by Ratnakar Tripathy
|Dear Zindagi: the poster|
By now we have lost count of elaborate analyses of Bollywood cinema that claim the idea of ‘íshq’ to be the core stuff of most narratives and songs. ‘Ishq’ is distinct as a variety of love characterized by the merger between the beloved and the lover, often seen in Bhakti as well as Urdu poetry as a metaphor for the merger between the mortal self and the divine. ‘Dear Zindagi’ is however an attempt to keep a distance from the old shibboleth of Bollywood cinema to coolly examine the animal called romantic love. This is done through a lens that seems largely Freudian though without some of its dark excesses that may drive the average audience away from the screens. So this is Freudian analysis without the morbid blood, mucous and various other bodily fluids that go with it, if one may use them as tropes for the Indian literary ‘rasas’. In brief, when a young nubile looking girl Kaira, who is in reality a competent professional ready to plunge into the ruthless professional arena of the entertainment industry, is distracted from her professional focus by personal issues like her inability to fall in love, she visits the analyst Shahrukh. Shahrukh plays perhaps the most understated role of his career as a quietly serious sage full of precepts and lame sounding stories with profound morals that take Kaira step by step out of her dark emotional tunnel. She slowly emerges at the other end to greet the daylight with the exclamatory phrase - ‘Dear Zindagi’! The film is thus not centred on the good old ‘Ishq’ motif of the Bollywood cinema but belongs to the modern world and the secularized lexicon of ‘relationships’. When Kaira is thus cured of her deep-seated emotional inhibitions, she does not necessarily commit herself to fiery ishq but may be content to fall in love in its simple lukewarm sense. According to Sahahrukh, her local Goan Dr. Freud, she tends to ditch her male partner even before he may consider dumping her for someone else, seemingly a safe strategic ploy for a growing boy or girl, but in reality an ensurer of endless emotional disasters and general gloom. Shahrukh helps Kaira locate her troubles to a childhood trauma that seems to have pervaded her emotional life. This is textbook Freud freed of all the complexities.
Played by Alia Bhat, this woman-centred film belongs to what is now commonly called the ‘multiplex’ cinema, namely films that wear a somewhat realistic garb, aim at looking well-made, have credible narrative twists and turns and use a lot of Hinglish, the new vocabulary of the youth in urban India. The trouble with reviewing such films is manifold – because of their likeness to Hollywood or European cinema, if we apply the same non-Indian traditional standards, they appear to be of a rather average or even below average standard. I do not even have to bother to cite Hollywood titles that give a far better and insightful treatment to the subject of emotional inhibition among a growing urban youth. On the other hand, if one applies the criteria of the Bollywood prevalent between roughly 1960s-2010, one may conclude that the film is seriously lacking in the emotional ardour associated with ishq and is too tepid as a romantic tale. In fact the film may even seem to belong to the genre commonly known as ‘self-improvement’ literature and workshop activity where a young person is encouraged to cultivate a positive attitude in life, with all the self-confidence that goes with it. The one line story of the film thus goes something like this – a girl unable to fall in love is cured by a counselor through several sessions of therapeutic talkathalon that forms the meat of the story.
By way of winding up, I must admit that despite the dilemma reflected in the points above, I did not find the film insufferable though the poor quality of the songs did distract me. At the end of the film however I wondered if the trouble of coming all the way to the cinema was worthwhile. Maybe it was just for the sake of the marvelous performance by Alia Bhat and Shahrukh as well as the supporting cast.
|Analysis on the beach!|
The catch here is we glimpse a tentative case of Freudian ‘transference’, when during their last session, Kaira nearly admits to being in love with Shahrukh but is discouraged and backs off in resignation. So the analyst knows there comes a moment when he must slip behind the curtains and refuse to be drawn to the mire of romantic love between an analysts and a patient. Clinically, the right thing to do, I suppose! But also a way to avoid a more challenging and complex narrative! I know of at least one such instance when a troubled girl in my college ended up getting married to her analyst. Professional transgressions are not uncommon at all and in this case may have saved Shahrukh’s character from being a largely opaque one with his emotional windows to the outside world firmly shut. He does come out in the film as a savior of souls, but one that may seem one-dimensional to many. Which is why maybe Shahrukh decided to shed his usual flamboyance and turn prosaic!