does.
Kaira, played by Bhatt, is a cinematographer living in Bombay. The film opens with her working as a replacement for a cinematographer who has gone missing. She is in Singapore and there's something brewing between her and the film's producer, a strapping Raghuvendra (played by a very wooden Kunal Kapoor). Then, the film cuts to that extremeeeely awkward post hook-up conversation unfolding in a public place -- an airport, in this case. "Everything's fine, no?" boy asks. "Yup, what's going to be wrong?" girl replies with a put-on chirpiness. Every didn't-plan-this-well conversation ever. Now Kaira has a restaurateur boyfriend, played by Angad Bedi. She tells him she's cheated on him. Bedi looks devastated, but no drama unfolds right then.
Shah Rukh Khan, is well, Shah Rukh Khan in the film but he doesn't consume it.
Later on, Raghuvendra offers Kaira a chance to work as a full-time cinematographer in a project he is co-producing. At the same time, he also asks her to call that thing between them a 'relationship'. And, he says, they will have to work on the project with his ex. Kaira, for a moment, loses it. She walks out on him, only to later realise she may have been hasty, or too dramatic, or plain insecure. But by then, Raghuvendra, she is told, has flown to New York and gotten engaged. Dream job, great man -- gone in a whoosh. Turns out her landlord, too, asks her to vacate the apartment as the society has decided against taking in single people. So Kaira packs her bags and heads home to Goa. It is there that she overhears Dr Jehangir Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan) speak at a mental health forum in a hotel and decides to pay him a visit. The rest of the film is the psychologist trying to help Kaira see herself out of her own problems.
The most admirable thing about Dear Zindagi is that the film doesn't take sides.
The most admirable thing about Dear Zindagi is that the film doesn't take sides. It doesn't tell you Kaira is a wronged, heartbroken woman. It doesn't tell you the men in her life are evil. It just tells you Kaira is a messed-up woman. Like you, or me, or your best friend, or a colleague. It doesn't make Shah Rukh Khan look like SAVIOUR KHAN. And, most importantly, it maybe a very Bollywoodised popcorn version of a shrink-patient relationship, but it does tell you, without mincing words, that it's perfectly acceptable to visit a mental health professional. And that the path to visiting a mental health professional is not peachy and somewhat uncomfortable at first, but there's no harm trying.
Gauri Shinde, except for a few overtly dramatic Paulo Coelho-esque dialogues here and there, never loses sight of the fact that this a film about real people. Who can be nasty, self consumed, unfaithful, petulantly demanding, yet vulnerable, loving, pining for attention and affection.
Gauri Shinde, except for a few overtly dramatic Paulo Coelho-esque dialogues here and there, never loses sight of the fact that this a film about real people.
The proof of it is how Dear Zindagi's music exists in the film in the most non-intrusive manner possible. Unlike other films, you don't have to sit back and tell yourself, "Song time." The songs waft in and out, without breaking up the narrative of the film.
Alia Bhatt, to be honest, plays Alia Bhatt. In her defence, she has aced the 'lost, quirky, empathetic, but slightly messed-up person' character quite well film after film. She has been playing the diva-antithesis for a while now and Dear Zindagi is pretty much a cake-walk for her. She is upset, angry, heartbroken and happy in a relatable way only she can be.
Shah Rukh Khan is, well, Shah Rukh Khan in the film but he doesn't consume it. Pep talk sits bloody well on him, and he knows it. However, he also knows Alia Bhatt is in the centre of the film and takes a step or two back wherever necessary. He is quiet, restrained and funny. It is perhaps to Shinde's credit that she makes sure nobody engulfs the film alone.
The best part of the film perhaps is the nonchalance with which it embraces the upper-middle class, young Indian woman as a living, breathing sexual being. It doesn't make a big deal out of her fragile, often hasty and occasionally confusing relationships with men. It doesn't deny it's conflict either. Like a lot of us women do, in our own lives.
Dear Zindagi has more than a few sore spots, but the rest of the film works actively and successfully to cover them up.
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