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Dear Zindagi review: Watch it for Shah Rukh, Alia Bhatt's characters

Release Date: 25 Nov 2016 / Rated: U/A

Cinestaan Rating

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Blessy Chettiar

Dear Zindagi imparts quite a few life lessons. It makes you think about facing the issue at hand (if there is one). 

At the outset, Dear Zindagi is a feel-good film, one that you would watch with your 'inner circle', identify with some traits of the character, talk about growing up and out of things... and then? You would move on, log on to that not-so-subtle plug for an online retailer and look for the cute clothes the protagonist wore?

And that’s where Dear Zindagi falters. Writer-director Gauri Shinde takes an indulgent approach, often stylised and preachy, to get her point across. You ask what this point is. We wish we could point it out. Shinde’s baby is all over the place, and sometimes the viewer loses track. At other times, Kaira (Alia Bhatt) and her bubbly, often annoying, rebel act moves you enough to take notice.

Mental illness, therapy, relationships, friendships, there is a little of everything here. Shinde's obsession with Kaira is such that she ignores all other characters who have tremendous potential to make Dear Zindagi a fun ride. Take, for example, Jackie, Kaira’s best friend. Wish she had a back story, one that could have boded well for Kaira’s character who counts Jackie among her Top 4 people. 

Budding cinematographer Kaira is good at her job but can’t bag a longer project, just like she cannot handle her men for a longer, more serious rendezvous. Admittedly, she is a ticking “bomb”, albeit one that you don’t feel for. For the whole first half, which moves painfully slowly, we are subjected to Kaira’s unending sulking, tantrums, and overreaction to every situation. To be fair, Bhatt does a great job, and she has been saying in promotional interviews how every young woman would identify with her character. Hope we never meet these young women she was talking about.

Kaira's mother, father, circle of friends Jackie, Fatima aka Fatty (Ira Dubey), Ganju, everybody bears her silently, and we wonder why nobody got to the bottom of that level of negativity. Enter Dr Jehangir Khan aka Jug (Shah Rukh Khan), a psychologist and now therapist to Kaira. His wit, entertaining stories, unconventional ways of working, some heavy-duty gyaan and general outlook towards an emotionally crumbling Kaira are some of the heart-warming moments of the film., those that you will remember the characters for.

Jug breathes life into the film from the first scene. You look forward to the sessions with Kaira, for after those the Kaira revealed to us is one you want to root for. Jug slowly and steadily peels off the layers, helps Kaira let go of her fears. 

He has some of the best dialogues, at times “thoda heavy”, but food for thought nevertheless. Shinde’s mastery over slipping in life lessons in conversations reveals her writing strength. The need for expressing bad emotions, not burdening romantic relationships, facing fears and coming out stronger to fight future demons are some topics that dominate conversations between Kaira and Jug. 

A story set for the most part in Goa lends itself to stereotypical portraitures of characters, scenery and Macspeak we’re so fed up of defending. While there are beaches and coconut trees, Shinde must be given credit for not resorting to the easy way out at least with her protagonists and supporting cast.

Director of photography Laxman Utekar has a tough job at hand — to show Goa in a different light. He manages decently well, focusing on the characters and their changing minds. Old houses, empty narrow streets, sunset on the beach all look good on screen, thanks to Utekar.

Khan masterfully underplays Jug, an immediately likeable character, unlike Bhatt’s Kaira in the initial hour. The supporting artistes add a nice touch to the film’s otherwise slow pace, but as mentioned earlier, they deserved better. Bhatt’s innocent face coveys a variety of expressions, but the best it shows is vulnerability. In the very first scene, Kaira is shooting a fighting couple for a film. The change Kaira suggests sets the tone for Shinde’s style of filmmaking in Dear Zindagi — focus on the subtle expressions, leave the rest.

Shinde uses a lot of close-ups for Bhatt, and the latter does justice to the confidence shown in her. Some of Shinde’s characters, including Rumi (Ali Zafar) seem ornamental, placed in the film to make a point about Kaira’s traits (again). Some tight editing at the script level could have cut down so much runtime. Angad Bedi, Arjun Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur appear in cameos.

Dear Zindagi imparts quite a few life lessons. It makes you think about facing the issue at hand (if there is one). Watch it for the performances by Bhatt and Khan.

Reviewed by Blessy Chettiar

Director: Gauri Shinde
Producers: Karan Johar, Gauri Khan, Gauri Shinde
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Ira Dubey, Kunal Kapoor
DoP: Laxman Utekar
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 150 minutes