Dear Zindagi has two big things going for it. The protagonist Kaira is played by Bollywood’s cutest star – Alia Bhatt. The psychologist Jahangir Khan who imparts life lessons about love and happiness is played by one of the biggest superstars on the planet – Shah Rukh Khan. So it’s easy to be sympathetic towards Alia Bhatt’s character, a woman suffering from depression. And it’s easy to be charmed by Shah Rukh Khan, whose real-life wit and charm is well-known.
This is the story of Dear Zindagi, written by English Vinglish director Gauri Shinde
“Sometimes it’s important to choose the easier way,” says Jahangir Khan, at one point. It’s a telling comment in the film, about an Indian millennial trying to address her mental issues in the most straightforward way possible — by consulting a psychologist.
Kaira is an adorable character. When she snaps at people for no reason, you want to forgive her. When she tears up and talks about her loneliness as a child, you want to hug her and say, “It’s okay”. In fact, Bhatt is so cherubic that Kaira never comes across as an erring adult, even when she is treating people selfishly. Her bouts of depression create an endearing vulnerability about her. The messiness in her character feels like something loveable. She’s nothing like the Fleabag protagonist, a greedy, perverted and (secretly) depressed single woman, with her life in a state beyond repair.
Dear Zindagi was first introduced on Twitter, through a ceremonious chat between Alia and Khan. “Is it okay to be not okay?” she asked him. And it was easy to picture her saying this in her signature style, oozing cuteness. Khan replies, “Dear Alia, See the sun is up. The sky is kinda blue. Sort of beautiful. So it’s ok if you are not ok. As long as you take care of one person. And that one person is you.”
There are no stormy monsoon days or humid Indian summer afternoons in Dear Zindagi. The movie unfolds in literally picture-perfect (literally) and cosy territory. The characters are rich and photogenic, and complicated in their own right. Kaira (Alia Bhatt) is a New York–educated young cinematographer who is successful in her profession. She has a close group of friends who treat her like a precious little child. And she is a guy magnet. Her charm and looks makes them weak kneed.
So what could possibly go wrong in the life of her?
Underneath this lovely surface, Kaira is an anxious and insecure youngster. She drifts from one romantic relationship to another, unable to decide on her life-partner. A potential suitor, whom she thought would end her relationship crisis, has just become engaged to another girl. Her landlord in Mumbai wants her to vacate the apartment because she is unmarried and hence ‘loose’. She has to move into her ancestral house in Goa and live with her parents, with whom she shares a strained relationship. This is the life crisis that grows into a black-hole that threatens to suck her into it.
This is when Kaira decides to get help from a psychologist.
Shinde’s film successfully breaks several conventions by sending a female protagonist to a ‘dimaang ka doctor’ (doctor of mind). It’s heartening to watch positive conversation about depression and mental health inside an Indian household, where it is generally considered a taboo.
Another big convention the film breaks is with comedy. In Dear Zindagi, the comedians are women. Yashaswini Dayama, who plays Jackie, one of Kaira’s besties, is an excellent actor with terrific comic timing. Jackie happily plays a sidekick to her more talented friend, and uses humour and wit to make her plight look less pathetic. Some of the best scenes in the film involve Yashaswini. Without her, the film would have been another Wake Up Sid with minor twists and tweaks.
Overall though, the film sticks to Bollywood standards even though it’s dealing with a subject this grave. Everything looks smooth. Kaira’s struggle is barely visible.
There are warm moments worth cheering for. Like the car-ride where Kaira and her drunk friends discuss life and boyfriends. The casualness of the actors in front of the camera is a treat to watch. Look at the scene where Kaira and Jackie have a heated exchange with a pregnant Fatty watching them on Skype. This is where Kaira realises that she has been too self-centered to notice anything about Jackie’s personal life. The scene unfolds so naturally. The dialogues don’t seem pre-written.
Dear Zindagi features music composed by Amit Trivedi. The songs have this quality to make you feel at home. Adding to the charm are their quirky lyrics. No, not just the already popular “Go to hell” and “Love you zindagi”. Even the number “Meri Mohalle Mein Chaand Jo Aaya Hein”, staged as a performance inside a Goan pub by a young musician, bewitched by a new girl who’s just walked in.
A beard flecked with grey, a twinkle that is more striking than ever – this is the Shah Rukh Khan we see here. In one scene, he starts talking to Alia about his own family. Jahangir doesn’t come across as someone who would cross the professional line and get too personal with his clients. But in this one scene, when he tells her about his estranged wife and his regrets about not being able to gift memorable moments to his child, it’s hard not to feel for him.
There is no corniness. It’s a conversation that sounds all too real, thanks to Khan’s brilliant performance.
Khan makes silly little nuggets of life lessons seem rational, whether through an absurdly funny story about a local mountaineer, or through the ‘chair-relationship’ analogy. They are brilliant in a way only Khan can pull off.
It is this towering graceful performance that really brings the movie to life.
The Dear Zindagi review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.