An Jo on Dear Zindagi


Richard Linklater’s influences weigh much — if not heavily — on Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi [DZ]: Particularly, the fantastic BOYHOOD. And the connection is not felt as much cinematically as it is thematically, i.e., the crests and troughs of childhood and their role in shaping one’s adult life. The one startling connection between the two is parenting as viewed through the eyes of children. In BOYHOOD, Mason hears his mom talk to her boyfriend about how parenting leaves little scope for her as a single-mom to pursue her ‘life’ or her interests; in DZ, Alia [Kaira] as a 6 year old over-hears her mother telling her Dad that it’s impossible to take Alia with them to a foreign country due to financial pressures. This forms a marker of an incident in Alia’s life and her subsequent handling of relationships with men in her life.

At first, it’s frustrating to watch Alia’s reactions and her handling of men in her life. There is also a paradox; she is a HOT cinematographer [as constantly indicated by her first beau Kunal Kapoor’s ‘Raghuvendra’] who can get or ANY man she wants, but seems to let them go; either due to their inadequacy or her lack of commitment. So here we have a cinematographer who is good-looking; who can get ANY man whether he sports a man-bun or not into her heart or her bed but ends up screwing all chances of finding and settling down with that one who can act as a soul-mate. She breaks up with a ‘Prince Charming’ who is good in all respects—[I was so getting tired of this cliched examination of relationships and marriages through Bollywood via KANK or the recently released rash-inducing ADHM where the women apparently keep rejecting men who are frogs to them but PRINCE CHARMING to all else in the universe, irrespective of their sex or orientation; I heaved a sigh of relief at the end that it wasn’t the case here]—by telling him on a dinner date that she slept with Raghuvendra. She meets the singer Ali Zafar who is hilariously named ‘Rumi’! **!$?. [The Bollywood fixation and commercial exoticization of Urdu continues]. She develops attraction to obviously his torn jeans and tattoo and his voice and then gets disillusioned with the VERY art-form that introduced and brought them together in the first place – music. [By the way, Ali Zafar turned out to be a joker in this movie; his attempts at sounding a cool girl-magnet come off so painfully bad that I am getting carpal tunnel syndrome even typing this.] At the end, it is revealed, through therapy sessions, that she is actually being pre-emptive and walking out of relationships to so as not to face a disappointment the way she was heart-broken with her mother’s revelation that she hardly read any letters the kid wrote or that there was hardly a right time to take her with them thanks to their financial constraints.

I talked of the paradox in the earlier paragraph. And the paradox is again thanks to the atmospherics of Kaira’s personal life. Thanks to her professional life, of course, she is always surrounded by good looking people and people who are the ‘haves’ and not the ‘have-nots.’ [If one as an audience feels this way, it is the director herself who is responsible for this skewed feeling: When Kaira decides to gobble desi Chinese at a TAJ CHINESE road-side cart after a break-up, Gauri crafts a scene that shows her donating her food to a starved, begging kid. It is as if Gauri is bent upon signing off a sledge-hammer impact: ‘She is rich, first-world in a third-world country, got it?’ She is from a family that is welcome to having whiskey/wine as a family-gathering unifier: [The family that drinks together, well, in this case at least, does not stay together.] She is perfectly fine when it comes to OTHER aspects of her life; having fun with her coke-snorting friends or even breaking some salsa or ketchup bottles or whatever since it has a name resembling her ex and then throwing cash at the counter to cover damages. Gauri spends so much of time in SHOWING these scenes to us that it sends out the wrong signal to the extent that when one sees her talking and reacting to her parents so badly, in an utterly dis-respectful and contemptible way, one feels like slapping her and bringing some sense into her. It is actually miraculous her parents put up with her in spite of all her tantrums and her constant humiliation of them: What else can be a greater humiliation to a parent that his or her kid has to mathematically ‘add-up’ the minutes and count desperately to the sum of 10 total minutes of talk in maybe 1 or 2 weeks? She is perennially rude to her parents. [Not writing a letter to the parents after the over-hearing incident is understandable; being rude and insensitive throughout {in an earlier scene, she tells her friends when she has to go to Goa that it’s a torture to spend even a few hours with parents, let alone few days}]. So she has a degree from some film school in New York in cinematography. How did she pay for that? Did she have a scholarship? [Just imagine the contradiction here; the very thing that turned her against her parents, financial safety-net, is the one that actually enabled her to pursue her out-of-the-mainstream course in cinematography in a damn expensive place!] How did she pay for ALL her expenses in Bombay — let alone New York — with a maid in-tow who kept arranging her turtled auto-rickshaw? When a kid takes all of these materialistic bestowing for granted, isn’t it but natural for an audience – or for some at least – to face resistance in buying-in the concept of ‘blaming the parent’? So one’s got all the time in the world when parents shell out their hard-earned money and send you to a prestigious school in a developed country with a stronger currency but one’s got to think a hundred thousand times to talk for 5 minutes with a parent? This dichotomy is quite baffling to me.

Of course, I understand the central conceit of this movie. It is from the point of view of the Kaira, and not her parents. As a 6-year old, it is but natural and perfectly understandable that one sees the world only from one’s limited understanding. Yes, parents might be talking of financial pressures, but what are they to a 6 year old? What’s the thought-process of a 6 year old? Has any 6-year old been wise enough to understand the financial situations of his or her family and stop asking for toys? It doesn’t matter! A kid sees another kid with a toy, and wants it. If the kid were to ‘understand’ that financial situation of the family doesn’t allow the luxury, the kid would no longer be a kid. One gets that. But how about when the kid grows up to be an adult? And is exposed to life and variants of societal life and folks the way Kaira is? It is difficult, very difficult to fathom that a person who is exposed to the kind of elitist life that Kaira leads is so incapable of understanding that whatever the parents decided at that point in their life was a decision at THAT point; not a universal, know-all, fix-all decision: That one needs a therapist to come to the conclusion that whatever the parents did was right in their mind at that point in time is indeed, to put it mildly, if not laughable, for sure amusing.

Does one need to understand child-psychology or be a psychologist/psychiatrist to understand and appreciate DZ? I am in two minds about that. How is it that Kaira is able to remember and describe what she felt as a 6 year old so convincingly to Khan? If one digs into one’s childhood, yes, one can remember per se the seminal incidents that affected one’s childhood; but how can one remember and articulate the exact emotions, the feelings that one experienced at the time? How can one remember that one felt as though a disgusting TV channel had been turned on and the TV remote was snatched away with no option to change? The scene looked and sounded too artificial to me designed with an attempt to well one’s tears. I just didn’t find Kaira’s problems — in the light of her adult life — convincing; and that might be because of Gauri’s confused handling of the subject; the contradictions that she keeps throwing up: Even if one were to convince oneself that it was her intention, it still doesn’t cut ice. Mani Ratnam’s ‘Anjali’ that dealt with the parents’ handling of a troubled child still works for me — at least on an emotional level.

There are only 2 scenes in the move that stood-out to me. One is Kaira’s outburst when man-bun Mr. Raghuvendra shows up at her friend’s Goa residence; second, the final therapy session with SRK’s Jahangir Khan. Shinde deserves all the accolades for the final therapy scene. It is a remarkably conceived and shot scene when Kaira wants to have a relationship with Khan outside of the professional boundaries. Shinde fantastically conveys ‘transference’ [http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-transference.htm]
in the scene and seems to be influenced by the brilliant HBO series ‘IN TREATMENT.’ [https://youtu.be/fUpiNh7sTkE]. It’s a team effort and each one shines; SRK with his acknowledgement and his awkwardness {Paul Weston too is going through a difficult marriage} and Alia through her transference buried in her conviction that she is actually in love with her therapist.

Alia Bhatt of course walks off with top honors. This is a fine performance cementing her place as an artist that’s bridging the gap between youth-focused roles and semi-realistic roles like that of the one in UDTA PUNJAB: Kudos to her for pumping life into an other-wise confused character-sketch by the director. SRK plays SRK, albeit restrained. For all the talk of this being a fine SRK performance, I beg to differ – it’s not. There’s too much of SRK’s mannerisms in his portrayal of the therapist. He appears too caught-up to be freely exploring Jehangir Khan as a character. So for me, DIL SE followed by SWADES continue to be SRK’s only redeeming acts in his post-stardom era.

Alia’s friends are exasperatingly vacuous and one of them even belts out a Faulkner quote regarding the past which is never dead. The reactions to this quote by their friend are ludicrous, and the audience is confused as to whether the characters are laughing at the absurdity of the usage of this quote or the quote itself. Curiously, it’s only the dumped beaus that provide some stability and maturity in terms of how the audience perceives Kaira’s relationships with them.

This is definitely quite an interesting film on paper; on the screen, however, it leaves a LOT to be desired.

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7 Responses to “An Jo on Dear Zindagi”

  1. Please don’t have c-tunnel, ok…keep writing.
    I am gonna give this movie a skip.
    Couldn’t these two in interviews so not sure in movie….maybe will watch on netflix later on.

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  2. tonymontana Says:

    i agree with you on SRK’s performance. the audience seems to be in love with the character of jahangir khan, who is impossible to hate, rather than his acting which is full of his trademark mannerisms.

    i disagree on your take on the film though. Kiara doesn’t require audience sympathy, but the film carves the way for her to accept herself rather than having people love her. She is selfish and unadjusting and her childhood hardly excuses her way of being but the film’s genius lies in the fact she isn’t shown to be a character that redeems her ways toward the end. But she becomes accepting of herself. Gratitude towards having things in life comes with loving yourself first. and if anything, the film vouches for that more than anything else.

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    • **but the film carves the way for her to accept herself rather than having people love her.**

      I just didn’t get that vibe through the scenes Shinde filmed. It was rather her accepting that her parents, first and fore-most, ARE human beings first and then parents next. Khan tells her to change the perception with which she looks at her parents in her adult life and the decision taken at a different time-line. Her primary grouse is again accelerated by the fact that they chose her brother to take with them while ignoring her. When one grows up, and one develops — hopefully — more emotional quotient, one understands that the decision taken by her parents would be a very logical one since it’s a different deal for grandparents to again take care of a toddler than a 5 year old kid.

      When you grow up, there are situations in one’s life when one scratches one’s head and says, ‘What was I thinking when I decided that 10 years back?’ Of course, I am not saying this is the exact thing as Alia thinking back to when she was a 6 year old because at that point in time, one’s EQ has yet to peak..

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  3. I just didn’t believe the film or its characters or their concerns.

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  4. Alia Bhatt’s recent release Dear Zindagi which had her opposite superstar Shah Rukh Khan received rave reviews. However, soon enough, the film became a victim of a plagiarism rumour owing to its similarities to a show titled Being Erica.

    Reportedly, despite a denying statement from filmmaker Gauri Shinde, the makers have received a legal notice from the makers of the ABC studios show Being Erica, the Temple Street Productions. From what we hear, Dharma Productions and also Gauri, who is the co-producer of the film, weren’t aware of the striking resemblance. Now it is being said that the makers are trying to find a solution to sort the matter amicably before it blows out to be a legal controversy. On the other hand, as of now, Dharma Productions have been maintaining that they haven’t received any notice from anyone.

    Dear Zindagi deals with a 20s something aspiring cinematographer played by Alia Bhatt and her journey as she tries to deal with her professional and personal commitments. Her mistakes and her regrets eventually leads to a breakdown of sorts that results in her contacting a therapist played by Shah Rukh Khan. On the other hand, the Canadian dramedy Being Erica has the protagonist contacting a therapist in order to deal with regrets in her past and she realizes that her therapist has the ability to send her back in time and change things.

    Despite the fact that Dear Zindagi doesn’t talk about time travel, there were many rumours about Gauri Shinde’s directorial being inspired by the ABC studios show. However, soon enough Gauri rubbished it saying that she has never heard of the show, neither has she watched it.

    She gave a press statement saying, “Dear Zindagi is a deeply personal film. There is only one thing it borrows from. That’s my life…. there are a million films and serials with therapists like there are with doctors. Just because there is a doctor in a film does not mean it borrows from another film with a doctor. Am deeply disturbed by irresponsible comments from people who have no clue what it is that they are referring to. I have not seen this series that they refer to.. and I cannot comment on what is in it. In today’s world where everybody sees everything, I am not so dumb that I believe I can get away by deliberate plagiarism nor am I so insensitive to borrow without giving credit from anybody who has created anything for such a sensitive and important cause.”

    – See more at: http://www.bollywoodhungama.com/news/bollywood/alia-bhatt-shah-rukh-khan-starrer-dear-zindagi-legal-soup-plagiarism/#sthash.zO2oBiUb.dpuf

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