DISCLAIMER - THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IS LONG, THOUGH NOT AS LONG AS ASHUTOSH GOWARIKAR'S FILMS.
1. A drunk conversation between friends is on its way. Kaira suddenly announces, “I like people who smell nice.” To which her friend Jackie reacts, “I hate smelly people.”
2. As she comes to terms with her so called breakup, we see Kaira stuffing noodles at a roadside joint called “Taj Chinese” and then offering the rest of it to a small boy. But in the background, the director subtly places Eros cinema and a poster of “Ki & Ka”, directed by her better half.
3. During a conversation in the midst of the therapy session, Dr Jehangir Khan casually mentions the phrase “English Vinglish”, the director’s debut film.
4. For the first time, something which was an integral part of everyone’s childhood is given importance – I am talking about Tinkle and Suppandi.
5. Kaira’s friends love her, but that doesn’t stop them from teasing her by calling her short story as the longest project of the century.
6. A somewhat changed Kaira suddenly sneaks into her parents’ room and forces herself between them, tightly hugging her mom, while her dad sleeps looking the other way with a faint smile over his face.
Such subtleties and touching moments are aplenty in “Dear Zindagi”, and that is what makes viewing it such a beautiful experience.
Gauri Shinde is a woman who believes in converting simplicity into extraordinariness on screen. She did that in her directorial debut and she does it once again.
And so we are introduced to Alia Bhatt’s Kaira, a headstrong and superconfused cinematographer, who looks as if she is a character from an Imtiaz Ali movie. Her uncle thinks that she needs to do “something more respectable”, but her parents don’t object to her profession. Well basically, not all is rosy rosy between the lady and her parents.
She smashes pickle bottles on the floor of a supermarket because the brand shares its name with her ex boyfriend.
She bites down chillies while the fact dawns upon her that her boyfriend has gotten engaged to someone else.
She types entire messages on her phone, only to delete them at the last moment.
She returns to her flat after days and the first thing she does is open one of the many parcels, take out a novel, inhale its fragrance and start reading it.
She turns things upside down from an orderly manner – be it “K” lettered pillows, miniature rickshaw models or refrigerator magnets.
She gets ready to sleep the way a woman gets ready to go to parties.
She isn’t a character you will instantly fall in love with or totally relate to, but slowly you fall for her, primarily because of the convincing performance. And so when she decides to see a “Dimaag ka doctor”, we aren’t at all surprised. And we don’t mind – because Shahrukh Khan is playing the role of the psychologist. It is the chemistry which immediately strikes a chord. It is beautiful. The way their relationship is handled by the director with utmost sensitivity is indeed commendable.
The therapy sessions are brilliant in themselves. While Dr Khan belts out lovely metaphor, stories and quotes, it is the ambience that wins you over. The creaking chair theory for instance is very well done. The way Alia almost falls when she sits in that special chair is too hilarious.
“It only creaks when you like someone, but can’t do anything about it”, explains Dr Khan.
Some of their interactions are superb. Infact they uplift the film to a large extent.
Robert Frost taught us in school through his poems to always choose the road less travelled. But Dr Khan tells us to do the exact opposite. Why not take the road more frequented, when you aren’t mentally prepared for the tough option? And even we marvel at this wonderful thought, and wonder why it never occurred to us till now?
Another lovely sequence is the “Kursi” wala sequence. As SRK hops from sofa to chair to chair, he tells us that life indeed is a musical chair when it comes to choosing the right life partner. And ironically, Gauri Shinde brings in a new hero in the final scene, who owns a furniture shop.
The way Dr Khan slowly touches Kaira’s raw nerve is beautifully done. On seeing a shivering Kaira, he casually comments, “Sometimes people shiver kyunki unhe darr lagta hai.” And that is so very true, something which happens to even us at times.
The manner in which he explains Kaira that she is not dirty, cheap and fast, but smart, dear and superfine is well done.
There is this scene where he asks Kaira to choose her top 5 people. And so quickly, Kaira comes up with 4 names. She is sure about all four of them. It doesn’t matter to her that one of them is her maid, with whom she shares such a special bond. When was the last time we saw such a small but lovely bond on screen – that of a person and her maid?
It isn’t a perfect movie. It was never going to be. I had feared it would be over preachy, but thankfully that never happens. However, I have my issues with the first half. It could have been better. It felt slow at places, disjointed at places and Alia’s character was too difficult to like.
Secondly, the entire flashback story though nicely done doesn’t feel believable at all times. I mean, the parents went abroad because of a failure back home. Even there, the father hardly tasted any success. And then after few years, we know that they live in a villa which is nothing less than super posh. Who offered them such a fruitful partnership?
Thirdly, I had a problem with Ali Zafar’s character. It wasn’t needed at all. It unnecessarily bought along with it few dull moments between the two that had zero chemistry, and also two full songs, which thankfully were good. However I liked how their relationship ultimately shaped out – being friends.
The music is the soul of the movie. Amit Trivedi manages to create a feel good album with each song sounding and appearing in sync with the film’s narrative.
Where he scores is the lovely background score. Ever wondered why many people dislike RGV’s films? Because most of them have loud background scores, probably due to the belief that a loud score increases the impact.
Amit does the exact opposite. He creates a serene background score which suits the mood of the film perfectly. And then there are those scenes with absolutely zero background music. Talent is not only knowing when and where to insert background score. Talent is also knowing when NOT to put it.
Those lovely discussions between Kaira and Dr Khan seem so perfect. Those moments of realizations are sans any music, and then followed by beautiful soft cues – it only enhances the magic of an already well written scene.
(Read my music review HERE)
The casting is wonderful. As Fatty / Fatima, Ira Dubey is very good. She has less role but makes the most of it. That scene when she runs to the washroom and everyone gets away from the food is a brilliantly directed and acted one.
The rest of the supporting cast is apt. As “Kiddo”, Rohit saraf is good. So is Gautmik as Ganju.
Of the three men, Kunal Kapoor is the best. He convincingly plays his part. Angad Bedi hasn’t much to do. Ali Zafar is good. He does a fine job both in the singing as well as acting department, but as I said, I simply felt his character wasn’t needed.
But the one who stands out among the entire supporting cast is Yashaswini Dayama a.k.a “Jackie”. She is awesome. She is supercute, very emotive, makes you fall for her instantly. We all have that one cute bubbly talkative friend in our group. Jackie is THAT person. Be it her drunken act or when Kaira wakes her up and embraces her, she simply wins you over.
Remember “Boms” from “Jaane tu ya jaane na”? I was reminded of her on seeing Jackie. She is one actress I would love to see more on screen in future.
The movie wouldn’t have worked had someone else been cast in place of Shahrukh Khan. And that is no exaggeration. As Jahangir Khan a.k.a “JUG”, it is difficult to put in words what SRK does. This is not a fanboy speaking, mind you. I have been an ardent admirer but never a crazy fan, but I always felt that post Swades and Chak De, he had gotten lost in playing over the top roles. But SRK has always worked better whenever he has underplayed his roles; whenever he has refrained from hamming during emotional scenes.
Here, as a psychologist, he is brilliant. He is literally the “Knight in shining armour” for Kaira. He is in total control of everything. When he is on screen, you have no option but to be completely engrossed. Yes, he underplays it and he does it bloody well. I mean, it is a bold decision to play the second lead in a film dominated by an actress much younger and junior to her. I won’t call it an extended cameo. He is very much one of the two leading characters of the film.
I remember joking and teasing a diehard SRK fan sometime back that even after 20 years, we’ll be complaining that “When will SRK return to playing character defined roles? The last I remember was Chak De india. (Wink)”.
Happily, now “Dear Zindagi” can be added to that list.
But the entire load of the film rests on the shoulders of that one person who is definitely the future of Indian cinema. Alia Bhatt is superlative. There is something so magical about her screen presence that you can’t help but get floored by her. After “Highway”, this is easily her finest performance; maybe even at par with “Highway”.
Be it the way she tries to obey the task of talking to both her parents for ten minutes each or the way she hides the timer just for those extra five minutes of the session – she is fantastic and flawless. The emotional outburst in front of her family members is the icing on the cake. It immediately reminded me of the climax scene of “Highway”, only here she is better. And there is something about the way she acts during the emotional scenes. That combination of her flaring nostrils and facial expressions is enough to move anyone. Similar is the ending scene when she breaks down outside Dr Khan’s office. It is a delightful mixture of tears and smiles, leaving us with somewhat similar emotions. Her performance is a sure shot award winner, and with “Udta Punjab” also this year, she shouldn’t have any problems winning all the awards this year.
The final fifteen minutes according to me were necessary. A lot of people didn’t like the fact that the director tried to explain every single detail, but the last meeting between Kaira and Dr Khan is such a well enacted, well written and well emoted scene. However melodramatic it may sound, our Indian audience always considers the possibility of a relationship between the two characters. And by relationship, I don’t mean one of the many relationships Jug tells to Kaira about. I mean a romantic one. There are always people who come out of the theatre remarking, “End mein hero heroine toh alag hi rahein.” It is this mentality of the audience which Gauri proves wrong. In her own words, Genius is about knowing when to stop.
And so when a very glum Kaira fumbles reaches for her purse and awkwardly shakes hands with Jug, you wish there was an embrace. And as if obliging your, we get a lovely and heart wrenching final embrace which seems so right.
As the ending credits roll, I try to recreate the mental picture of all the lovely items in Jug’s wonderful home.
I wish that in the end Kaira would have sat on that chair and it wouldn’t have creaked.
To sum it, I know I haven’t come out watching a perfect movie or a “slice of life” movie as few people like to put it. But I come out feeling refreshed and good. I come out having learnt few small but important lessons of life. I come out with more respect for my “Top 5” people. I come out with more admiration and respect for my parents who gave me such a lovely childhood.
How much more could Gauri Shinde have done! Thank you so much!
And yes, every single time I go to a beach now, I am surely going to play Kabaddi with the samundar.
Love you Zindagi…
P.S - I have a complaint - Why was there no Ilaiyaraaja’s ‘Ae zindagi gale laga le’?”