Dear Zindagi


Gauri Shinde follows up English Vinglish with another heroine-centric film. The amazing Alia Bhatt is ably supported by a very fanciable Shah Rukh Khan, and I loved seeing some more realistic modern relationships in the story. But it’s a bit heavy-handed and there are a few things that left me vaguely dissatisfied.

This is Alia’s movie. She is Kaira, an up and coming cinematographer who lives alone in Mumbai, and pretty much does as she pleases. Kaira takes herself and her work very seriously, but she is fun in a bratty way. She has a closeknit group of friends – the smart one, the ditsy one, the chubby guy and the gay one. And that’s one of the issues. Her friends mean so much to her and yet we barely get to know them. Her relationship with her maid Alka is better developed. Kaira has issues with emotional intimacy and trust, and is destructive in her romantic relationships. That holding back may be why her friends are so shadowy, and there is a question about how much attention she really pays them. Her life is thrown into chaos when building management decide they will only let married couples and families live in the complex, and she is evicted for being single. She breaks up with nice but boring Sid (Angad Bedi), is jilted by not so nice but not boring Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor), and lands up at her family home in Goa where she meets Rumi (Ali Zafar). She’s in a bad place emotionally and career-wise; stressed, cranky, and not sleeping, she is a ball of nervous energy. Alia delivers the rapid play of emotions with honesty and commitment to Kaira in all her messiness.

In a clunky filmi coincidence, Kaira happens to be shooting a promo video at a hotel hosting a mental health awareness event. Dr Jehangir “Jug” Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is the only speaker that makes sense to Kaira. He says that people are always prepared to talk about a physical ailment, but not their mental health, and surely the brain is just another part of the body.  She decides to go see him because she can’t sleep and no medicine has been able to help her. Jug does sometimes sound like an inspirational quote calendar (and I suspect Gauri Shinde watches too much Doctor Phil), but he gets through to Kaira largely by allowing her to discover her own answers. When Jug hears the opening he needs to set the next stage up he does it through conversation and prompting Kaira to articulate her feelings, not by telling her what to think. Shah Rukh gives the appearance of being present and spontaneous, and he and Alia have great chemistry. The inevitable transference scene was handled gracefully and was true to both Kaira and Jug’s characters. And who wouldn’t succumb to transference with Shah Rukh as their therapist?

I loved that the big name star didn’t show up until late in the first half and that he simply disappeared when his work was done, leaving to Kaira to continue on her way. It’s a gutsy move by Gauri Shinde and also by Shah Rukh to trust the story. Frankly I could watch Shah Rukh play kabaddi with the ocean for 2 ½ hours and would listen to him read the phone book (there’s an app idea for the insomniacs!) but I really do think he delivers a good and generous performance here.

It’s unusual to see a mainstream Indian film that doesn’t portray mothers as saints. When Kaira finally blows her top at the family and declares she is in therapy because of them, it’s the catalyst for some self-reflection for everyone. Except her little brother Kiddo (Rohit Saraf), a golden boy who has his own style of managing the parentals. It’s big, when you start to see your parents as human beings. She also struggles with her inner voice judging her for past dalliances. She calls herself a slut (some of the movie audience agreed, sadly) but Jug says as long as you understand yourself and know why you do what you do, then baseless judgement by others is irrelevant. How refreshing to have the nominal hero really not give a rats about who a young lady may have slept with, instead caring that she was able to articulate what she was looking for in a potential partner. And I like that Kaira does this without becoming sweet or saintly – she is still herself, just a bit more resilient and positive. So ladies, try those chairs out and make sure you get one that’s right for you!

I feel I should be able to say more about the support cast but they had little to do and even less material to work with. The romantic interests played by Angad Bedi, Kunal Kapoor and Ali Zafar are all OK-ish guys who Kaira liked for a time, but there is nothing to any of their characters. Her relationship with Rumi (Ali Zafar) is a little more interesting because she starts to ask for what she wants. Rohit Saraf looked and sounded perfect as Kaira’s little brother but he only got a couple of lines so I half wondered why the character was there. Ira Dubey and Yashaswini Dayama play the sensible friend and the ditsy friend, and Raj Bhansali is the gay friend who inadvertently plants the idea of seeing a therapist. They’re all good, but Gauri Shinde doesn’t develop their characters or give them scope to do it themselves.

I liked the visual design for Kaira and Jug’s worlds. Hers is full of colour and movement and herself while his is more restful and neutral, although both live in a state of work in progress. I felt that they actually inhabited these rooms and the spaces were shaped by the character, not just by the set dressers.

Amit Trivedi does what he always does. And seriously – stop with the banjoes. They do not make the music of love. I did laugh a lot at the cheesefest that is the title song. Alia got sent to take her inner Manic Pixie Dream Girl for a good run in the park, hugging trees, flying kites, marvelling at the ocean. The only things missing were a puppy and a mime.

Dear Zindagi is well worth seeing, but you may find your patience is tested…by the audience*! I loved Alia and Shah Rukh, and they rescue the film from some underdone writing and heavy handed message moments.


*A note on the audience. Judging by the fidgeting and volume of conversations it seems the desi boys of Melbourne were not so comfortable when they had to listen to a woman talking about herself, but were all rapt attention when it was Shah Rukh’s turn. A mate in London said some of the dialogues set off the homophobes in the crowd, and there was a little of that here too. A line about a character coming out was greeted with a bit of muttering and shushing while a tired old joke confusing Lebanese/Lesbian had most of the audience in stitches as they kind of missed the point of why that line was being trotted out. And a special shoutout to the lady who sat near me, texting for the whole film and then reading the messages to her husband.

Kill Dil (2014)

Kill Dil

I had high hopes for Kill Dil. I like Ranveer Singh and Ali Zafar. I enjoyed Shaad Ali’s previous films, even the fairly nonsensical Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, and hey – Govinda! So, surely all these elements would be great together? Well, not so much. Kill Dil isn’t terrible, but it just isn’t as good as it should have been, mainly due to the shallow and poorly developed story. I don’t have a problem with the 70’s style masala plot, or with the Urban-Western style of Kill Dil, but I do prefer to have some plausibility in a romance and at least a smidgeon of logical possibility in the storyline. Both are conspicuously absent here. At least Ranveer, Ali Zafar and Govinda are all very watchable, while Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s exuberant songs are a definite plus, so even if the sum isn’t as great as all of its parts, Kill Dil is still worth a look  if you just sit back, leave logic at home and watch the spectacle.

The story starts with shades of Gunday as Bhaiyaji (Govinda) finds two babies in the rubbish and decides to raise the kids himself, despite the fact that he’s a gangster who kills people for a living. Somehow the orphans manage to survive, although they learn how to shoot a gun almost before they can walk and both drop out of school to work for Bhaiyaji as assassins for hire. Tutu (Ali Zafar) is apparently the elder, although how Bhaiyaji worked that out is anyone’s guess. He’s the quiet, less flamboyant and more brooding one who seems a little more aware of the risks but still seems content in his work. Dev (Ranveer Singh) is more exuberant, and with his bouffy hair and leather bomber jacket he’s actually a bit of a dork. The two brothers live together, work together and party together, but still have a lack of worldliness when it comes to anything outside of murder.

While out clubbing one night, Dev saves the life of Disha (Parineeti Chopra), a millionaire who gave up her degree in medicine to help rehabilitate criminals. Um – what? Disha is portrayed as the quintessential  rich party girl and the idea that she works as some kind of social worker is ludicrous. Yet it becomes even more ridiculous when Dev falls in love with Disha and is inspired to give up his life of crime for love.

The question is will his life of crime, and specifically Bhaiyaji, be willing to give up Dev?

Although the film starts off with both Dev and Tutu having roughly equal amounts of screen-time, as the story unfolds, Dev takes centre stage. Ranveer Singh is excellent and veers between annoyingly hyperactive, sweetly naïve and ultra-cool, often during the same dialogue. Although his transformation from gangster Dev to insurance salesman Dev is by the numbers, Ranveer is charming and charismatic throughout, even as his look becomes ever more conservative. He is brilliantly energetic in the songs, despite some truly dreadful styling, and if the song placements are often abrupt and odd, there are at least plenty of them, which keeps the amusement level relatively high.

Ali Zafar’s Tutu is the stoic friend who warns Dev about the possible consequences of Disha discovering his past and who is left to try and pacify Bhaiyaji when Dev is off romancing. Unfortunately, he’s not particularly successful at either task. However the relationship between Dev and Tutu is well portrayed and Ali Zafar and Ranveer Singh do have good chemistry together, even if it doesn’t get close to the Shashitabh ideal of bromance. Parineeti Chopra on the other hand has one of the most pointless and nonsensical characterisations I’ve seen, which is not helped by a complete lack of chemistry in her romance with Dev. She’s portrayed as a shallow character and is not just an unbelievable persona, but her style of behaviour makes her character essentially unattractive. Ultimately Disha seems an unlikely partner for Dev in every possible way and apart from this one fantasy song (which is still more about the styling and Ranveer’s increasingly unfortunate coiffure), the romance is fairly limp and ineffectual. It’s frustrating, since Parineeti looks fantastic and seems as if she is capable of so much more, if only she’d been given a chance!

As an occasional relief to all the posturing, Govinda is refreshingly straightforward as Bhaiyaji. He doesn’t do anything particularly gangsterish, apart from hand over pictures of the next victim to Dev and Tutu, but he does growl and look appropriately menacing when required. Even better, he does get to break out his dance moves and proves that he hasn’t lost any of his old mojo. However not even Govinda can breathe some fire into the flimsy story by the end, and Bhaiyaji’s response to Dev’s defection is disappointingly weak.

Kill Dil then is a bit of a disappointment. While the cast all try as hard as they can to look cool, and do look as if they had a great time during filming, they are let down by poor character development and the unreasonable story. However despite feeling frustrated by the character of Disha and annoyed by the paucity of scenes involving Govinda, I still did (mostly) enjoy the film. Ali Zafar and Ranveer Singh are very cool dudes here, and I liked their partnership. The songs are also improved by the colourful choreography and Ranveer Singh’s energy and joie de vivre is contagious. Perhaps one more for the fans, although it is worth a look for even just the brief glimpse of Govinda back in top form.

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

I had pretty low expectations of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. But I’ve had a very up and down kind of week, and seeing this with excellent company of a couple of friends was the perfect antidote. The leads are likeable, it’s a pretty film, there are some beautiful locations, I laughed all the way through and the songs are excellent. The comedy was funny, and there were some pleasing references to classic and not so classic Bollywood films. There is nothing in the story that is new, but Ali Abbas Zafar (no relation to the star, Ali Zafar) has done the recycling with wit and charm. It’s a really light hearted undemanding film but I didn’t leave my brain at the door, just my worries.

The story kicks off as Luv (Ali Zafar) breaks up with his girlfriend in London. He asks younger brother Kush (Imran Khan) to find him a bride as he feels it is time to settle down but doesn’t think his parents know him well enough to pick a compatible girl. Luv tells Kush that if Kush likes a girl, he is bound to as well. So you can see where this is going long before old flame Dimple (Katrina Kaif) is trotted out by her parents. Kush and Dimple had never quite got together but he thinks the world of her and so she is the perfect bride for his idolised brother. But what to do when you realise you’re in love with your prospective sister-in-law, and she feels the same? The path to the predictable ending is much more entertaining than I expected and even kind of made sense. Not in a real world logic way, but there was enough context built into the film, and characters behaved in accordance with the internal logic of the story.

Imran is great as the boy next door Kush. He has obviously been working hard on his dancing (and should keep working on it), and that was a plus with so many good songs. His comic timing was spot on and he seemed to have good rapport with his co-stars. A lot of the comedy derives from Kush’s reactions to people and incidents and I thought Imran was able to communicate so much by expression alone, particularly his eyes. The look on his face when Dimple tells Kush that he looks like Amol Palekar was priceless!

Ali Zafar handled the demands of playing a character who was selfish and a bit immature and making him sympathetic and funny. He plays the preening NRI but when he is talking to his little brother those mannerisms drop away and we can see more of the genuine person underneath. Luv was decent in his own self centred way and while the ending was inevitable I also wanted to see him happy, or at least not become Romance Roadkill.

I really liked that both Luv and Kush were shown as fundamentally nice guys, so on one level it didn’t matter who got the girl as there was no villain or obviously bad choice. And both chaps do very good eyebrow acting so they were well matched as brothers.

Katrina’s acting was adequate and she certainly looked lovely. She always used to be the blank faced doll in the short dress, but now when the camera focuses on her eyes it does look like there is somebody home. Her performance in ZNMD was far superior to this and yet the characters could have been very similar. Dimple wasn’t given a lot of nuance, indeed she suffered from the highest WTF quotient, and she mostly played as loud and boisterous. The ‘Suicide!’ scene was a real misfire, but for the most I think Katrina delivered what she was asked to do. Dimple is a rebel, but she’s the good kind of rebel who doesn’t upset her parents.  She struck me as the ideal drinking buddy but a bit too high maintenance to want her as a friend.

It was nice to see a heroine who wasn’t passive and helpless, and while some of her choices made me roll my eyes, some had me cheering. She asks why guys can flirt with lots of girls but if she flirts, she is thought to be a slut. Kush tells Dimple not to change herself but that she must also realise that change in others attitudes would take time. While it was completely filmi, it was still nice that Dimple didn’t have to suffer or be rescued because of her ‘bad girl’ behaviour. The part of the characterisation that worked best for me when Dimple spoke about her fear of losing her identity once she was married, and what that change in her life was going to mean.

There was time for a little bit of reflection and introspection in amongst all the pre wedding shenanigans, but still done with humour.

The screenplay was generous in giving the supporting characters some good dialogue and they all had a little quirk or detail that made them stand out. I’m not convinced by Tara D’Souza as Luv’s ex Piali, but her acting did make everyone else look that much better. She seemed to be given the same direction as Katrina that loud = strong. Arfeen Khan had a difficult role as Ajju, Dimple’s autistic brother, and he was good. He had some really nice little moments interacting with Kush and Dimple, and his timing was great. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub was delightful as Kush’s friend Shobhit, making the most of being a comedy sidekick and bride hunting assistant.

The songs by Sohail Sen are a perfect match for the characters and the tone of the story. This is one of my favourite soundtracks at present and the picturisations are a highlight. From the filmi pastiche choreography of the title track to the rambunctious Madhubala (sung by Ali Zafar) or the sweetly funny Isq Risk there is not one that I didn’t like. There is even a bit of a snake dance! The film also uses songs from older films like Padosan and Caravan to signal or highlight things happening in the story.

While the film is aimed at the youth market, this could be one for the nostalgic folk too. It was that most rare of things – a modern Bollywood comedy with no fart jokes, no sleaze but with lots of humour and abundant song and dance. I don’t think there is anything new or amazing about the film, but don’t we go see movies to be entertained or amused? Mere Brother Ki Dulhan does that, and does it very well.