Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in “Dear Zindagi.”

One has become accustomed to global releases of Bollywood films yet rarely do we get a chance to catch them on the first day of release due to busy lives, especially in the Sacramento, Calif., area. But that is what happened when Dear Zindagi was released on Wednesday, Nov. 23 (the day before our Thanksgiving holiday) at theatres all over California including the Century Roseville where this writer was unhappy yet lucky to get seating in the third row from the front. But whenever a Shah Rukh Khan film is released, or that of any of India’s megastars the South Asian community sometimes responds by flooding the theatres. And Dear Zindagi was no exception, writes Ras H. Siddiqui. – @siliconeer #siliconeer #Bollywood #ShahRukhKhan #IamSRK #AliaBhatt #DearZindagi

First off, the main focus of this film is on Kaira (Alia Bhatt) and not on King Khan’s character.  Kaira is a serious cinematographer, making her mark wherever she goes but remains in the search for something else. She is playing the field with a number of men in her life, with at least two who appear to be a lot more serious about her than she is about them. The beginning of the movie moves rapidly and produces some confusion and if only the first fifty minutes or so were counted, this film would qualify as the proverbial (not for Thanksgiving) turkey as it was pretty difficult to follow.

Two questions did come to mind for starters: 1) Are women in India really that westernized? 2) Is the movie pandering to the western Desi female fans only? Both questions required patience to be answered and that is where this movie eventually succeeds, and quite well, one might add. In the process, kudos to the director and story writer Gauri Shinde for (eventually) polishing, what first appeared to be an artificial replica or aping of western cinema into a universal story with a fine Desi touch.  Kaira is continually deciding whether she is seeking a permanent relationship or is in them just to play musical chairs with men?  But why is she so troubled?

Alia Bhatt in “Dear Zindagi.”

Alia Bhatt in “Dear Zindagi.”

Enter Dr. Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) an unusual credit to psychiatry who Kaira seeks some help from and from where Dear Zindagi takes a wonderfully new turn. Both Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan exhibit a fine acting chemistry together and rescue this film beyond expectations. It is on the patient chair (for lack of a better symbol) that Kaira slowly but surely begins to unravel her troubles and learns how to accept them, something that she could not do with her parents, her sympathetic brother Kido (Rohit Saraf) or close friends Fatima (Ira Dubey) and Jackie (Yashaswini Dayama).

While Kaira hurts restaurateur Sid (Angad Bedi) by having a more than a professional relationship with a film co-producer Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor), after being evicted (single women not allowed) she moves to Goa into the musical arms of Rumi (Ali Zafar) and to the therapy room of Dr. Jehangir Khan (Jug). And Khan slowly but surely encourages her to reveal her innermost feelings and fears using various symbolic life analogies including the ancient game of Kabaddi.

The message in this movie is essentially positive. Desis are almost always encouraged to suppress their psychological problems and (miraculously) join the ranks of overachievers as if they were destined to do so. Seeing a “dimaag ka doctor” or therapist is usually not a socially acceptable option. Dear Zindagi rubbishes that point of view as the dimpled and comforting presence of Dr. Khan works to overcome Kaira’s inner barriers.

The production quality and cinematography in this film is also its strong point, made easy by the natural beauty of Goa and its beaches. The music is adequate for the scenes and is not overpowering. But to the keen fans of Bollywood “item numbers,” there are none here. This is a thinking movie and one that moves a little slow to reach its final message. Some viewers may not like its pace, but those that can adjust to it will enjoy it thoroughly. After all, success in life (and in Kabaddi) often requires a great deal of patience!

(Siliconeer Rating: 4 Stars out of 5)