By Mariea Khan
Dear Zindagi is the journey of Kaira (Alia Bhatt), an ambitious & mercurial cinematographer dealing with a burnout following failed relationships, familial alienation and her journey to deal with issues which stem from deep in her past. Jahengir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is her laid-back linen-clad, “alternative” therapist who delivers his gyaan with a side note of charismatic dreamboat.
Unfortunately, the first half is pain-stakingly slow. The viewer feels as if he is meandering along (perhaps intentionally and much like life itself?). The screenplay is far too breezy to be engaging until the interval. Despite the everyday chit-chat between the group of friends, you don’t really feel the humour works or that these were the friends Kaira would turn to in the event of some unnamed disaster. Barring a kooky and loveable Jackie the others are largely forgettable. When Khan’s ‘Jag’ appears before the interval it definitely piques your interest…but only just.
The second half develops better. Single career women, parental obsession with shaadi, Kaira’s uncle asking if she is a “Lebonese” – despite the sincerity the director tries too hard and the issues feel like a tick-box exercise. We never find out why Raghu (Kunal Kapoor) would have been Kaira’s number 5 or why Angad Bedi’s restaurant owner made her feel “unsafe” and prompted her act of self-sabotage. The romantic backstory is non-existent.
In Gauri Shinde’s last venture, Sashi was more than just a ladoo-making middle-class homemaker browbeaten by her husband and daughter: she was ingenious, brave and so much more, we saw the same beautiful honesty but – there we saw all facets of her character, the journey and conclusion. Her development felt more satisfactory and that’s why that film resonates more.
Here, Alia Bhatt’s Kaira wears more than just the physical pair of glasses to create an image, displays subtle melancholy, has impish tics and loud outbursts. She is a complete pleasure to watch but her journey is far less interesting and therein lies the rub.
Jag possesses a cool and metered charisma with a hint of introspection and superbly so. Most of the expressions are just his eyes and he displays none of the mainstream histrionics usually expected of him.
The two strong characters and their poetic interactions aside, the film oversimplifies mental health and therapy. Although Shah Rukh Khan’s execution is sublime the advice seems of the greetings card variety or like something you would read in a fortune cookie.
The way Kiara “comes across” her therapist appears almost frivolous in nature and one wonders if she was really having some kind of breakdown or perhaps going through a bad time like a lot of young successful women. This is not to say that this issue is trivial or I expected some kind of very hindi filmi over the top sequence of crying and chest-beating to show her pain – I just didn’t engage very well with her issues.
By Sasank Sunkara
We’ve seen many films about life. Yet, there’s a lot to be explored and it’s always refreshing to see the perspective of sensible film-makers on life. Dear Zindagi is one such take on life by Gauri Shinde.
Kaira (Alia) is a cinematographer/camerawoman who’s a complete mess with family issues, irritating career advices and a string of failed relationships. She meets Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh) in Goa who’s a therapist. The rest of Dear Zindagi is about how Jehangir helps Kaira to find herself and overcome her fears to stand strong.
Dear Zindagi could’ve ended up as an amazing film if not for the partly clumsy writing in first half and few pace issues in the second half. This is a conversational film just like that of an Imtiaz Ali’s where the conversations between characters play a major role in taking the narrative forward and making us believe and invest our time in them.
Lines like “Why we choose a difficult path even when an easier path is available?” and “How do u express love, when all your life, you’re told not to express the emotion you’re feeling – hate, anger, sorrow?” worked like magic for me. But, at the same time, there are few lines which felt synthetic.
What Gauri Shinde gets absolutely right is the characterization of Kaira and the casting. Kaira is complicated, irrational, depressed, stubborn and a mess. It always feels good to see independent, non-stereotypical women characters. Though we don’t get instantly convinced with her problems given her charming life in Mumbai with not much professional difficulties, it’s Alia who brings Kaira to life just as what Sridevi did in English Vinglish.
Alia is the heart of Dear Zindagi. Though Shah Rukh is irresistibly charming giving the life lessons, you can never get your eyes off her. Generally, in difficult scenes, actors tend to push hard to get that emotion right. But, even in some of the most difficult scenes, you can see Alia ease through beautifully without much effort. When she confronts her family and breaks down talking about them and her childhood, I’m sure you’ll get emotional. It reminded me of her performance in Highway’s climax.
From giving love lessons like “6 din ladki in” in Kal ho naa ho to giving subtle life lessons in this film, Shah Rukh did it all. As his character aptly says “In this puzzle of your (Kaira’s) life, I’m just helping you find the pieces. You’re the one who should finish the puzzle”, he let Alia take the front seat and guided her till he was required. Those who’re a mess in life will surely want one Jehangir in their life.
Amit Trivedi’s music and background score is beautiful and it enhanced the film. Especially the title track and “Go to hell”. A very special mention to the girl who played Jackie (Kaira’s friend) who’s outright hilarious and also to the three men in Kaira’s life – Sid (Angad Bedi), Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) and Rumi (Ali Zafar). One additional good thing this film offers is to remove the stigma attached mental health and therapy. It’s something we see very often these days in urban areas where people are suffering from depression due to many reason but not accepting to consult a therapist since they don’t think of it as a medical problem.
Dear Zindagi is far from perfect. But it makes you laugh, cry and I’m sure when you exit the theatre, there’ll be a smile on your face. I’m going with three stars.
Watch Anupama Chopra’s review of Dear Zindagi