‘Zero’ review: Honey I shrunk the romance

A scene from the movie ‘Zero’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With Shah Rukh Khan films, these days its becoming more about what could have been than what we eventually get to see. There is that initial disruptive spark, that desire to disturb the universe that eventually peters down in the two-and-a-half-hour odd runtime to get safely bottled into the well worn and the long familiar. Do I then see the glass half empty or half full?

SRK’s latest Zero, which could have been that rare film about the insecurities, dreams and aspirations of imperfect people, their resistance to support even while searching for emotional anchors, their inability to connect with others because they haven’t quite bonded with themselves. It could have also been a fantastic opportunity to cut down to size the larger than life romantic persona of SRK, to bring his brand of love and longing down to the grassroots so to speak. I did see heartening glimpses of it in Zero—the ‘Mere Naam Tu’  song and dance on the wheelchair seemed to point at the possibility of love, leading to sex, for all and not just the able.

On the flip side, take the physical conditions of the leads—Bauua’s (SRK) dwarfism and Aafia’s (Anushka Sharma) cerebral palsy—away and the film ends up playing on the same old tired trope of commitment phobia. All encapsulted in the talk of koyalandeghonsle—about the cuckoo laying its eggs in somebody else’s nest. It’s about a far too often seen transformation—in this case of Bauua, who always wants to run away but finally decides to stick it.

  • Director: Aanand L. Rai
  • Starring: Anushka Sharma, Katrina Kaif, Shah Rukh Khan, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Sheeba Chaddha, Brijendra Kala
  • Run time: 164 minutes
  • Storyline: Short statured Bauua Singh finds love, or something like that, in cerebral palsy affected NASA scientist Aafia Yusufzai Bhinder but hankers for filmstar Babita Kumari

Zero kicks off with a comedic sequence that doffs its hat to the American Westerns, Luc Besson, Anurag Kashyap and Imtiaz Ali et al—more Farah Khan than Aanand L. Rai. It’s the 70mm, picturesque, filmi Meerut that is Rai’s, and writer Himanshu Sharma’s, own. The town where women dance to ‘Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum’ at a ladies’ sangeet, the internalised aggression, irreverence and roughness of its denizens, the nice spread of a strong supporting cast that we should have ideally been served much more of--Tigmanshu Dhulia as Bauua’s father, Sheeba Chadhha as the mother and Brijendra Kala as the marriage fixer—and some of Rai’s tart lines delivered with sharpness by the performers.


To be fair SRK does fit in well with this motley crowd with his wicked, obnoxious, self-obsessed, crude Bauua and seems to be enjoying playing the pest. But I suspect there is the larger effort here to assimilate and channel what SRK seems to have stood for the writer-director duo—like the falling star motif that I identify deeply with in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. Bauua seems like a deliberate variation of KHKN’s blemished and fallible Sunil. Only there the defects were internal, that most of us could empathise with. In Zero, the defects are physical, propped up by special effects but lack a strong emotional connect.

There the plot remained believable, here things spin out of control, careening in all kinds of strange directions, specially post interval—a lovesick, smudgy-eyed heroine Babita (Katrina Kaif is very likable and is perhaps made for such batty roles), a confused Aafia (an earnest and invested Anushka Sharma), a baby, a chimpanzee, a rocket to Mars and a retinue of stars marching on in cameos that is so Naseeb and Om Shanti Om, well past the sell-by date to elicit any wows any more, even though it may bring the late Sridevi back in all her gorgeous glory on screen.

Then there are the scripted moments, that make you smile in their subversiveness—the jibe at Muslims not getting the American visa. SRK as Bauua sporting the ultimate Brahminical symbol, the janeu, even rolling it on his earlobe when using the toilet and invoking Mata Raniall the time. It’s as though SRK is deliberately pointing out to some commentators and critics (remember the debate post Raees) that he is not just about embracing his Muslim identity on screen. Touche!

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 9:54:31 PM |

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