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Rating: **1/2
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Ali Zafar, Kunal Kapoor, Ira Dubey, Yashaswini Dayama, Rohit Saraf, Angad Bedi, Aditya Roy Kapoor

Director: Gauri Shinde

Writer-director Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi is a charming film that’s, sadly, made trifling and infantile by its determination to remain pretty and pleasant all the time.

Given the subject it picks, some ugliness was obligatory, desperately necessary even. But so busy is the film dizzily swirling around and romancing its lovely heroine and handsome star that it remains cheery throughout, even when dealing with familial ugliness.

Yet I liked Dear Zindagi because of what it’s not.

The film is about a girl, but it’s not about some great voyage across continents to find oneself, neither is it about some great betrayal, avenging a rape, punishing a malcontent. It is not about finding a lover either, though it is a bit about that.

Dear Zindagi is about that seemingly small, emotional episode in life that controls your entire being. A moment that defines you, setting out self-destructive patterns to be followed, forever.

The film treats that brief moment for what it is — a deep, personal tragedy. The few seconds here, in which a child comes to naught, doesn’t involve horrifying abuse, but a gesture of callous uncaring, and in that gesture has remained a girl, locked.

Dear Zindagi acknowledges and accepts that hurt, and then sets about unknotting that knot.

I loved the banality of the issue and the fact that a full film is devoted to it. And I liked that it is about a girl and her mother, and not, as is usually the case, boys and their daddies.

Despite its meagre talent in the filmmaking and storytelling departments, the lessons Dear Zindagi dishes out are empowering. But if, like me, you have mummy issues, I suggest you carry a big box of tissues.

I wept like I haven’t wept in a long time. I did what I call three-point weeping: tears streaming down from the middle and both corners of the eyes. An unstoppable torrent that was slightly pathetic and really therapeutic. Try it.

Dear Zindagi, set in Mumbai and Goa, follows this seemingly self-assured and successful but actually rather confused and lost girl.

Kaira, Coco (Alia Bhatt) is a “hot DoP” (director of photography), a compulsive shopper and someone who craves love and yet runs away from it. She jeopardises her chances at love before it has a chance to hurt her. Yet she hurts, constantly. Though she’s waiting for a knight in a shinning armour to save her, she’d beat him in case he did try to save her.

Kaira dates, has no issues with casual sex, or “trying out new chairs” as Dr Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) tells her later. But she also sees it as an act of losing power — as if she’s instantaneously handing over the baton to the other, to hurt her, to beat her with. That’s the only way she thinks love can go.

So the smallest chink she senses, the first opportunity she gets, she takes off, hurting others in the process.

Kaira is rather conceited. Her strongest relationships are with people who service her — her maid Alka and her gaggle of friends, Fatty (Ira Dubey), Jackie (Yashaswini Dayama) and two others who are not considered worthy of even being introduced properly.

When we meet her, she’s dating someone, a restaurant owner, but has also just slept with her producer Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor). She’s distant and cold with both.

The times spent with her friends and at work are constructed with aspirational lifestyle stuff. Her independence, singleton status and talent are all packaged carefully into a cool look of success. Even her house — which has a pin-board where photos of boys in favour keep changing — is bohemian-carefully-overdone.

In fact, the film itself is extremely superficial. It doesn’t go beyond the surface, lest it get dirty. That’s why, perhaps, all we get of Kaira are bits that are relevant to the story. And that’s also how all characters around her are created and realised. Summoned when she needs them to speak their brief lines and exit immediately. Though this could have been used to illuminate a character trait, the film carefully ignores it.

Kiara is rather selfish, continually obsessed with herself and her issues, never really focusing on her friends. All we get is a half-baked sentence on this.

But we do get to listen to her rant about rented accommodation and single women when she’s thrown out of her house. And when the dream project she’s looking forward to doesn’t seem that dreamy anymore, off she goes to Goa to live with her parents, a thought she abhors.

In Goa she’s irritable and sleepless. Thankfully, she soon comes upon Dr Jehangir Khan, a therapist, or DD — dimaag ka doctor. And that’s when, despite the hokey sessions, the film gets elevated by life’s lessons taught by SRK in his charming, hamming style.

With some anecdotes about his Dada Jaan and silliness like playing kabaddi with waves, he makes all that she’s been holding on to a bit easy to let go of, a little less important. Teaching her to forgive, he helps her be free of the past.

In between all this, unbeknownst to us and certain political parties, Dear Zindagi slips in a hottie from “enemy” territory. Ali Zafar makes a sudden, delightful appearance, crooning and strumming a guitar.

He’s totally worth Rs 5 crore, in case anyone’s demanding.

The problem is that all this interesting stuff is located in a film that is rather mediocre.

Dear Zindagi ticks several boxes and has street cred. It’s cool, modern, and its life’s mantras unconventional and invigorating.

Yet, unlike her Sridevi-starrer English Vinglish (2012), Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi is amateurish in its plotting, screenplay, cinematography, dialogue. Worse is its Bollywood-eqse devotion to its stars which means that it pays little attention to other characters, turning it into a flat film — like a long pop-up book where only two characters keeps popping-up page after page.

Funny thing is that even SRK’s Dr Jehangir Khan is treated less as a character and more like a cameo. He’s like a wizard, perfect and distant, who appears only to heal. We get nothing about him except a line about a minor complication in his life.

Alia Bhatt is growing with every film as an actress. She’s fabulous, has a great range and seems to have no inhibitions. That’s why she needs more. She needs characters who are complicated because she can play them. I wonder why Shinde treated her like most male directors, except Abhishek Pandey (Udta Punjab), treat Bhatt: A cutie-pie to set new sartorial trends.

Alia Bhatt has shown that she can do more than just endearing silliness. I wish Shinde had given her some internal chatter, some stillness, for she’s fully capable of letting the character’s soul shine through. A wasted opportunity in that and other aspects.

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