When you meet Kaira (Alia Bhatt) in Dear Zindagi, she is like so many of the younger generation her age – self-assured, independent, living life on her own terms, quick to reject others but who can’t take her own rejection. One of those who follow their own norms rather what the social set-up expects from them, yet burdened by what the same society thinks about them. They are non-conformist yet conflicted.
Kiara is a single independent girl in Mumbai, who went against the expectation to get an “office job”, working hard to rise through the ranks to become a cinematographer, and pretty close to landing her dream job. She breaks off with her boyfriend Sid (Angad Bedi) just when he is getting serious about their relationship, dates her producer boyfriend Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor), turns him down when he proposes yet is devastated when he gets hitched to someone else.
To get away from the pain, she goes back to Goa where she grew up. However, she has an uneasy relationship with her parents and even worse with the family’s extended relatives and friends. Things come to such a pass, she is forced to see a psychologist Dr. Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). Jehangir guides Kaira in understanding her reactions and fears and how she could battle her demons herself. The viewer, too, gets to understand where Kiara’s character was coming from, why she was behaving the way she did. The viewer can finally understand Kiara’s anger and behavior, especially towards her parents.
The film rides solely on Alia Bhatt’s performance. Her effortless portrayal of a young woman who hasn’t quite gotten out of her teen-years-rebellion phase is compelling. Kaira is perpetually angry and prone to outbursts, yet makes the viewer feel for her. She is a natural performer.
Shah Rukh Khan, too, is in his element. It is refreshing to see him get out of his stereotyped roles and give a nuanced performance. That said, his is a supporting role and it is Alia’s film all the way. Rest of the cast have performed extremely well. Goa is beautifully captured by Laxman Utekar. The songs suit the mood of the film.
One of the drawbacks is that the film slows down a bit in the second half and tends to get verbose. Another is that Shah Rukh Khan does not fit in the canvas of the film. Though he has given a restrained performance, he is still the superstar Khan and tends to overshadow the film’s simple story. I’d draw parallels with Amir Khan’s role in Dhobi Ghat. Shah Rukh’s presence in the film changed its profile and pushed it in the big league. Audience expectations changed. No longer will it be considered an off-mainstream small film, now it is a Shah Rukh Khan film. Never mind that Mr. Khan does not make an appearance almost till the interval. But once he does, the director doesn’t focus away from him for too long. Shah Rukh Khan will have to find his own sweet spot, something another superstar Amitabh Bachchan successfully did, but appearing in an extended cameo is certainly not it.
It will be unfair to compare Dear Zindagi to Gauri Shinde’s previous film, English Vinglish. They are very different from each other but equally compelling in their narration. The director has proved that English Vinglish was not a fluke. Though Dear Zindagi may not appeal across the board as her first film did, it is still a great story, told refreshingly without borrowing from elsewhere and without trying to fit to a formula. Well done, Dear Mrs. Shinde!
Rating : 4/5
Starring: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Kunal Kapoor
Director: Gauri Shinde