When we meet Kaira aka Koko (Alia Bhatt) first in Dear Zindagi, she is working. On a set. Looking at the world through a lens, constructing pretty images. We know, from her smile, and from the appreciative comments of her co-workers, that she is good at what she does. To have a female lead presented as possessing a profession from the get-go still feel like a significant step for a Bollywood movie. And to have Kaira declare to a current love that she has had a fling with another feels nothing short of a revolution.
Right there, within a few minutes of the opening of Dear Zindagi, director Gauri Shinde has us intrigued. We want to know more about Kaira, about what makes her tick, what she wants to do, because she wants to do something, be someone. And then, just as suddenly, the film gets becalmed.
It stops moving. It becomes, instead, a sea of words, where Kaira and her besties Ira Dubey and Yashwasini Dayama (last seen in ‘Phobia’), and her potential romantic interests (Kunal Kapoor, Ali Zafar, Angad Bedi) chat up a storm, in living-rooms, bars, parties, cars. And nothing happens as we get to know that the confident Kaira is actually just a sorry mess, and underneath all that bluster lives a scared little girl, dealing with childhood trauma and abandonment issues.
What could have been a solid drama with emotional heft the qualities that made Shinde’s debut ‘English Vinglish’ such an engaging watch built upon the exploration of the fact that our adulthood is shaped by our childhood in ways we don’t really understand, turns into a kitchen sink talkathon, where all the characters are given lines which are meant to be deep, but come off mostly banal and obvious. The vehicle through which, or should we say whom, Kaira learns life-lessons, is a dishy shrink played by Shah Rukh Khan.
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Dr Jehangir has her sit across him in a cosy room, takes her off for long walks on the beach, and teaches her that playing with waves is not just a game. It is Life Itself. Real-life therapists might gape when they see Dr Khan brushing off rules, dimpling his way through his sessions, while giving Kaira, and us, lectures on the virtues of finding the right chair only after experimenting with several (for chair, read relationship, and roll your eyes).
More eye-rolls are caused by the dialogues which are straining to be natural, but end up being far too many saying much too little. Finally, despite Alia Bhatt’s clear and present spark (she keeps disappearing into the construct of the Fragile, Vulnerable Little Girl, coming up for air only once in a while) and Shah Rukh’s raffish charm (he keeps reaching out for the right `sur’, a mix of gravitas and lightness, and catches it only occasionally, letting us notice the white in his beard: hey, look, there’s a superstar playing his age!), ‘Dear Zindagi’ comes off as a film which could have done with less preciousness, and more plot.