By: Samar Khan
After a half-decade of mostly misfires from the venerated star (think about how terrible films such as Chennai Express and Dilwale were), SRK returns with a second strong outing in 2016 following the surprisingly solid Fan. Dear Zindagi is the quirky brainchild of English Vinglish director Gauri Shinde and the surprisingly great attributes from the latter carry over into this new venture. While this is an Alia Bhatt starrer from start to finish with a pinch of SRK, it’s the latter’s charm and presence that elevates Dear Zindagi from merely an average film to a very good one.
—MINOR SPOILERS BELOW—
The story for DZ is simple yet manages to address a multitude of themes that are relevant to the modern-day child of the world. Alia Bhatt plays Kaira, a young cinematographer that experiments with life and aims to create a perfect one for herself. After a few failed romantic ventures (entirely of her own doing as she is a flawed individual), Kaira moves to her parents home across the country and eventually begins to attend therapeutic sessions. Said therapeutic sessions are carried out by a completely unorthodox thinker in Dr. Jehangir “Jug” Khan, played marvelously by Shah Rukh Khan in a role that is entirely different from what permeates his prior filmography. Essentially, he helps Kaira understand that there are many things to be happy about in life, with there being chances for happinesses even in issues that one may not exactly consider as teeming with happiness.
Gauri Shinde (English Vinglish), along with directing the film, wrote the script and it shows… on a good day. As her previous Sridevi-starrer showcased, Shinde has a knack for addressing themes and societal issues in clever ways. While her English Vinglish focused more on inequality in the home and the patriarchal system prevalent in South Asia, Dear Zindagi addresses everything from sleeping with a multitude of partners to parental favoritism to mental health and the stigma that it carries worldwide. Each issue is tastefully addressed and Shinde deserves additional kudos for being willing to tackle mental health and not delve into overly-dramatic territory, managing to keep the film light-hearted for most of its runtime.
The film does drag on for a bit longer than it should (it clocks in at a staggering 2 hours and 31-minute runtime) which holds it back a tad but its clever scripting and writing helps mitigate this negative.
I think the resume for Shah Rukh Khan speaks for itself so you, our wonderful reading audience, will understand why I won’t delve into how prolific SRK has been over the last 25+ years. I will say this, however: after a few years of completely underwhelming performances, 2016 has been a refreshing change of pace for SRK as Fan and now Dear Zindagi have allowed him to flex his acting chops again and actually, you know, act. His Dr. Jehangir Khan, playfully called Jug by those that know him, allows him to shine as a mentor and “wise older person,” a role that we’ve been waiting ages for him to gracefully accept. No more romancing heroines half his age anymore, that will be left for Salman Khan.
Alia Bhatt delivers a career-best performance herself, as the heavily conflicted budding cinematographer that fights gender stereotypes regarding her career and her relationships as well as the animosity she bears towards her parents. She has grown on me over the years, with her performances in Highway, 2 States and most recently Udta Punjab allowing her to display her versatility as an actress. At one point, she delivers a speech to her parents that quite a few youth will be able to relate to and delivers it with such genuine force, it lends credence to the notion that she truly has evolved in a span of just 4 years.
Kunal Kapoor plays a supporting role but doesn’t really have much to do, serving as merely a plot device. In typical Kunal Kapoor fashion, he more than excels at it. He has the talent to be a bigger star, it’s a shame his career has yet to take off as of yet.
In one of the surprise cameos, Ali Zafar plays a temporary romantic interest and in typical Ali Zafar fashion, he ALSO excels at the heartthrob crooner. I won’t spoil the last cameo but suffice it to say, fans of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and a certain Aashiqui will audibly swoon (as happened in the auditorium I attended, true story!).
Yashaswini Dayama and Ira Dubey play the role of Jackie and Fatima, respectively, a pair of ladies that play an integral role in the life of Bhatt’s Kaira. Their chemistry with Bhatt felt authentic and the trio played off of each other very well considering the limited time on screen that they shared.
This is one category that the film was extremely lacking in but considering the nature of the film, I am willing to be lenient. There was no major song that you will want to add to your playlists but the title song that played throughout was catchy and melodic so it earns some points. The film just did not have a large enough soundtrack at all, which is strange considering it ran for 150 minutes.
The sound itself, however, was expertly used here. The right deep bass to accompany the rare dramatic moments and the prevalent light-hearted tune throughout helped to keep audiences invested.
I feel as if I have not raved enough – or at all- about the visuals of the film. Primarily set in Goa, the locales used are gorgeous and lush so a special shout out to cinematographer Laxman Utekar for the outstanding camera work.
I’m excited to see where Alia Bhatt’s career takes her next, as she has done nothing but improve as the years have gone by. Far too often, the kids of former Bollywood stars are flat out terrible or coast by on name only. In the case of Ranbir Kapoor and now Bhatt, it is exhilarating to see the youth actually being qualified to carry films and match the performances put out by the legends of the industry such as SRK.
So, to summarize: a fun and fairly original film that tackles some major issues, starring Alia Bhatt in a strong performance complemented by Shah Rukh Khan trying out a new role that he excels in. Suffice it to say, the film is very good. As with our Ae Dil Hai Mushkil review, I heartily recommend this film to our reading audience.
We here at The Film Lawyers have awarded Dear Zindagi with a grade of B (7.5/10).