In a month of average Bollywood sequels, Gauri Shinde’s second directorial venture, Dear Zindagi is like a breath of fresh air. This slice of life film deals with a young, talented cinematographer Kiara played by Alia Bhatt. Kiara is not our typical Bollywood heroine but a stubborn, difficult, complicated and ambitious millennial. She yearns for love and success and is not ready to wait for it. Though she seems to lead a pretty charmed life with a career in what she loves, a nice apartment, little financial problems, great friends and three handsome suitors- Kiara is restless and shifty. Her studied attempt in creating a sense of topsyturvyness around herself reflects the constant turmoil in her mind. And her instability in relationships, the walls that she seems to build around herself talk of some deep seated insecurities that are not revealed to the audience till almost the end of the movie.
The complications of Kiara’s character is the heartbeat of the film and it is brought to life by a nuanced performance by Alia Bhatt. In spite of this being a verbose film, the best moments are perhaps the ones where Alia’s eyes do all the talking. Her difficult relationship with her Goa based parents, her complicated love life and resulting insomnia lead Kiara to seek out the help of Dr. Jehangir Khan or Jug, a suave and smooth talking therapist played by Shahrukh Khan. In a rarely seen avatar with his wrinkles and greys showing, Shahrukh turns in a winning performance. As used to as we are in seeing Khan as the king of romance, this role is a welcome change where he allows the spotlight to stay on Alia and himself takes a backseat and he does it with effortless ease.
The therapy sessions themselves are quite bollywood-esque – an expansive Goa house, walks on the beach, cycling – but they are super effective and gets Shinde’s life philosophies across without being too heavy handed.
Apart from delineating the very relatable issues of the young urban crowd, what the film also does is start a much needed conversation about mental health and the stigma attached to it. The chemistry between Kiara and Jug might just inspire many women to seek the help and the counselling that they need without the fear of being labeled crazy.
The casting director deserves a special pat on the back for not only the lead actors who turn in top notch performances but also the supporting cast who are extremely reliable and talented. Shinde’s writing is beautiful in its simplicity and perfectly paced. It is undoubtedly a film the whole team of writer-director Gauri Shinde, cinematographer Laxman Utekar and editor Haimanti Sarkar can be proud of.
On the flip side, Shinde have tried to harp on several other issues like housing problems for a young unmarried girl, the stereotypes regarding the movie industry and homosexuals etc. but they don’t seem a little superficial and not well integrated into the movie.
Dear Zindagi has its heart in the right place. Navigating the ups and downs of Kiara’s life, with Jug firmly guiding her through all the emotional upheavals to reach a liberating conclusion, the film pulls at your heartstrings. Gauri Shinde might be at the top of her game in this movie but most of her battle is won by the stellar performances by her two lead actors. Alia’s dazzlingly real acting and Shahrukh’s effortless charm keep you hooked to the screen and delivers a film that is quietly hypnotic.