Film: 'Dear Zindagi'; Writer and Director: Gauri Shinde; Starring: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Kunal Roy Kapoor, Ali Zafar, Angad Bedi; Rating:****1/2
It isn't easy being Gauri Shinde. Not when you have made "English Vinglish" as your debut film, for God's sake! Where do you go from that dizzying summit of achievement?
Clearly and unconditionally, in her second film, monumental in its own right, Gauri is not bogged down by expectations. She is, in that sense, exactly like her protagonist in "Dear Zindagi"(played by Alia Bhatt).
Not eager to be liked by all, unafraid to appear unconventional, fiercely prideful about her emotional space and passionately attached to her individualism, Gauri Shinde, like her fey protagonist, Kaira, grooves to her own beat.
"Dear Zindagi" , as the title suggests, is a letter written in retrospective languor, to life. The life, Gauri's brave and fabulously heroine Kaira has chosen to live may not be the one you or I have love, or would choose to live. But heck, who gives us the right to judge Kaira? She obviously doesn't care what we think of hera or does she?
There is a disarming question mark, followed by a don't-care-a-damn exclamation mark to every sentence from life's Book Of Experience that Kaira punctuates with her passion. She is a woman of whimsy, a child of caprice, waking up to a new dawn of desires every morning, and damned if she doesn't live out her daily desires to the brim. She may break into a jig with a lovely cultured house help(the maid servants in Gauri Shinde's and herA husband Balki's films deserve a separate review) or burst in a confessional outburst in front of her(embarrassed) parents and their (stunned) guests.
Alia Bhatt has been there, done it before in Imtiaz Ali's "Highway". You know, the rebellious child from a privileged family hiding a deep dark childhood secret. Only, this time the secret turns out to be not so dark, though equally deep. Alia brings a deeply-felt vigour and vitality to her character. Writhing in self-pitying pain one minute, walking defiantly into the jostle of her ambitions the next minute, Alia brings to Gauri's heroine's all-too-human flaws a kind of flawless candour , not seen in any actress in the last 20 years.
The camera and Alia share a supremely symbiotic relationship. She doesn't try to hide any of her character's feelings and failings from the camera. Gauri's splendid cinematographer Laxman Utekar captures Alia's cinematographer's character as a portrait of luminosity.It is like viewing the very core of Karia's being without wanting to look away.
No one makes a broken heart look as eminently reparable and restorative as Alia. This is where Shah Rukh Khan comes in. Casting him as Kaira's shrink....okay, therapist.... is a stroke of genius. The part required someone whom the broken and hurting Kaira (and by extension the audience) can immediately accept as authoritative in a "cool" kind of way. Mr Khan is all of that. The therapy sessions that take up a lot of the playing-time require immense inbuilt magnetism to hold the audience.
Our inhouse superstar provides ample magnetism in these conversations with odd(not to be confused with God).Alia makes a terrific listener,imbibing the designer-gyan with a mix of bemusement and comprehension. Wisely the director strips the therapy sessions of extraneous props and trappings. None of Amit Trivedi's enchanting sound of the soul's music plays in the background when the master-therapist is in session with his stunningly befuddled patient.
Here too, Alia , is radiantly patient. Her pleading eyes at their last session when, alas the patient must be torn away from her seductive guru , followed me out of this fabulous film. Alia is indeed magical in "Dear Zindagi". In a role far less sympathetic than what Sridevi played in "English Vinglish", Alia embraces all her character's flaws and makes us love Kaira all the more for them. Ironically she plays a girl who must confront her silences in a film that has a lot to say.
Oh, there are other remarkable performances too.Ira Dubey and Yashswini Dayama as Kaira's besties.they look like they've known Alia all her life. Ali Zafar shows up in the second-half as a musician who thinks and talks only in music, whom Kaira becomes vaguely attracted to. No one gets it wrong in "Dear Zindagi". It's the kind of silent masterpiece where all the actors, even the habitually out-of-rhythm Aditya Roy Kapoor (in a concluding cameo) puts their best foot forward.