Dear Zindagi- Movie Review by Ram Anand

Dear Zindagi is a promise that delivered.

It does not trivialise the fears, tears and the breakdowns that Kiara has. Gauri allows the screenplay to flow, unmasking one fear after another, slowly charting her transformation from a woman who constantly questions her own imperfections to someone who actually embraces them.

There are plenty of unanswered questions in Dear Zindagi. The mysteries around Dr Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) remain unresolved, while the mysterious love life of Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) remains ambiguous until the end. And many such aspects persist- Jackie’s boyfriend and Aditya Roy Kapoor’s fleeting kursiwalla. These little information, little teasers, come and go in their own subtlety, relayed to the viewers as Kiara (Alia Bhatt) receives and interprets them. There is no greater explanation, beyond what Kiara sees, understands and perceives around her. There one scene that departed from that narrative was Jehangir sitting on the odd chair in his makeshift clinic and the chair creaking- without any devices, that extension showed us Jehangir’s romantic interest in Kiara.

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But that was also what set it apart from the deluge of movies being made out there about “living the moment”- Gauri Shinde does not deviate from the main protagonist of the story- this is the story of Kiara the young, ambitious, emotionally unstable, hugely talented cinematographer. Not the story of the the plethora of good looking hunks who cross paths with her over the course of the movie. 

And Dear Zindagi was not so much about “living the moment”, it was a form of backhanded celebration of the emotional troubles the young tend to face when dealing with relationships, commitments, and demons of incomplete or bitter childhood grudges. It does not trivialise the fears, tears and the breakdowns that Kiara has. Gauri allows the screenplay to flow, unmasking one fear after another, slowly charting her transformation from a woman who constantly questions her own imperfections to someone who actually embraces them.

It retains the ambiguity of life and romance, not offering, or preaching any solutions to life’s trickiest aspects. “Problems will definitely come again,” says Shah Rukh Khan’s charming Dr Jehangir Khan- “but, now you know how to face them.” And there was Alia Bhatt’s Kaira, sitting opposite him, shooting glances reminiscent of a teenager obsessively in love but at the same time exercising the composure that the new, grown up Kaira has. She verbally communicates her feelings, but isn’t impulsive about it.

Dear Zindagi’s approach to mental health is mature, accepting and natural- just like Alia Bhatt’s stupendous performance. I was one of the sceptics who had doubted her acting range after that superficial debut in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year. But four years later, Bhatt’s range is almost as good as any of the other female A-listers in Bollywood. In Highway, in which she delivered one the most restrained performances of a person suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, she might had to compete for the acting accolades with Randeep Hooda. But here, she has no competition. Even Shah Rukh Khan, despite his charm and owning some of the film’s best lines, didn’t quite match her.

And belying his own superstardom, the King Khan does his part for the film and takes a seat back, allowing the focus to remain on Kaira, never trying too hard. This was probably his most natural performance since Swades, some 12 years back. (Even Chak de India had him fully taking charge at some point).

This movie is to Bhatt was Kahaani was to Vidya Balan and what Queen was to Kangana Ranaut.

But above all that, is Gauri showing that English Vinglish wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Aside of the par excellence writing, she shows that she is quite the auteur in using devices and props to tell the story without sounding overtly explanatory. In many scenes, the fleeting glance, the creaking chair, the waves, the subtlety of the lyrics, all come together to tell the story in much concise circumstances than dialogues can. 

One such example is the early scenes which showed Kiara’s conflicted love life. There were as little dialogues as possible- “I slept with Raghuvendra” was the most striking dialogue in that opening exchanges- and Gauri maintains this tone, this coldness- because this was Kaira’s world- A web conflicted emotions that even she can’t express or figure out.

Go to hell, she tells her heart through Sunidi Chauhan’s brimming voice and Amit Trivedi’s excellent work in the musical score. Gauri uses Amit brilliantly as well- Ali Zafar’s portions were almost entirely told with those snippets hidden within the songs that the character sings out, and Love You Zindagi pays a beautiful tribute to Kaira’s transformation before winding up the final act.

One year ago, Tamasha was released- telling a story of Ved Vardhan Sahani in an entirely predictable manner but with such nuances, and storytelling devices, that it remains in my top shelf collection until today.

Similarly, Gauri’s work never pretends to hold twists and turns. Life takes its own course, one sunshine at a time. But the story of a woman’s transformation, regardless of predictability, is simply beautiful.

Dear Zindagi is a promise that delivered.

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