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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Student of the Year – A look back ahead of the Dream Team concert

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I woke up to this @KaranJohar tweet this morning:

And my reaction was just like this one I saw on Tumblr:

“student of the year 2!!!”

“…starring tiger shroff”

I have yet to see a Tiger Shroff movie (and I hear I’m not missing much).  But he is a good dancer:

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I looked back at my original Student of the Year review, and it’s quite the time capsule.  I wasn’t into Indian cinema when it came out in 2012.  I saw it in November of 2014, and it was my first introduction to Alia Bhatt, Siddarth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan.  (Whatever happened to that Fault In Our Stars remake?)

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It was curiosity about Varun Dhawan, who has been cast as a lead in the Bollywood remake of Fault in Our Stars (with Deepika), that led me to check out this Karan Johar film. SOTY is set at a junior college where the gay dean (Rishi Kapoor) has an annual contest for, you guessed it, the Student of the Year to win a scholarship to an international college. And this contest is not just academic, there is a triathlon, a scavenger hunt AND a dance contest. The film begins with the group of former students gathering at the hospital bedside of the dying dean, and then flashes back 10 years in the past.

Evidently, it was quite notable that Karan Johar debuted several young actors and actresses in this film, rather than matching one unknown with an established actor/actress. Of the students, only the college vamp is played by a familiar face, Sana Saeed albeit when she was a child actress in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai as little Anjuli.

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This film reminds me of John Hughes films of the 80’s with the rich kids pitted against the scholarship kids from the Indian equivalent to the wrong side of the tracks. Or Gossip Girl or The O.C., etc. Karan Johar is just SO good at setting up melodramatic love triangles. Varun is the rich kid and Sidharth Molhotra the scholarship kid, and Alia Bhatt plays the rich girl that they both love. I had not seen any films with these three young new actors, and while all are good, Sidharth Molhotra’s performance is the standout. (Seems like all the Indian awards agreed, nominating him for best male debut.) Very Ben MacKenzie (a la O.C.) silently pining over the rich girl while trying to act all tough.

 

Also notable was a supporting role by Kayoze Irani who gets a big “Go to Hell Dean” speech near the end, who it turns out is Boman Irani’s son. Huh, fancy that, a child of a Bollywood star getting a role in a KJo film. 😉 Boman, Kajol and Farah Khan all have cameo appearances.

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Fairly predicable plot with the Bollywood emphasis more on the bromance of the two male leads than on the romance of Sidharth and Alia’s characters.  Karan Johar is masterful at taking you on that emotional journey, and I tip my hat to him.  Very entertaining and enjoyable.

I gave the film three and a half stars back then, out of five.

What’s fascinating to me is how I wasn’t that impressed with Varun and Alia, and they have gone on to mature so much more over the subsequent years in film.  Alia blew me away in Highway and in Udta Punjab.  Varun just was off the chain in Badlapur and fantastic in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Main Tera Hero.  We got a hint of Varun’s great dancing in SOTY, but he was so good in ABCD2, and worth watching even if the plot wasn’t.  Siddarth tried to do more dramatic work, in Brothers, and Kapoor and Sons, but he just doesn’t seem to have the chops of the other two.  But that’s okay – he’s carved out a niche as the strong silent type in romantic movies like Hasee Toh Phasee and the upcoming Baar Baar Dekho.

Thank you Karan, for giving us all three young new stars.  And for this.  Always for this:

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AND for SOTY’s fantastic soundtrack!  Can’t wait to see these three stars and the rest of the Dream Team this Friday perform live in Chicago!