Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Sanjana Sanghi, Swastika Mukherjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Sahil Vaid
Now, talking about Dil Bechara. It stars debutante Sanjana Sanghi opposite Sushant. The film is set in the beautiful lanes of Jamshedpur and a part has been beautifully shot in Paris. Sanjana stars as Kizie Basu, a young girl suffering from thyroid cancer. Actors Swastika Mukherjee and Saswata Chatterjee play her parents in the film. Kizie has no hopes from life and thinks there can never be a happy ending to any love story.
Ek tha raja ek thi rani, dono marr gae khatam kahani– is what Kizie’s naani told her and she believes it. But life had other plans for Kizie. Enter Immanuel Rajkumar Junior – Sushant – fondly called Manny.
The lead actor fleshes out a bubbly Jamshedpur boy who makes light of a disability caused by cancer. He draws his zest for life from his growing bond with a terminally ill girl whose lungs act up frequently. He has a false leg; she has to lug around an oxygen cylinder. Time is running out on the two but the couple is determined not to let the sense of mortality weigh them down.
Unusually for a Hindi film that is a remake of a Hollywood hit, director Mukesh Chhabra’s debut feature is 20 minutes shorter than the original. There are portions in Dil Bechara where the editing appears somewhat rushed, leaving in its wake jerks that undermine the flow of the film. For once, one wishes it had a few additional minutes to paper out the creases.
Adapted by screenwriters Shashank Khaitan and Suprotim Sengupta from The Fault in Our Stars (both the John Green book and the screenplay of the 2014 Josh Boone film are acknowledged in the opening credits), Dil Bechara blends unaltered borrowings from the original production with significant plot deviations in the process of shaping the story for Indian sensibilities. It pulls in one direction here and then pushes in another there and ends up feeling a bit stretched at times.
Yet, one cannot help falling in love with Rajput and debutante Sanjana Sanghi. They strike up a lively rapport. The more sparkling passages, infused with humour and warmth, owe their existence to the source material. Dil Bechara is a film about disease, distress and death that looks at the brighter side of life through the tears brought on by the fear and the experience of losing a loved one.
Tatanagar takes the place of suburban Indianapolis. Kizie Basu and Immanuel “Manny” Rajkumar Junior meet in a college fest before they drift closer to each other in a cancer support group run by Dr RK Jha. An early dance number introduces the audience to the male protagonist’s love for Rajinikanth in particular and popular movies and music in general. The girl, who lives with her parents (Swastika Mukherjee and Saswata Chatterjee), digs the work of an alternative musician who disappeared from the scene leaving her favourite song incomplete. While Manny and his best pal Jagdish Pandey, another cancer patient who is on the verge of losing his eyesight, want to make a film with Kizie as the heroine.
Convincing the girl takes some doing, but once she is on board – seri, okay in Tamil, is the couple’s catchword – the relationship between her and Manny blossoms quickly and the two become inseparables even as Kizie’s mother frets about her delicate medical condition.
Manny, on his part, does all he can to spread good cheer in Kizie’s life with his wisecracks, good-natured pranks and uninhibited ways. Together they seek to make the most of the limited time they have at their disposal. They make a trip to Paris, where Kizie’s favourite singer now lives. She wants to figure out how the retired crooner’s unfinished number should end.
The film’s message of laughing in the face of death is bittersweet and poignant. A dialogue about suicide actually made me wince. I would, however, prefer to remember Dil Bechara for Sushant telling the world, Janam kab lena hai aur marna kab hai yeh hum decide nehi kar sakte, lekin kaise jeena hai woh toh hum decide kar sakte hai. It is this message of hope I intend to take away from the film.
In Sanjana, Dil Bechara has found a confident actor who keeps Kizie natural and engaging. Both Saswata and Swastika bring depth to their performances as parents hovering over their daughter, worrying what tomorrow might bring. Debutant director Mukesh Chhabra is yet to find his distinctive cinematic style and the film does miss a few steps.
Would I call this Sushant’s best performance? No, I will not. I remember sitting stunned in a theatre as I watched him as Lakhna in Sonchiriya, a ‘baaghi’ mulling over the concept of justice in the unforgiving ravines of Chambal. I still marvel at his transformation in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story when I had to remind myself that I was watching an actor playing the cricketer in that 3-hour-40-minute drama. And then there was the wet-behind-the-ears Byomkesh Bakshy, whose adventures were cut short by a heartless box office. Having said that, Manny will always be special to me and to you. Because this is the last time we will see Sushant, a talented young man with stars in his eyes, telling us a new story.