Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan
Director: Gauri Shinde
At one point in Dear Zindagi, someone asks Kaira: itni complicated kyun ho tum. This complication is the heartbeat of the film. Kaira, nicknamed Koko, is willfully prickly, irrational and even unlikable. You can’t figure out why she’s making the choices that she is. She’s a depressed, damaged insomniac who finds solace in a few good friends and ebay – she can’t stop buying things she doesn’t need.
Props to writer-director Gauri Shinde for creating a Hindi film heroine who is stubbornly difficult. And an even bigger applause to Alia Bhatt for her knock-out performance. Alia has the spontaneity and nuances of a seasoned professional – even in the most challenging scenes, you can’t see effort.
At one point, Koko breaks down in her therapist’s office and pours out her grief, – this is the precise moment when Dear Zindagi springs to life. The film also has Shah Rukh Khan, playing Koko’s therapist Jehangir Khan. Shah Rukh is reliably charming and he’s also got a lovely, frayed wisdom that you haven’t seen before. But the truth is that without Alia, Dear Zindagi would collapse like a house of cards. She is most of the meat on this skeleton.
In fact, Alia’s performance is much better than the material it springs from. Gauri’s first film English Vinglish, about a housewife learning to speak English, drew its strength from Sridevi’s wonderful performance and an authentic core. The milieu and emotions felt real. Dear Zindagi lacks this.
The first half especially is both stilted and synthetic. Koko is a talented cinematographer but we don't get a sense of her struggle at work. We don’t see the sweat and grime of shoots. In fact, Koko seems to live a pretty charmed life. She has a lovely apartment, little financial stress, two supportive friends and even three handsome suitors. Honestly, it’s a little hard to feel her pain.
Dear Zindagi bravely tries to lift the stigma around mental health. This is an important conversation to have. And you can’t have a better brand ambassador for therapy than Shah Rukh. I suspect droves of women will seek the help they need in the hope that the therapist turns out to be a Jehangir Khan clone.
But this is the Vogue version of therapy – a lovely expansive Goa house, sessions during walks on the beach, cycling together and dialogue like– har tooti hui cheez jodi ja sakti hai. It’s manicured and pat. And of course superbly effective – before you know it Koko is hugging trees and childhood wounds are healed.
So Dear Zindagi is a bumpy ride but all things considered, it’s still one worth taking – especially for the sheer pleasure of watching Alia soar.