There are no life threatening issues in this movie, and it drifts along nicely, going nowhere. About a girl who has psychological problems and who doesn’t know it until they start interfering with her love and professional life, Dear Zindagi is a very self consciously written letter by a woman film maker to a young Indian person of her gender, telling her to be free and open with her feelings, and suggesting that problems all begin with a neglected childhood.
After English Vinglish, when she came up with such a fresh take on the impact of culture shock on a traditional Indian woman in America, Gauri Shinde gives us this disappointingly hackneyed story that does no justice, either to the acting talent she has at her command, or to her own considerable writing and directing ability.
The movie is about Kaira (Alia Bhatt), a gifted cinematographer in Mumbai who does shorts and music videos, but who is biding her time until she gets a feature film break. Being attractive is a double edged sword for her because of the conflict of interest she keeps running into in her professional life. Does Producer ‘X’ want to hire her because she doesn’t mind dating him or because of the quality of her work? Her friends keep reminding her to separate work and love, but she gets emotionally attached to men she spends time with, and disentanglement then turns painful.
After one particularly bruising relationship with a young man called Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor), she takes a sabbatical and goes home to her parents in Goa. There she realizes that she needs therapy, and so takes an appointment with an unconventional psychiatrist called Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan).
Naturally, the crux of the movie is right here, alone in a comfortable living room in laid back Goa, with a man who listens to every word she says, with interest, curiosity and empathy. Dr Khan appears facetious in his observations to begin with, but session by session he becomes more intent, and it is the sincerity of his involvement that gets Kaira to open up about what is really troubling her.
The best part of the writing of the film is in the way the two characters change, as layers are peeled off from their respective personae. Shah Rukh Khan, in particular, is nuanced as he strains to keep himself private, while he listens to and nudges Kaira towards the catharsis she needs. He keeps the darkness in his own life dark, like a good professional. He does this well.
So these scenes are engaging. But Dear Zindagi gets to them after so much desultory wandering across vast expanses of idle chatter, that it just doesn’t seem worth it.