Dear Zindagi – Alia Bhatt is wonderful in this portrait of a complex young woman at a life crossroad.

dear-zindagi-day-1

I unabashedly loved Dear Zindagi.  It’s a true measure of my love of my family that I didn’t see Dear Zindagi the day it came out in the US due to our Thanksgiving holiday travels.  I have been looking forward to this movie for some time, hoping it would live up to my sky high expectations, and it did.  I have yet to see director Gauri Shinde’s feature film debut English Vinglish, which evidently deservedly garnered accolades.  (I actually downloaded English Vinglish to watch on my trip but the subtitles were in Arabic. ARGH!)

I’m not saying a male director can’t tell the story of a woman, but there’s a different special perspective a woman writer/director brings to a film.  Alia Bhatt’s Kaira (Koko) is allowed to be a complex young cinematographer who is troubled, and frankly, sometimes unlikeable.  She is no manic pixie dream girl for anyone.  And that is just refreshing to see in itself.  The film totally passes the Bechdel test!  Kaira has a tight knit group of friends who she can be totally herself with, but a tense awkward relationship with her parents.

dear-zindagi-story-647_110716125257

She has a working and romantic relationship with producer Kunal Kapoor.  He offers her a dream job directing her first feature film in NYC, but admits his ex-girlfriend will also be working on the project.  He wants to make his relationship with Kaira more serious, but she demurs.  Then she can’t sleep thinking about her quandary — should she go to New York even though it will be incredibly awkward?

Kunal is one of 4 men in her life in this movie (not including SRK).  There’s Sid, the handsome restaurant owner (Angad Bedi) and Rumi (Ali Zafar), a charming musician she meets when she returns to her hometown of Goa.  She has to go back to Goa because her landlord in Mumbai makes her move out because she’s a single woman.  And he’s not the only one harassing her for being single, once she gets home she is barraged by her parents and her aunt and uncle for continuing to work, and not settling down.

dearzindagi-story_647_112416112052

She happens to overhear SRK speaking at a therapist conference and goes to see him.  If only all therapists looked like Shahrukh Khan.  When through several sessions, they get to the root of her insecurities, I was crying right along with Alia.  She is just fantastic in this film.  She has this quality about her that reveals her vulnerability and she sucks me right in.  It’s hard to believe how far she’s come as an actress since Student of the Year.  Highway was my first glimpse and then this year she was devastating in Udta Punjab.  I can’t wait to see her work in the future.

Some reviewers have questioned the epilogue at the end of the film, but I liked it.  As suspected, Aditya Roy Kapoor is the final cameo man in her life.  I liked that the movie left us at a hopeful point — that she’s moved on and is ready for new possibilities.  I like that kind of ending in my romance novels, and I liked it here.

dear-zindagi-new-still-759-f

Shahrukh Khan is fantastic in this as her therapist and mentor.  He has unorthodox methods, like playing Kabbadi with the surf on the beach outside his office.  But best of all is his message to young girls through the words he says to Kaira (Alia).  She thinks everyone thinks she’s a slut because she’s had relationships with more than one man.  SRK asks her if she’s ever bought a chair.  “Did you buy the first one you saw without trying it out?” as he pops from chair to chair in his office.  He gives her permission to live her life without worrying so much what “everyone” else thinks.

The music in the film didn’t send me, but the title track is decent.  It’s not that kind of movie.  There’s mostly montage type song sequences.  Really this is sort of a bridge film between Parallel type cinema (The Lunch Box, etc.) and mainstream Hindi fare.

I’m glad Kaira found support with her Dr. Jehangir Khan, and that director Gauri Shinde has backing from producers SRK (Red Chilies) and Karan Johar (Dharma).  She’s a great talent.  Loved this film, and already have plans to see it again in a few days.  I’m taking some friends who don’t even watch Bollywood films.  This is a great crossover type of film.

star_rating_4-5_of_5

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag – There’s nothing like a good cry

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-10-53-07-pm-1Laaga Chunari Mein Daag [My Veil is Stained] is an old fashioned type of melodrama, and I ate it up with a spoon.  I hadn’t had a good cry watching a movie in quite awhile, and there’s nothing I love more than Ranishek.  There’s something about their jodi that I just adore.  I don’t know if it’s how tiny she is, and how tall he is, and how he looms over her protectively.  Abhishek Bachchan is just swoony paired with Rani Mukerji, and especially so in this film.

laaga-chunari-mein-daag-rani-mukherjee-6355572-520-403

This film also passes the Bechdel test spectacularly.  Rani plays the older of two sisters who grow up in Benares on the banks of the Ganges.  They live in a big ramshackle old house with a father who is too ill to work (Anupam Kher) and a mother who’s struggling to keep the family afloat financially (Jaya Bachchan).  Konkona Sen Sharma is Chutki and is still in school, whil Rani Mukerji as Badki realizes she needs to find work to take the pressure off her mother.

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-3-56-49-pm Rani goes to Mumbai, and since she had not finished school and cannot speak English, she has trouble finding, and keeping any job.  When her father is hospitalized and she calls home, Jaya in exasperation quarrels with her on the phone and tells her she can’t come home.  In desperate straits, she becomes a high class escort with the name Natasha.

Okay, this part was a bit far-fetched as while she is duped into losing her virginity, she somehow easily becomes a high-fashion wearing high class escort with the help of a friend.  She sends money home to her family to pay for her father’s medicine as well as to put her sister through college.

laa24h

She is the mistress of an executive who makes her an “event planner” or some made up position and travels to Zurich with him on a conference.  That’s where she meets Rohan, an attorney, and they have a magical day together.

Away from her normal life as a courtesan, she can imagine that she’s just a girl on a date, but reality calls her back.

kunal-konkona-lcmd02-460x345

Her sister surprises her by just showing up at her apartment as she has a new job in Mumbai after completing her MBA.  Konkona has her own romantic storyline with the creative director at her office played by Kunal Kapoor.  (I do love Kunal and Konkona together.  They were great in Aaja Nachle, too.)  Rani has done everything she can to hide her true profession, but her sister’s wedding brings everything to a head.  Jaya, her mother doesn’t want her to come home as people will talk.

laaga22

What I loved was that when Rani’s sister learns the truth, she realizes the sacrifices she made on the family’s behalf.  She doesn’t judge Rani at all, and insists she come home for the wedding.  And that’s when Rani finally gets her happy ending with Abhishek.  It’s so wonderful, because she’s so afraid what he would think if he knew, but he knew all along and loved her anyway.  The tears started when Rani’s sister accepted her, and just poured down my cheeks in the final scenes.

ukradennaya-nevinnost-laaga-chunari-mein-daag1

There’s also a fantastic cameo in the film by Hema Malini who plays a famous courtesan in Benares.

Yes, it’s a big melodrama, but it’s a Yash Raj Aditya Chopra produced melodrama so I loved it.  And Ranishek.  You just can’t beat swoony Ranishek.

Four stars out of five.