Just How Shallow Is ‘Dear Zindagi’?

Dear ZindagiDirector: Gauri Shinde
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Ira Dubey, Yashaswini Dayama, Ali Zafar
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Dear Zindagi might have been directed by Gauri Shinde but it has producer Karan Johar’s prints all over it, as well as a touch of Zoya Akhtar. In other words, it’s about well-off folks who think they have problems but actually have none, save for a capacity for self-delusion.

The movie is as airy as molecular foam
Alia Bhatt’s blow-dry in the film is a work of art compared to the two-and-a-half-hour-long piece of froth that is Dear Zindagi‘s script, something that particularly rankles at a time when apocalyptic events are gripping the globe. Delhi is gasping for breath; a right-wing bigot with a flair for drama rules this country; ISIS is wrecking havoc in West Asia. Yet Bollywood continues to produce frivolous movies that have no relevance to the world at large. Of course the industry has always been in the business of lightweight cinema. But is it too much to ask for a response, however minimal? The only issue that bridges the la la land of Dear Zindagi and the real world is that of the difficulty single women face when it comes to renting property. Alia Bhatt’s Kaira is forced to move back home to Goa when her landlord in Mumbai evicts her.

Like most Bollywood dramas, the film is predictable
Anyone who has watched enough romantic comedies or read a Mills and Boon or two will find the story familiar. Whereas it’s usually the guy who is a commitment phobe, in Dear Zindagi Kaira finds she is unable to tie herself to men who want to seriously date her. It will come as no surprise that her inability to stay attached can be pinned down to childhood abandonment issues. A clue about where the movie is going is her prickly relationship with her parents. In Goa, where Kaira and her friends live in fabulous villas, she seeks out Dr. Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), a shrink. She’s a wreck after Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor), a colleague she had a fling with, gets engaged to someone else. He’d wanted Kaira to commit to a relationship but she had been, as usual, noncommittal. Now she feels jilted.

Shrinks are likely to boo Shah Rukh Khan’s turn as a psychologist
It’s unlikely that any shrink will find her reflection in Khan’s character. Jehangir Khan, who also lives in a fabulous villa, steers Kaira from frustration to happiness by telling her cheesy allegories and giving clichéd advice. He compares her internal struggle to climbing Everest, when it’s not even an anthill, something she should have overcome as an adult. He drops lines like, “Tum agar khul ke ro nahi sakogi, khul ke has kaise sakogi?” (How will you laugh if you don’t vent your tears); “Kyun na hum is dard ko ‘bye’ bol de aur zindagi ko ‘hi’ kar ke mulaqat kar le?” (Why don’t we say ‘bye’ to this pain and say ‘hi’ to life?); “People who come here experience strong feelings, anger, hate, love…” Khan’s homilies take swift effect. Overnight Kaira develops a lust for life (cue in running through Goan roads with arms outstretched) and repairs her relationship with her folks.

There are a couple of (very) small mercies
If there is a silver lining at all in this film it’s Shinde’s realistic view of modern, urban relationships. Kaira goes through three men over the course of the movie. Refreshingly this is viewed as normative as opposed to behaviour deserving moral opprobrium. It’s also worth acknowledging that a female character is allowed to shine, which happens far too infrequently in Hindi cinema. Despite having a star like Shah Rukh Khan, Dear Zindagi is all about Alia Bhatt. This is no doubt the doing of Shinde, who also wrote the film and whose debut English Vinglish hinged on a strong female lead. These are but minor mercies in an achingly dull film.

Dear Zindagi was released in cinemas across the city on Friday, November 25.

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