There are some filmmakers who manage to leave a huge impression with their very first film. Gauri Shinde is, definitely, one of them as her debut feature ‘English Vinglish’ (2012), is fresh in one’s memory. Just with her first film, Gauri proved that she is a bundle of talent to watch out for. Like ‘English Vinglish’, her new film ‘Dear Zindagi’, too, has a woman as the central character. But, unlike her debut movie which showed the plight of a middle aged woman’s struggle to learn English and make something out of her life, ‘Dear Zindagi’ tells the story of a young, successful woman who is grappling with matters of the heart.
After lending her services as an assistant/associate cinematographer on various feature films, Kaira (Alia Bhatt) now wants to branch out as an independent Director of Production (DoP). Also on her to-do list is making a short film. Though she has achieved quite a bit at a young age and seems to be on the right track as far as her career is concerned, Kaira is commitment phobic and cannot bring herself to trust the men who profess their love to her. A professional assignment makes Kaira head to Goa where she stumbles upon Jahangir Khan/Jug (Shah Rukh Khan), a psychiatrist. Kaira feels that she has found someone whom she can trust and share her problems with.
Kaira’s cranky behaviour and the fact that she has trust issues makes one feel that she must have gone through something terrible in the past which is making her behave like this. We discover the reason much later in the film and although, you want to empathize with her, the reason behind her indifferent attitude does not come across as very convincing. What happened to Kaira in the past was not abominable enough for her to behave the way she does, especially when she has friends who dote on her, a flourishing career and men who are deeply in love with her. Writer-director Gauri Shinde must be lauded for sketching out a character who is going through depression and giving a message that mental illness or diseases should not be treated as taboo. The problem is that, because of her failing to giving the character a solid reason that would justify her behaviour, the message does not come across as well and one does not empathize with the character as much she would have liked us to. Though one can see Kaira feeling better after every session with Jahangir, the way she gets back to normal and forgives all those who had hurt her, seemed abrupt. The fact that a song (“Love You Zindagi”) plays along while she starts ‘loving her life’ does not help.
Gauri Shinde succeeds in giving a charming appeal to the film throughout its duration. Shinde has an eye for detail and she gives you enough moments to smile through (and feel sad, occasionally). Kaira’s camaraderie with her friends and her equation with the men (Angad Bedi, Kunaal Kapoor and Ali Zafar) keep you engaged. The biggest assets of the film are, without a doubt, the scenes which feature Shah Rukh and Alia. The scenes are very well written and the two actors complement each other’s performance (and charm) very well.
The songs (Amit Trivedi) are far from memorable but gel well with the laidback, relaxed vibe of the film. The background score (Amit Trivedi) is functional. DOP Laxman Utekar captures the scenic locations of Goa beautifully. The editing (Hemanti Sarkar) could have been much better in the latter half of the second half as that it when the film acquires a slow pace.
Alia Bhatt’s performance is one of the factors that makes this film enjoyable. She plays a character which comes across as unlikeable at times but she does not lose a single beat and plays it with utmost conviction. Shah Rukh Khan, in a supporting role (and not a cameo), does a phenomenal job as Kaira’s psychiatrist. Along with Kaira, Jahangir Khan is the soul of the film. It is disappointing to see Angad Bedi, after a terrific turn in ‘Pink’, in just a couple of scenes. Kunaal Kapoor gets the best role out of all the men playing Kaira’s suitors and delivers his part with aplomb. Ali Zafar’s character could have been a lot more interesting; his rich baritone along with the refined mannerisms he brings to his character make it somewhat memorable. Ira Dubey and Yashaswini, as Kaira’s friends, play their parts well. Rohit Saraf (Kaira’s brother/Kiddo) gets some good scenes to show his mettle as an actor.
The lightweight storyline fails to justify the length of the film, which has a duration of 150 minutes. The central conflict does not seem very convincing and there were several scenes that could have done away with or trimmed for a stronger impact. Despite all these shortcomings, ‘Dear Zindagi’ boasts of a strong central performance and several heart-warming moments, which makes for a comfortable watch.