[dropcap]D[/dropcap]ear Zindagi definitely pales in comparison to Gauri Shinde’s first directorial venture English Vinglish. In the latter the struggle of the main protagonist Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) to shine in life despite a linguistic handicap appeared more realistic and moved the audience. In Dear Zindagi, the director intentionally creates a handicap — a suppressed childhood and its supposed lasting impact — to justify a personality that is so typical of some youth of the modern generation. Kaira (Alia Bhatt) is a bohemian young girl who wants to make it big in mainstream cinema as a director, but is, for the moment, struggling as a cinematographer. She would not mind sleeping with the producer to further her aspirations; if she kept rejecting her boyfriends, one after another, in the lingering fear that the boyfriend should not reject her first, as her psychologist Jehangir ‘Jug’ Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) puts it, there are loopholes in that argument.
Raghavendra (Kunal Kapoor), the young producer, acknowledges she is hot but assuages her by saying that she has the talent to go ahead faster. Kaira was not with Sid (Angad), the restaurant owner, for love since she ditches him at the first opportunity and conveys to him without mincing words that she had slept with Raghavendra.
Kaira leaves none in doubt when Raghavendra invites her to shoot a film in New York but also informs her that he is going to shoot with her ex-fiancée. When Raghavendra wants a commitment from her for a long-term relationship, she refuses and the hurt that he was not all under her influence forces her to leave him and join an unknown young man on the dance floor.
Had it not been her ambition, she would not have taken Raghavendra seriously. She longs for the opportunity that was promised. Her angst and frustrations are more for this than leaving the love interest. She never believed in love etc that is amply demonstrated in the dialogues. To her, becoming successful is more important.
She knows she has been acting like a slut, where she would not mind sleeping with influential men to further her aspirations. Rather than dwelling on this theme that dominates the first half of the film, Shinde tries to shift gear to morality to balance the film and brings in Dimag ka Doctor (DD) Jehangir Khan.
Kaira’s recurring nightmare, where she sees married women and others laughing at her, is a reflection of her real self. This is how she sees herself in the eyes of the people. She was never guided by morality, preferring to replace the photograph of one boyfriend with another. However, the DD gives her a fig leaf of morality by saying that there was no harm in sleeping with more than one person since it was like finding the right kursi (chair) at a furniture shop! And she laps up the justification. (recall the Tu bhi kamina main bhi kamini song).
Few in the audience would realise this shift from a bohemian lifestyle to a morality-based chase. Finally, the penultimate kursi for Kaira, singer Rumi (Ali Zafar), fails to satisfy her and she walks out of that relationship, too.
Kaira did not have any psychological problem. It is just that she was unable to reconcile between losing her dream assignment and her lost sleep. Time would have healed it. But a role had to be found out for Shahrukh Khan! So, the mental problem had to be traced to a time when she was all of six. It is ridiculous to assume that a girl that age would hate her parents because of her experiences of being ignored. In trying to diagnose the so-called mental illness, the movie loses pace that defines the younger generation, and becomes monotonous.
Karan Johar, one of the producers of the film, in trying to do a psychoanalysis of the young girl, dilates too much to bring home a point which is not there. If the aim was to show the need for a youngster to consult a DD when in stress, it is well understood. But attributing the inability of Kaira to cope with her ambition and relationships to a faulty upbringing is not convincing.
And the movie ends with much ado about nothing. The director and producers are relegated to the background. There is a new vocational cinematographer. You can shoot an independent film and direct it too. The young girl who wanted to shoot a feature film is satisfied shooting a documentary. Everyone is happy. Was this all she had bargained for? That is lost in the din of the applause, appreciations and the resultant emotions, which Johar is an expert in invoking.
The movie stands out for an outstanding performance by Alia Bhatt, which is well supported by Shahrukh Khan. Others, including Ali Zafar who has been cast merely because of his Pakistani nationality, just piled on to the story. This adds to the appeal of the movie in Pakistan, but it would be interesting to find out if the conservative society of Pakistan would accept the Bohemian style of Kaira. Maybe they would. She does not play a Muslim character in the film after all.