Directed by: Gauri Shinde
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Alia Bhatt
Maybe this is the year Shah Rukh Khan starts to reinvent himself. Maybe he’ll do fewer masala films and take on projects such as Dear Zindagi instead, because he absolutely shines in the role of soft-spoken therapist Jehangir “Jug” Khan in this gentle drama by Gauri Shinde.
The movie opens with Kaira, a young, embattled and ambitious cinematographer, played by the feisty Alia Bhatt. Kaira has problems that are admittedly first-world. She stalks the city of Mumbai with her equally plucky gaggle of friends, while negotiating prospective boyfriends, unreasonable landlords, the threat of marriage and a break-up. But it’s hard not to root for her, even when she’s behaving like a surly teenager, because Bhatt is spot on as a confused millennial with plenty of emotional baggage.
Unable to cope, Kaira retreats to Goa to live with her parents. Enter Khan in his scene stealing role as Dr Jug. As good as Bhatt is, nothing compares with what King Khan achieves when he dials down the histrionics. It’s here that director Gauri Shinde proves her mettle, because she obviously has the ability to tame the superstar. Khan delivers his lines unfussily; every joke is spot on, and even when spouting pithy aphorisms about the nature of life, he is utterly believable as a quiet-mannered man who helps a lost twentysomething find herself.
Composer Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack complements each turn in the story, from the upbeat I Love You Zindagi to the mellow Tarifon Se. Which brings us to Ali Zafar, the Pakistani actor who plays the musician Rumi, one of Kaira’s love interests. In October, the media reported that Zafar’s appearance would be snipped out of the film because of the ban on Pakistani actors in India. Thankfully, he survived the censorship, and, as always, is a pleasure to watch.
Last but not least, the choice of southern Goa as the backdrop for Kaira’s slow healing is a cinematographic victory. Particularly breathtaking are the shots of Bhatt and Khan strolling along on an empty beach – the kind of location that is usually home to Bollywood dance sequences. There is hope yet.