I’m not gonna sit here and act like I’m any kind of authority on Bollywood or that I’ve even seen a bunch of Bollywood movies before because I’m not and I haven’t. That being said, I enjoyed Dear Zindagi quite a bit. It hit on all the beats that I would expect from a Bollywood flick, especially the catchy musical numbers. Also, it was in what I believe is called Vinglish (that’s just based on a context clue from the film), a Hindi-English hybrid. So it was kind of funny to hear so much English mixed with Hindi from all the characters because it’s something I’ve never experienced.
A little bit about the film itself because I don’t assume everyone is necessarily up to date on the new releases from Bollywood. I’m sure there are big fans out there, but I don’t count myself among them so if I was reading this, I would appreciate a primer on the film. Alia Bhatt plays Kaira, a young single woman living in Mumbai who is trying to make it in the Indian film industry initially as a cinematographer but aspires to direct. Quick sidetrack, if she wants to be a cinematographer, I would’ve expected a little more interesting camerawork from the film, but more on that later. She’s forced to move from Mumbai to Goa with her parents when her landlord kicks her out because she’s single. There, she meets Dr. Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), a psychologist, and begins therapy sessions with him.
Alia Bhatt was pretty fantastic in the film. She’s in darn near every scene and for a film that’s coming in at 2 and a half hours (standard fare for any Bollywood veterans), that’s quite a lot of screen time. From what I can tell online though, she’s one of the most popular actresses in India right now so that seems like a pretty smart move on the filmmaker’s part. Shah Rukh Khan was likewise great in his role. Not nearly as much screen time, but this was not his story.
The pacing of the film was fantastic especially when the run time is taken into consideration. Gauri Shinde wrote and directed this film, only her second after English Vinglish, which I now must see. Her screenplay is fairly episodic in nature but it works because it’s a movie about a specific period of time in Kaira’s life and when we remember our own lives we tend to remember them in an episodic way. Strangely enough, even though the story is so episodic, I almost felt like no time was passing in the film. I don’t mean that as a criticism either. Just something I noticed when the film was over. The time in the film is several weeks but if you’d told me it took place over the course of a few days to a week I would believe you.
As far as the filmmaking goes, this one isn’t going to earn any technical achievement awards I wouldn’t think. Like I mentioned before, despite Kaira’s aspirations to be a great cinematographer, the only interesting shots happened when she was shooting a music video. And that’s just because we saw the scenes as shot for the video. I will say this for the film, it was very colorful and vibrant. I mentioned in my Fantastic Beasts review that someone needs to show David Yates a color wheel. The other option is make him watch Bollywood films. Just look at a few images from Dear Zindagi:
Compared to an image from Fantastic Beasts:
I’m not saying a film’s look shouldn’t match its tone, because it should. But look at these from other Yates films:
Not every film has to be dark and brooding. I know that all his Potter films were the darker ones but Fantastic Beasts was pretty light for about half the film, so why the palette? Same goes for other blockbusters in English:
One thing I want to point out is that this is Bollywood cinema to the core. I don’t use “Bollywood” as a stand in for all of Indian cinema. Bollywood is a specific type. As such, this is a fairly light movie. There is some drama involving Kaira’s history with her parents, but it’s pretty melodramatic and it plays out quickly because this is Bollywood, man, get back to the music and fun and stuff. If you want hard hitting works about India, whether it be culture or politics or class, check out Parallel Cinema of India. Actually a good example has Shah Rukh Khan in it, called My Name is Khan. So check that out too if you want. But back to Bollywood!
I’d say see this film, it’s fun and you’ll probably be humming some of the music. But allow me to be a little bit of a downer for a moment. This is a kinda spoiler, because I’m not going to give specific story details away, but I do have to say something about the ending. The film presents a very strong case that a woman does not have to be in a relationship to feel worthwhile or to ultimately be worthy of attention, success, consideration, etc. It’s a good pro-feminist message that condemns anyone opposed to a woman staying single. Then, for some reason, the same reason that ruins (500) Days of Summer for me, the last minute of the film completely undermines that message. I can see why some critics have hated on this film for that aspect. It doesn’t ruin the film completely by any means, but it did leave me disappointed with Shinde’s script a little bit because it muddles her message. That is all. Go forth and see Dear Zindagi, my friends!