Movies

'Dear Zindagi': feels like group therapy

The chemistry between Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan makes the film sparkle despite the heavy-handed writing

Back in 1975, a timid Amol Palekar took love lessons from Ashok Kumar for asserting himself and his ardour for Vidya Sinha in Basu Chatterjee’s Chhoti Si Baat. In 2003 an angelic Shah Rukh Khan walked in slow motion into the frame, flashed his dimples, spread his arms and brought colour to the dreary life of Preity Zinta in Nikhil Advani’s Kal Ho Naa Ho. Now, in Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi  it’s SRK again, as Dr Jehangir Khan, sorting out the mess of relationships for Kaira (Aalia Bhatt). Only Shinde spells things out with the much dreaded T word — therapy — which many of us, like Kaira, may require desperately in the urban loneliness and breakdowns we are caught in but are hesitant to seek out because of the dread of being labelled crazy.

At one level then film feels like a mass therapy session in which the audience could find itself getting co-opted and put on the couch. The reaction to it then would be dependant on an individual’s own life experiences. Facile, superficial like those Paulo Coelho-inspired self-help books? Yes, most certainly. A good cry, wet smiles and catharsis of the bitter-sweet kind for others? Equally valid.

Dear Zindagi
  • Director: Gauri Shinde
  • Starring: Aalia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Ali Zafar, Angad Bedi, Aditya Roy Kapur
  • Run Time: 150 mins

So we have a “hot DoP (director of photography)” Kaira who wants to be judged for her talent than her “hotness”, who wants to reach the peak of success at a young age and who can’t hold on to the men in her life. She is able to tackle being unsettled and uprooted but finds it difficult to settle down, in places, with people. It’s up to Dr Khan (pray where do you get such dishy, idiosyncratic docs?) then to bring some calm into her restless life by making her face her worst fears.

Shinde may not be on top of her game in Dear Zindagi but she wins a good bit of the battle by casting Bhatt and SRK in pivotal roles. The give and take between the two stars feels effortless (even if the writing feels stilted) and holds the interest despite the film being a “talkie”, offering little diversion from the long conversations. You smile and cry along with Bhatt’s Kaira and at times want to just reach out and give her a tight hug, reassuring that all will be well. SRK sports a sexy (for the lack of a better word) beard (which he should in every film henceforth), allows the greys to play peek-a-boo (two thumbs up for that), wears a wonderful line of cotton and linen shirts and trousers (men of a certain vintage look so good in them) but gets consciously subdued in his body lingo than the bundle of energy that he has usually been; reveals deliberate pain in his eyes than being perennially cheerful. Visually speaking, for us senior citizen women, that’s a rather nice avatar for him to have graduated to. Hopefully some young and restless ones will also miss a heartbeat in agreement. Especially, on seeing his rendition of the Italian opera.

The dialogue rarely feels natural and mostly spirals out of control to triteness. Lines like how every broken thing can be mended (really!), how one should not let the past blackmail the present to ruin a beautiful future (oh so long-winded!) and how we choose a more difficult path even when an easier option is available (is it?). At times though the writing seems well stitched to SRK’s own sense of humour. Like when Kaira confesses about life being an interminable musical in so far as the new singer guy in her life is concerned, SRK’s Dr Khan is quick to retort with a good humoured jibe: “Aur tumhein to dialogue pasand hain (You like dialogues)”. Or when he himself says “we are all our own teachers in the school of life” and then comes back with “ye kuchh zyada heavy ho gaya (it’s too heavy-handed)”.

Things linger on too long, the filmi “Dona Maria” closure feels tacky as well as a tad predictable. Also, there are way too many causes that Shinde wants to tick—housing issues for single women in cities, the industry being more accepting of gays (even while cracking the mandatory joke about them), about the need to acknowledge varied career options than just an office job. Genuine, significant issues but they stick out than get well integrated in the story-telling, mere nods than something to be engaged with in depth.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 12:14:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/Dear-Zindagi-feels-like-group-therapy/article16700774.ece1

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