DEAR ZINDAGI STORY: Kaira (Alia) is an astute cinematographer who is bohemian in her approach to life. Enter Dr Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh), a top-notch therapist, who helps her lay her innermost demons to rest.
DEAR ZINDAGI REVIEW: In a scene from the film, Alia who is heartbroken, bites into a green chilli. As her eyes cloud over, she looks at her best buddy Fatima (Ira Dubey) and says — “the chilli is pungent.’’ Tears, silly fears and frailties all part of the life process. So brave it we must. This kind of sums up the life lesson writer-director Gauri Shinde’s second directorial film imparts. When we meet Kaira aka Koko (Alia Bhatt) in Dear Zindagi first, she is working. On a set. Looking at the world through a lens, constructing pretty images. We know, from her smile, and from the appreciative comments of her co-workers, that she is good at what she does.
To have a female lead presented as possessing a profession from the get-go, and excelling at it, still feel like a significant step for a Bollywood movie. And to have Kaira declare to a current love that she has had a fling with another feels nothing short of a revolution.
Right there, within a few minutes of the opening of ‘Dear Zindagi’, director Gauri Shinde has us intrigued. We want to know more about Kaira, about what makes her tick, what she wants to do, because she wants to do something, be someone.And then, just as suddenly, the film gets becalmed. It stops moving. It becomes, instead, a sea of words, where Kaira and her besties — played by Ira Dubey and Yashwasini Dayama (last seen in ‘Phobia’), and her potential romantic interests (Kunal Kapoor, Ali Zafar, Angad Bedi) — chat up a storm, in living rooms, bars, parties, cars. And nothing happens slowly as we get to know that the confident Kaira is actually just a sorry mess, and underneath all that bluster lives a scared little girl, dealing with childhood trauma and abandonment issues.What could have been a solid drama with emotional heft—the qualities that made Shinde’s debut ‘English Vinglish’ such an engaging watch–built upon the exploration of the fact that our adulthood is shaped by our childhood in ways we don’t really understand, turns into a kitchen sink talkathon, where all the characters are given lines which are meant to be deep but come off mostly banal and obvious.
The vehicle through which, or should we say whom, Kaira Learns Life-Lessons, is a dishy shrink played by Shah Rukh Khan. Dr Jehangir Khan has her sit across him in his cosy consultation room, takes her off for long walks on the beach, and teaches her that playing with waves is not just a game. It is Life Itself.
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More eye-rolls are caused by the dialogues which are straining to be natural, but end up being far too many for much too little. Finally, despite Alia Bhatt’s clear and present spark ( she keeps disappearing into the construct of the Fragile, Vulnerable Little Girl, coming up for air only once in a while) and Shah Rukh’s raffish charm (he keeps reaching out for the right `sur’, a mix of gravitas and lightness, and catches it only occasionally, letting us notice the white in his beard : hey, look, there’s a superstar playing his age!), ‘Dear Zindagi’ comes off as a film which could have done with less preciousness, and more plot.
Four years after her much-appreciated debut with English Vinglish, filmmaker Gauri Shinde is back with another female protagonist-centred story that aims to unsettle cliches in our judgemental society – Dear Zindagi.
Starring Alia Bhatt as the lead and Shah Rukh Khan as her psychiatrist, Dear Zindagi is about Kaira (Alia) – an aspiring cinematographer who does small ads and projects but wants to shoot an entire feature film. The introductory sequence – with Kaira’s confident banter and hands-on body language – assures us that she is truly talented and knows her job well. However, when she is offered a big break in a feature film, she is not sure if it is because of her talent or because one of the co-producers finds her hot. This co-producer, Raghavendra (Kunal Kapoor), is also the one with whom Kaira is cheating on her current love, Sid (Angad Bedi).
Soon, we get to know Kaira and her problems – a career woman who isn’t sure whether she should thank her talent or looks for the opportunities and one who is dealing with a heart break after a guy ditched her for another girl. Rendered homeless after her landlord asks her to vacate because “she is single”, she decides to move to her home town, Goa. Since she shares a rather tense relationship with her parents, it makes her all the more sad at the thought of living with them. Sounds relatable. To deal with it all, Kaira decides to meet a ‘dimag ka doctor aka DD’. .
Enter Shah Rukh Khan and the frame lights up with his charm and charisma. Shah Rukh’s psychiatrist is caring, charming and witty. The movie then traces Kaira’s sessions with Dr Jehangir Khan aka Jug who doles out gyan on life, handling relationship, dealing with one’s feelings, staying happy and much more. With a solid plotline backing the film, it could have been as inspiring and engaging a tale as Gauri’s debut (Sridevi-starrer English Vinglish) but falls way behind.
The way Kaira narrates her own fears and weaknesses to Jug is pretty unreal. The dialogues are full of cliches and do not come across as natural. With stuff like a stoned character saying “Genius wo nahi hota jiske paas sab sawaal ke jawaab hon, genius wo hota hai jiske paas jawaab tak pahunchne ka patience ho”, or a psychiatrist saying “We are all our own teachers in the school of life”, it is a tough fight to make it sound realistic.
There is a lot of banter in the film that is supposed to be deep and philosophical but is really just plain, hollow banter.
Gauri, nonetheless, flaunts her excellence in her second film, presenting a professionally strong and clear female protagonist, who doesn’t shy of telling her boyfriend that she cheated on him and even apologises to him. The film also brings another milestone in Bollywood cinema with almost the entire story being set within a psychiatrist’s sessions – breaking cliches of facing a mental illness. And the best part is that Kaira isn’t even depressed, she simply visits the therapist because she couldn’t sleep for three days.
Towards the climax, Alia confronts her family and talks of all the fears she has been struggling with – in a sequence that is a clear reminder of a similar scene from Imtiaz Ali’s Highway (2014). Alia aces being the smart professional as much as she does being the scared, young girl.
While Aditya, Kunal and Ali Zafar, who appear as her lovers or boyfriends, are more of guest actors than properly etched characters, it’s Kunal Kapoor who gets an edge among the youngsters and essays his part with finesse. Shah Rukh Khan brings his experience and charm to the role and makes Jug memorable with his wits.
The screenplay and dialogues, however, stop the film from being magnificent. Another point that really didn’t work comes when Kaira needs yet another romantic relationship to lean upon, despite the entire film doling gyan on how romance isn’t the be-all and end-all in life..
If only Gauri brought better-etched characters and delved more into the emotional turmoils of her lead, this could have been a wonderful “slice-of-life” film with several messages to be lauded for. What she ends up with is a “could-have-been-amazing” film.