Dear Zindagi – A Review

Image result for Dear Zindagi posterGauri Shinde directs Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi, her sophomoric film after the incredible English Vinglish. In the days of big budget star vehicles aimed at the hundreds of crore at box office filmmakers like Gauri are a welcome relief when they make what are essentially indie movies with a heart.

 

We are introduced to Kaira, played by the ever charming Alia who is an up and coming cinematographer who is brought in to do patch work on an assignment because the main cinematographer has fallen ill. We see her impatience and almost combative nature when it comes to looking for a big break to shoot her own movie. To put her visual stamp on something of her own. There are hints of a budding romance in the awkward conversations she shares with Raghuvendra played by the handsome Kunal Kapoor. Alia breaks up with her current boyfriend Sid a restaurateur played by Angad Bedi after confessing to have slept with Raghuvendra. Through her maid we are led to believe that there is an ongoing parade of handsome men who go in and out of her life, spending a brief moment being tacked on a pin-board. The first quarter of the movie is spent setting up the millennial context of independent living and being free of conventional moral guilt. Kaira is surrounded by a pack of very interesting characters, there is Fatima the stylist, Jackie the rich bohemian kid, A troubled teen coming to grips with his sexuality and the token Fat nerdy friend. Yashaswini Dayama who plays Jackie is absolutely precious as the counterpoint to Kaira and Ira Dubey as Fatima is wonderful as well. Kaira is kicked out of her rented apartment because the society has decided not to rent flats to bachelors, another millennial struggle. Reluctantly she moves back to Goa to stay with her family and this is where things come to a boil. Rohit Saraf who plays Kiddo, Alia’s brother is hugely effective in a tiny role.

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Through curious coincidences she ends up listening in on Dr. Jehangir Khan talking about Mental Health. Being unable to sleep Kaira books an appointment with Dr. Khan. Dr Khan, aka Jug played by Shah Rukh Khan is surprisingly Vegan – devoid of all Ham and Cheese that is trademark SRK. In a very restrained and refined performance Jug unpicks the complicated cross-wires of Kaira’s life. This is where Gauri Shinde’s subtle direction really shines. For viewers who are familiar with western dramas it might come across as a bit clichéd but in the Indian context there is a sense of novelty. There is commitment phobia, familial conflicts, sibling jealousy, dreams of falling off buildings. Every single situation feels organic and not forced. There is no mocking, no sermonising, even the one situation where there is a gay character is handled surprisingly sensitively.

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To me English Vinglish was one of the best debut movies and even the best movie of 2012. There was absolutely nothing that I could find fault with. With Dear Zindagi there are a few things that left me wanting more. While the songs of English Vinglish were lyrically contextual they were still incredibly memorable and hummable, not so with Dear Zindagi. Only “Love you Zindagi” has any appeal. For a movie whose main character is supposed to be a talented cinematographer the cinematography in the first quarter of the movie is surprisingly subpar. But these two minor misgivings are quickly forgotten when Alia is onscreen. It is hard to believe that Alia is only 7 movies old. She is immensely watchable and extremely relatable. The range she has exhibited from Student of the Year to Udta Punjab is incredible. She has mastered the art of emotional outburst, first seen with that pivotal scene in Highway and now with this scene around the dinner guests.

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Hopefully thanks to Alia the taboo subject of mental illness will become more of an open discussion in India. Gauri Shinde’s nuanced direction and sensitive portrayal does more than just pay lip-service to the subject. With this movie Shah Rukh Khan understands that this is where his talents are more suited to. The definition of entertaining is different for different people. I found it massively entertaining seeing actors and the director at the top of their craft. Even if this is not entertaining in the conventional sense this is in my opinion an important movie, a movie that pushes forth an agenda rarely touched upon openly and does so in a way that is palatable and relatable and frankly beautiful to look at. This is the therapy we all need.  This the grown up letter to life that has evolved from the pages of a teeny angst-filled diary.

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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – A Review

Image result for ae dil hai mushkilKaran Johar directs Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. The story of unrequited love is said to be almost autobiographical with Ranbir playing the dramatized version of Karan Johar.

 

Ranbir Kapoor plays Ayan Sanger – rich brat pursuing MBA in London while nursing a dream of being a singer. Ayan is also the narrator of the story and the entire movie is told in a flashback while Ayan is being interviewed following his success as a singer. When asked why his songs sound of unrequited love Ayan takes us back to where it all began.

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The chance meeting with Alizeh Khan played by Anushka Sharma, the blossoming friendship, the homage to many milestone movies of Bollywood including Ranbir’s tribute to his own father’s iconic Chandani. Delving any further into the story would be a disservice to the nuance that Johar has crafted into the complex relationship dynamics between Ayan and Alizeh. The first half starts off stutteringly where the intensity of Ranbir and the levity of Anushka seem to be a little bit like oil and water. Despite their best effort it isn’t easy to identify nor feel for the characters. Only once the unnecessary shenanigans of Ranbir’s girlfriend and Anushka’s fiancé are done with does the movie really pick up. The scene leading up to the intermission is gut-wrenching in its rawness. This is the Ranbir we know and love. He can play the heartbroken hero a hundred times over but he manages to imbue a sense of novelty, be it his driven Janardhan aka Jordan in Rockstar or the vagabond Bunny in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani, and be it him as the bottled up millennial Ved in Tamasha or coming of age Sid in Wake up Sid. You laugh with his antics and you feel the pain in the pit of your stomach as you see him repeatedly bang a flowerpot on his chest. It is a shame that an actor’s worth today is equated with the box office collection – ADHM may not do the hundreds of crores in business but make no mistake – Ranbir has no peers.

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Anushka Sharma is fantastic as Alizeh, a complex character who even in her hysterical scenes seems so genuine. Anushka does a lot of the heavy lifting as the central figure of the story. It would have been better had the writer and the director given a little more thought to her story graph. The back story is dispensed with rather quickly. The reconciliation and the breakup of her relationship with Fawad is done in such a haste that it leaves you a little bewildered.

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Thankfully no such complaints with the role crafted for Aishwarya Rai as poetess Saba Naqavi who nurses Ranbir’s broken heart with a tempestuous relationship. Saba has a purpose to the story; a perfect introduction, a fantastic middle and a visceral end. Much has been said about Aishwarya’s beauty and all of it is true but here she has taken her beauty to lethal levels. As the seductive and shayarana Saba she catches you mid-breath and makes you gasp. Even an actor of the calibre of Ranbir diminishes to the background when Aishwarya is on screen. Giving Aishwarya lines which Ranbir describes as “chalti firti Ghalib” is rife with potential for disaster as she often tends to overdo the breathy sensuality but her she is wonderfully restraint and lets those gorgeous blue green eyes do all the work.

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Alia Bhatt is Johar’s new lucky mascot and makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance. Fawad Khan is pleasing to the eye but not much more. Lisa Haydon plays the bimbo to perfection and is genuinely funny. Shah Rukh Khan is a pale shadow of his former romantic self and is difficult to look at and even more difficult to listen to.

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The absolute stand out for me has been its music. The title track has all the seriousness that you would expect from a movie about such a combustive relationships. The breakup song and Cutiepie the hallmark Johar dance numbers that are immensely hummable. Bulleya has all the intensity of unrequited love. But the absolute tearjerker is Channa mereya – the lyrics, the expression the context are phenomenal. Anil Mehta’s camera work is gorgeous, but I am sure it must not have been difficult to shoot such a beautiful cast in such spectacular locations. I honestly wish a little more time was spent grounding Alizeh and Ayan’s characters with a little bit of their history and a gradual build up to their friendship. I could easily have done away with the bit with Lisa Haydon entirely regardless of how hilarious she actually was. The dialogues in comparison to the lyrics of the song seem very second rate and do nothing to amp up the emotions. The pre-climax Friends throwback “did she get off the plane” is sublime.

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I had a more complex plot going on in my head and in comparison the story is pretty straightforward and conventional. One-night stands and friends with benefits aren’t ground breaking territories anymore and Karan Johar really needs to continue to push the boundaries even more.

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Minor complaints aside this is a fantastic movie for so many reasons. Ranbir is transcendental. Anushka relatable and Aishwarya ethereal. Karan Johar surely knows how to tell a love story and I’d rather watch him direct aspirational escapist love story than the ones he ends up producing. Watch it for Ranbir. I’ll re-watch for Aishwarya!

Fan – A Review

Maneesh Sharma directs Shah Rukh Khan in and as Fan. The story of Bollywood superstar Aryan Khanna and his doppelganger and obsessive fan Gaurav Chandna. What starts as a story of a middle class boy from Delhi’s Indra Nagar who devotes every living minute of his day to his idol Aryan Khanna quickly devolves into a cat and mouse chase through Mumbai, Dubrovnik, London and eventually Delhi. After a series of critical flops which made an absurd amount of money at the box office does SRK redeem himself? After all he is no stranger to playing double roles and he had carved out a niche for himself playing characters with grey shades in Baazigar, Darr and Anjam.

 

There is little to cheer about in this movie so let me get that out of the way first. The make-up and prosthetics on SRK when he plays Gaurav Chandna is exceptional. The use of visual effects to show the younger of the two characters works seamlessly, Gaurav Chandna is skinnier, with a smoother looking face and thinner nose and more pronounced teeth. The older, Aryan Khanna is SRK himself, beefier and with a face that has weathered over time.  In terms of acting this isn’t his best performance but it also isn’t his worst. So that is something to cheer about. When he is playing Gaurav Chandna he is at his best as he manages to strike a fine balance between the innocent obsession and a psychotic madness with the lines often blurring. When he is Aryan Khanna he phones it in, there is no nuance to his portrayal and as an audience I couldn’t connect with him. There is no vulnerability, no human frailty just the idea of him being a super hero instead of a movie star which takes away the believability element.

That is where the positives end. With a plot like this there is so much that could have been achieved but precious screen time is wasted in three elongated and entirely pointless chase sequences which yield nothing meaningful other than capturing the crumbling south Mumbai building, the picturesque Dubrovnik and the claustrophobic New Delhi.  Maneesh Sharma whose first film was the brilliant Band Baaja Barat and the second the underrated Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl has an organic way of directing and storytelling.  He was either too overwhelmed to be working with arguably the biggest superstar of Bollywood and he surrendered to the over indulgent nature of showcasing the superstar rather than the story or it was actually someone like Rohit Shetty who directed this one instead. The groundwork that was carefully laid in the first half is wrecked in the second half where two incidents destroy the public image of Aryan Khanna.  Clearly the superstar himself isn’t aware of just how much someone like him can get away with. Just cast a glance at the recent tabloid headlines and you have a wide variety of scandals to pick from, leaked pictures (either in the buff or doing lines of the wrong stuff), casting couch, or making controversial statements. It is a literal minefield out there and it would have lent more gravitas to the story and made you feel sorry as you witnessed a slow descent of Aryan Khanna.

The chase in Dubrovnik is un-believable and not in a good way. It is a straight lift from the opening sequence of Skyfall and even the music echoes those familiar Bond-esque notes. The Lawyer who accompanies Aryan Khanna to deal with immigration issues becomes a special services agent doing surveillance. In Mumbai no less than 8 police officers risk limb and life to try and capture a perp who isn’t a terrorist or murderer or even on a most wanted list. In London Gaurav takes a train for Dubrovnik from St Pancras and then St Pancras is shown to be Dubrovnik airport. It is gaping plot holes like this which question the sanity of the people behind this movie.  The climax is a long SRK monologue and a rehash of one of his more iconic movies’ final scene.

A plot with immense potential is rendered impotent by an overindulgent second half, average acting, uninspired dialogue and an overall terrible execution fails to make me a Fan. Shameless product placement for a car giant and even more absurd placement for an international remittance company who get their tag line mentioned not once, not twice but three times make this movie unbearable.  A movie that wants to be a study of the psychology of obsession but gets in its own way by trying to be a thriller is a movie best left alone.  Rewatch Swades or Chak De instead and reminisce what SRK was capable of.