Tag Archives: zindagi

Dear Zindagi and the call to end mandatory maata-pitaa worship: Bravo, Kaira and Gauri Shinde

The mind goes where it wills. And last week, as I watched writer-director Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, my mind – much to my amusement – wandered off in the direction of Asaram Bapu. The followers of the jailed religious guru have been trying for a while now to popularise Matru-Pitru Pujan Divas (Parents’ Worship Day) as an alternative to Valentine’s Day. They flashed through my head as I watched a particularly memorable scene from the film in which Alia Bhatt’s character Kaira slams her mother, father and their irritatingly opinionated guests with these words:

(Spoiler alert for those who have not yet seen Dear Zindagi)

Parents hone ka kaam?! Khatam kar do! Bachche paalna itna tough kaam hai toh end it na! Kisne kaha parents bane rehne ko? Ek toh theek se kaam shuru hi nahi kiya toh kyon continue kiye ja rahe hai? Put an end to it… Bachche paida karne ka idea kiska thha? Aapka. Correct? Aur phir jo chaaha unke saathh kiya, whatever you wanted. Aur blame bhi hum pe hi daalte ho. And then you say tough hai. Kya tough hai? My foot!” (Note: a translation of this monologue is provided at the end of the article)

(Spoiler alert ends)

Alia Bhatt in a still from 'Dear Zindagi'

Actually, never mind Asaram Bapu. Kaira’s verbal explosion must surely rank as a moment of monumental subversiveness in Bollywood history and across Indian society as a whole. From a film industry that has for decades now made maata-pitaa adulation a virtual obligation, in a society that pedestalises parenthood and requires children to compulsorily venerate their mothers and fathers, here is a fictional young woman belling the cat on this parents-are-gods nonsense. Parents, the film in its entirety reminds us, are people – mere humans, sometimes good, sometimes bad, horrible at worst, imperfect at best.

Yash Chopra will perhaps be turning in his grave or in his urn of ashes or wherever he is resting in the cosmos, at this speech from the heroine of the latest big-ticket Bollywood release. After all, Dear Zindagi has been made in a cinematic universe far removed from Chopra’s 1975 film Deewaar in which the crooked Vijay Verma famously taunted his honest brother Ravi with, “Aaj mere paas buildingey hai, property hai, bank balance hai, bangla hai, gaadi hai. Kya hai tumhare paas?” (Today I own buildings, property, I have a bank balance, a house, a car. What do you have?) to which dear treacly sweet Ravi replied: “Mere paas Maa hai” (I have Mother). No wealth could have been greater than a Nirupa Roy-like saintly Mommy in a hero’s life back then.

Hindi cinema may have travelled the distance from parent worship to Kaira in the four decades since Deewaar was released, but in the real India the notion of parents as noble beings if not near-divinity persists — and those who disagree are damned. Bollywood, for a change, is a step ahead of society rather than trailing behind. For the sad truth is that Kaira speaks a truth most Indians are still afraid to utter.

The practice of idolising parents in India goes back to ancient Hindu mythology. One of the most popular accounts of Lord Ganesh has him competing with his brother Karthikey for a prize that varies with the version of the tale. The winner would be the sibling who manages to circumambulate the world first. Karthikey takes off on his peacock to circle the Earth. While he is away, Ganesh folds his hands, quietly walks around Shiv and Parvathi, and on Karthikey’s return, claims victory. But you did not leave this place, Shiv points out. I did not need to, replies the son, to me my parents are my world.

Too many Indians miss a crucial point in this anecdote – that Ganesh may have revered his parents, but Shiv and Parvathi (as is widely acknowledged) were flawed. What distinguishes Hinduism from other present-day major world religions and gives it an element of relatability is that its deities are not portrayed as blemishless beings, but as gods with human failings.

Viewed in this context, it is ironic that Indian society – despite the prevalence of Hinduism – insists on seeing parents as universally selfless individuals who unconditionally love their children, views parenthood as a higher calling and a social duty, and decrees that children must forever be obliged to their parents, while condemning both singledom and childlessness within and outside marriage.

Singletons are considered footloose and fancy-free individuals fulfilling no social duties. The stereotype of the heavy-drinking, hard-partying (ergo noisy), immoral, sexually promiscuous bachelor and spinster (read: a likely bad influence on other youngsters) is so prevalent in urban India that housing complexes unapologetically announce a “dogs and unmarried people are not allowed” rule for tenancy and purchases. Married people who decide not to have children are openly labelled selfish.

Is becoming a parent an act of selflessness? Excuse my rudeness, but… Baah!

And seriously, selflessness is a choice, while the reality is that a majority of Indian women at least have no such agency. Providing an heir to the husband and his family line continues to be seen as one of a wife’s primary duties. Most women in India have limited access to birth control and safe abortions anyway, a situation that reproductive rights activists and scholars have chronicled and decried for decades. There is a stigma associated with being a “baanjh aurat” (sterile/barren woman). And if you are either uneducated or financially dependent or both, not bearing a child when your husband and in-laws want one is obviously not an option.

Among women who do have a choice, it goes without saying there are plenty who become mothers because they love babies, children and/or the traditional family set-up, genuinely want to experience another life growing within them and feel maternal love. There are just as many, if not more, though who have children because it is customary, or they had not thought beyond the norm when they first got pregnant, or because societal and familial pressure was too hard to withstand, or for some other reason unrelated to the joys of motherhood. The result is scores of women out there who became mothers despite being disinterested in the role or not ready for it.

Men do not escape social pressure either. Try being a couple even in supposedly liberal circles who have not had a child for over two years after marriage. The intrusive questions about when you will give “good news” to the world at large are interspersed with inquiries about your fertility, jokes about the man “firing blanks”, pity at what is vaguely assumed to be a sad, lonely, purposeless, empty existence and accusations of being self-centred, which imply that having a child is almost a sacrifice married folk make for the greater good.

This myth is debunked by the very people who propagate it when they coax singles to marry and married couples to have children. “Why don’t you want to get married? Don’t you love children?” they ask, as if potential spouses are nothing more than walking, talking sperm banks and fertile fields of ova. And that other question: “If you don’t marry and have children, who will take care of you in your old age?”

Dear Zindagi movie review: Incredibly cute Alia, Shah Rukh Khan need a more consistent script

Dear Zindagi is clearly straining at the formula-ridden Bollywood straitjacket to give us a refreshing take on love and family, and for the most part it sticks to its guns. In the end, it does succumb to the pressure to bow to perceived public demand with passing mentions of what we have come to consider inevitable in every Hindi film, but the ride up to that point is so rewarding so often that it is tempting to look past those needless moments.

Writer-director Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi comes four years after her remarkable debut with English Vinglish. If that film brought the charismatic Sridevi back to the big screen as a leading lady after a 15-year hiatus, this one redefines the concept of hero and heroine in Hindi cinema.

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Dear Zindagi revolves around Kaira (Alia Bhatt), a talented young cinematographer in Mumbai who despises her parents, appears confident in her romantic relationships yet is ridden with insecurities about the men she is drawn to. Those insecurities lead her to deliberately hurt her boyfriends before they get a chance to hurt her. It does not take a degree in psychology for a viewer to figure out her behaviour patterns, but Kaira is naturally confused by her fears. She ends up seeking professional help, and with some wise counsel, finds her answers herself.

When one of the biggest stars in the history of Bollywood appears on screen about 40 minutes after the opening credits, it goes without saying that this is an extremely unconventional film. Bhatt’s Kaira is the focal point of the story from start to finish whereas Shah Rukh Khan – playing her therapist Dr Jehangir Khan – surfaces towards the latter part of the first half and is nowhere to be seen in the concluding scene.

In a male-obsessed industry still tending to subordinate women in most mainstream projects, this is a decision that shows guts on Shinde’s part and Khan’s evident willingness to experiment. That other MegaKhan, Aamir, took a similar gamble with rewarding results in Taare Zameen Par (2007), and this is a winning aspect of Dear Zindagi too.

SRK gets less screen time but owns every scene he is a part of. In fact, Doc Jehangir enters the picture just as the film is sagging and appears to be repeating itself. His arrival immediately lifts Dear Zindagi. It sags again occasionally thereafter, but never when he is around. Besides, there is such warmth in Kaira’s interactions with the Doc that it envelops the rest of the narrative too.

It is worth mentioning that Khan in this new phase of his career when he is acknowledging his age gracefully, showing us a dash of gray and a whiff of wrinkles, is looking hot.

Kaira explodes in anger at one point when someone describes her as a pataka (firecracker). Well, that’s precisely what Bhatt is – a pataka with pizzazz and verve. What makes her so impactful is that she has had an internal journey with each of her roles so far, and not so far allowed that journey to be overshadowed by her attractive personality. Kaira is simultaneously exasperating and endearing, and Bhatt remains in control of that difficult blend throughout.

Still, the film needed more matter to wrap around these two lovely stars, and Dear Zindagi too often does not. Some of that comes from the failure to build up the satellite characters who are Kaira’s go-to people in times of need. We get that she is pre-occupied with her own emotional struggles to the point of not noticing their problems, but that is no excuse for the writing to neglect them too.

Who is Fatima (Ira Dubey) beyond being a mature, married friend? Who is Jackie (Yashaswini Dayama) beyond being a sweet, supportive, possibly younger friend? Who and what is that chubby male colleague beyond being chubby and funny? Who is her brother Kiddo (Rohit Saraf) whom she loves, beyond being her brother Kiddo whom she loves? Who and what are her boyfriends Sid (Angad Bedi), Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) and Rumi (Ali Zafar) beyond being a good-looking restaurateur, a good-looking producer and a good-looking musician?

(Spoiler alert) And then there are those two oh-no moments towards the end – you know the kind that make you say, “Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi”? One of them seems to go along with the traditional view that characters played by a major male star and a major female star must inevitably be attracted to each other if they interact long enough in a story; the other underlines the essentiality of a man in a woman’s life to make her feel complete. Both are fleeting suggestions, but they pull down the film’s assuredness about what it is trying to say until then. Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi? (Spoiler alert ends)

For this and other reasons the film is inconsistent and intermittently lightweight. Yet, there is much else to recommend in Dear Zindagi.

The use of music, Amit Trivedi’s breezy tunes and Kausar Munir’s conversational lyrics are lots of fun, as are Kaira’s many amusing interactions with her friends. DoP Laxman Utekar fills the film with pretty frames of Goa beyond what we are used to seeing of that picturesque state, and is just as imaginative in his focus on Khan and Bhatt’s faces. Watch out for the closing shots of Bhatt on a beach.

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From an industry that usually treats parents as deities deserving to be worshipped, it is also unusual to get a story that does not ignore these gods’ feet of clay, especially considering that Dear Zindagi is co-produced by Karan “It’s All About Loving Your Parents” Johar.

Above all, it is nice to see a film making an effort to destigmatise patient-therapist interactions, in a portrayal far removed from the “paagalkhanas (lunatic asylums)” of an earlier Bollywood era.

Dear Zindagi then is a mixed bag. I loved SRK in the film, Bhatt is always a pleasure to watch, the story visits many themes that are uncommon in Bollywood, and several of the discussions are either witty or insightful or both. Overall though, the film comes across as being not enough because the writing needed more substance.

Dear Gauri Shinde,

You broke the mould with the delightful English Vinglish. Since you have defied convention in so many ways this time round too, you may as well have gone the entire distance without worrying about the consequences. We believe in you. Please do have faith in our faith in you.

Dear Zindagi an unusual Bollywood movie that explores the inner life of a troubled woman

There are several lines of dialogue in Dear Zindagi that you are unlikely to have heard before in Hindi cinema. A woman telling a man to pull up his (unsightly low-slung) pants before he goes in front of the camera; a woman telling a man, “I need to pee.” (In Bunty Aur Babli, Rani Mukherjee implies it when she asks Bunty to come guard the railway station. And in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s Lajja, Manisha Koirala learns to pee on the side of the road while drunkenly cavorting with Madhuri Dixit.) Dear Zindagi also features a woman announcing that she failed Class II, and a man saying his former lover would never have achieved success if they had stayed together.

Dear Zindagi stars Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt

I was looking forward to Dear Zindagi in a vague way, aided by the memory of watching Sridevi’skabuki mask-like, but still absorbing face in Gauri Shinde’s first film, English Vinglish. In Dear Zindagi, Alia Bhatt is also often expressionless-yet-not, prickly and grouchy to hide her wealth of feelings. At one point, when Kaira (Bhatt) hears from her friend Fatima (Ira Dubey) that her lover has gotten engaged to someone else, she bites into a green chilli and eats it with steady viciousness. You want to look away from her tiny red lips, but you can’t. She sniffs, and when her friend asks her if she is okay, she blames the chilli. Then she goes back to the editing studio to edit the music video she’s directing.

English-Vinglish was the journey of a well-adjusted, middle-aged woman who thinks well of herself. She only has to understand why the world doesn’t think well of her — just because she doesn’t speak English. In Dear Zindagi, Kaira doesn’t think well of herself, but others do. She veers between fragility and irritability, and we don’t know why. We don’t quite know why she’s so mean to her parents and relatives. (That’s a lie; the relatives are so well-calibrated in their smugness that I was ready to slap them on Kaira’s behalf.) We find out what has created her brittle unhappiness, as she finds out, through her therapy sessions with cool shrink Jahangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan).

This explicit exploration of the inner life of a young woman is fairly unprecedented in Bollywood. In Tanu Weds Manu 2, we do get a chance to see Tanu’s emotional struggles with her self-destructiveness. But the black comedy of that movie and that heroine didn’t permit the earnest pursuit of mental health. Instead, in the opening scene, Tanu manages to turn marriage counselling into an opportunity to get her husband locked up in an asylum. In Queen, Rani needs the trip to Paris to recover from heartbreak and gain confidence in her own ability to navigate the world.

It’s soothing, therefore, to hear Khan tell Kiara that she doesn’t have to forgive her parents or confront them for abandoning her. To hear Khan tell Kiara that she is not “cheap” but “superfine” to not settle for the first man who comes down the pike. Kiara has literal-minded nightmares about society judging her for being unmarried and unloved (troublingly, Shinde visualises this as working-class men mocking married middle-class women). It’s even more soothing when Khan tells Kiara that no society — no matter how judgmental — doesn’t have to think well of her, as long as she thinks well of herself. It’s so soothing that you are tempted to ignore the outrageous wish-fulfilment that is the tailpiece of the movie.

A friend who went to Dear Zindagi with me began with pessimism, saying warily that the scenes of Kaira zooming above her sets in a cinematographer’s crane are likely to be the most empowering things about the movie. (He changed his mind). For me, the wish-fulfilment moment was when Kaira tells the newly engaged ex-lover Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) that she has decided to not work with him on his next project. Raghuvendra, dejected but trying to be a good guy, begins some spiel about what he thinks. This sets off Kaira like a bomb. She yells at him because she has already announced her decision, he wasn’t going to get a chance to now pretend it was his decision. Ah, the ridiculous, petty, total satisfaction.

Shinde’s story stays true despite any temptations that may have come along. Kaira doesn’t find herself in a romance with her ex-lover, a new lover or even in her crush on Khan. The climax is a classic emotional breakthrough about her childhood. If you have any doubts that Bhatt can act, this is the scene for you. She cries hard enough to melt a rock. This is also a scene of unintentional comedy. SRK, who should be a proud therapist, has never looked more uncomfortable than he does at this stage. He looks like he wants to say, “I hate tears, Kaira.”

My formerly pessimistic friend explained, “No one told him he has to do anything but smoulder. Or may be it’s those pants.” It’s true that the pants seem very tight, Aki Narula. It’s also that SRK is frequently a smouldering shoulder, but he is more. Shinde’s several on-the-nose pitches and Khan’s sussegad style makes an attractive case for therapy.

Kaira has her breakthrough and slowly makes her peace with her family. Which brings us to that fantasy tailpiece. Her long-stuck short film about a cross-dressing Portuguese soldier is finally made. It is screened on the beach to an audience of her whole life. All her friends, her whole family, the man she broke up with (Angad Bedi), the man who broke up with her (Kunal Kapoor), the man who wasn’t quite right for her (a shockingly muscular Ali Zafar). They are all there, flushed with admiration, applause and goodwill for Kaira. There’s also a new man who has solid potential of being the next love interest (Aditya Roy Kapoor).

Dear Zindagi Take 1: Alia Bhatt, SRK seen in pursuit of happiness; Ali Zafar missing from teaser

After teasing fans and social media patrons for days, Shah Rukh Khan posted a few videos on his Twitter timeline as an indication of what to expect from his upcoming film with Alia Bhatt, Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi. 

After releasing a first look earlier on Wednesdayit was revealed that this film would not have an extended theatrical trailer, but three teasers, titled Take 1, Take 2 and Take 3.

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SRK shared Take 1, and the one-odd minute teaser reveals much about the tone of the film. Much like Shinde’s last film English Vinglish, Dear Zindagi also deals with breaking free, but of a different kind. In this teaser, Alia Bhatt is seen spending time with Shah Rukh Khan, who is reported to be her therapist/life coach.

The two are in goa, when SRK tells her to play “kabbadi with the sea”. This is a cue to let go and just have a good time, and she is seen struggling with it, but slowly, starts to get with the programme. They’re also shown riding around Goa and generally chilling out. We’re guessing the reason the teasers are called Takes is because Bhatt plays a filmmaker in Dear Zindagi.

The fact that there’s a lot of brightness, vibrancy and happy, positive music in this teaser points to the fact that this is going to be an uplifting film. We wouldn’t expect any different from Gauri Shinde.

Meanwhile, Pakistani actor Ali Zafar, who is said to be playing a part in Dear Zindagi is missing from this trailer. It is yet to be confirmed whether or not his role will be edited out of the film. All eyes are on the release of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil at the moment, which stars Fawad Khan.