Zero Movie Review
A warm tale of an endearing, vertically-challenged guy, that's belittled against the stature of the 'Star' who plays him.
The film begins with a Western-film themed scene where 'Shahrukh Khan' jousts out a band of goons led by Tigmanshu Dhulia's character. The scene reminisces and perhaps is a throwback/homage(like many others in this film) to one of Khan's another western scene from Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om and is as engaging and starry as O.S.O. This is the kind of performance that made SRK the hallmark of this cinema. Unfortunately, a moment later we learn that it's a dream sequence for the protagonist. That's this film's tragedy - It tries to celebrate this stardom and yet strives for an earthy, endearing character's story. Consequentially, the star overshadows the character, and the pomp & show of the cinema that the film obsesses over remains a distant dream for the rest of the runtime.
A film that was supposed to be a 'Countdown to Zero' for a star's launch into a new era of relevance ends up pushing him back to 'Ground Zero' of approach.
Rai and Himanshu Sharma's terrific duo builds the small town of Meerut immaculately. Baua outgrows his vulnerability due to Shahrukh's charm and the character's motor mouth & unapologetic wits. His height keeps him closely rooted to the ground while his magic reaches far beyond to the stars. Tigmanshu Dhullia & Sheeba Chadha as his parents are well cast but underutilized. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub once again is the hero's friend.
This world is gripping & these characters are endearing. The verbal exchange between Baua and his father is thoroughly entertaining. The fantastic, out-of-league romance between him & Aafiya is convincing, thanks to Shahrukh's forte (romance) even as Anushka's (who visibly has put in serious effort) performance makes Aafiya's cerebral palsy appear as cringy (Anushka amazingly contorts her face to achieve emotions, but this has become overbearing since her past few films). Unconventional plot elements make the film fun to watch even when it gets somewhat dazed - Aafiya's Punjabi plus Afghan ethnicity doesn't contribute much to the film and a Road-Rash inspired chase scene in Meerut is hilarious. There's a space traveling chimpanzee who goes berserk because he wants to stay with his family.
However, it's these spectacular arms-wide-open moments where Baua's height and narrative become inconsequential in the film, and the star in SRK takes over - The character fades out against the actor's Aura.
The film is full of beautiful subtext & metaphors. It even talks about a lot of relevant themes like love, responsibility, the search for the other half, talent & cost of stardom, religion & friendship and even patriotism. A scene where Guddu, a Muslim man prays for his friend Baua's safe space travel, while a Brahmin priest carries out rituals for good fortune is of short duration but moves deeply. The subtext is well thought out too- be it Guddus one eye being made of stone (a different view of the world and baua and being flawed just like his friend), Baua & Aafiya's 'kintsugi' bond, his ability to turn stars into shooting stars(Khan's star power and a small baua's reach beyond the clouds where he eventually reaches at the end) or the shot of his Janeu even when he is an astronaut traveling to space.
The problem with this meta-layer of the screenplay is that it becomes irrelevant once the film leaves the dexterously created world of Meerut, and the vividly visible flaws begin to overshadow them. While directing Baua's fantasy narrative, Rai has also added up a mix of throwbacks and subtext to pay homage to Khan's previous memorable performances. This due to the incoherence of the screenplay gives birth to an accidental anthology - Each subplot of the film is inspired from either Rai or Khan's previous films.
The sky is his touchscreen. with a flick of his finger, he makes the stars shoot across the cosmos.
Baua's seemingly minuscule persona is too larger than life enough to be confined within this small town's world and to realize these stellar ambitions he abandons Aafiya while addressing himself as a 'koel', only because his favorite celebrity kissed him while she was drunk. This takes Baua's story to two star-studded canvases - one is the tinsel town and the other - the final frontier.
The subplot involving Bollywood is handled well by an astonishingly seasoned performance from an unabashed Katrina Kaif who seems to be in her elements. It seems as if she converted all her inner angst and channeled it into a blast through this performance. However, the majority of the second half resembles Shirish Kunder's 2007, feel-good film - Jaanemann.
The most prominent problem with the second half is that while Babita's lesson could've resolved the conflict between Baua and Aafiya, the film chooses to achieve this through space travel for matching up with the scale of Shahrukh's stardom. The film on the most basic levels tries talking about 3 themes - anything is possible, love and damaged individuals healing each other. The focus just gets lost somewhere between these three (due to differences in tonality, that's inconsistent) and the film becomes a series of incoherent subplots.
Aanand L Rai gives a mixed bag of candies. The problem is that this bag has a mix of M&M's & Skittles, instead.
The 'Tharoorian seeming throwbacks' (they don't work) :
- Om Shanti Om - From the opening western sequence to a star-studded cameo, this film shares quite a few moments with Farah Khan's 2007 film. While Farah's film was an all-out mass entertainer and tonally consistent, 'Zero' falters in those departments. Om danced to 'Meri Umar ke naujawaano' (Rishi 'Kapoor') while Baua moves it on with 'Humko tumpe Pyar aaya' (Shashi 'Kapoor'). Om was reborn as a 'Kapoor' and in this film, Babita gets her heart broken by 'Mr. Kapoor' (A tribute to Hindi cinema's royal family). OSO used music and anticipation to deliver a fun cameo but this film just pans through an array of stars in a lowkey manner.
Baua tries to make stars fall by swiping his fingers. Khan's leading ladies watch standing at a distant, and It's heartbreaking to watch him trying to recreate the magic that they conjured together, but failing to do it alone, by himself now.
- Yes Boss - Shahrukh as a young Rahul had 'Bas Itna Sa khwab' to break the stars and moon for himself. The same actor controls them on screen, using just his fingers, 21 years later (but the charm and young innocence are now lost to stardom that Zero celebrates and obsesses over).
- My Name is Khan - While a very vulnerable Rizwan who was specially abled just like Baua, tried winning his love back by setting out on a seemingly impossible path, Baua tries to win her over in a similar manner but unlike in Rizwan's story this is just a subplot in Baua's narrative.
- Swades - There's just a single dialogue where Baua says, 'Pyar toh Nahi Mila Desh ke Liye hi kuch Kar lete hain'. This emotion is good but while here it's explored through just one line in the last few minutes of the film, Mohan's entire story was dedicated to his Swades (country), while both the characters are related to space programs and even Aafiya too.
- Tubelight - Salman's cameo in this film comes across as a mass pleasing trope - a dance number where he hardly dances. In Tubelight, Shahrukh's Goga Pasha plays a vital role in igniting the magic of faith within Lakshman that he finally uses to shake mountains.
- Jab Tak Hai Jaan - While this film uses Katrina's character arc as a subplot (one of the two in the second half) and then reduces it to a cameo while switching Aafiya's story on & off, Yash Chopra's last directorial had Meera & Samar share a bond of 'Saans Me Teri Saans Mili toh Mujhe saans aayi' and Akira giving a new life to Samar's dead heart (Jiya Jiya Re). Moreover, Zero has no love triangle between the three, anyway and the only connection between the two ladies is that of a washroom interaction with Baua.
- Tanu Weds Manu - Madhavan sporting his hairstyle from Irudhi Suttru plays a role resembling one from his and Rai's previous film. Only this time he must step into Raja Awasthi's shoes. But his character too is just a minor cameo.
- Raanjhana - Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub's role reminds of his character in Rai's Raanjhana while the same holds true for Abhay Deol (another minor, not very consequential cameo).
- Jaanemann - A major chunk of the latter half in Zero seems like a redacted version of this film. The problem is that this film properly delved into the character of its third wheel while Zero doesn't. Also, the bond between father and his infant daughter isn't explored with as much delicacy in Zero either (roughly two scenes and a shot in a song). Anupam Kher played the role of a jovial, motor mouth dwarf in Jaanemann as well.
- Saare Jahaan se Accha - The final act with its space-themed plot is perhaps also a reference to Sharukh's upcoming film and his ascend into a new era.
The nostalgia that the film aimed for, through throwbacks/homage is better attained with Kunal Ganjawala's voice(that was quite commonplace before 2010) in a song.
In a scene, Aafiya steers her wheelchair all the way from her wedding venue to the launch site (realizing her love for Baua). These are the problems, this film suffers from - Scenes like this used to be effective until a while ago, but it's just too cliche now.
Once Baua launches up toward Mars, we never get to see him again. Instead, we hear about him through Aafiya's p.o.v narrating that Baua was lost in space. On his return we're told that due to time relativity Baua is still the same age as he left while we have aged for 15 years - This is another metaphor that says SRK is timeless. The tragedy is that our beloved star is seen nowhere on the screen, hinting that perhaps it's time for the countdown to a newer version of our favorite star - A rehash that follows the film's tagline - 'Shuru se shuru Karte hain, Zero se shuru Karte hain!'.
*P.S.: As Aafiya's last monologue in the film goes - "Kamaal ye Nahi ke ye film Ek visual spectacle hai, Kamaal ye bhi Nahi ki ye ek emotional ride hai. Kamaal ye hai ki ye film aur bhi kuch ho Sakti thi ...but will we let SRK grow into something more than the legacy of his career's earlier 20 years."
"Shahrukh is already a 'Star', Baua can move stars with his fingertips. Babita in the film, says that the stars won't move with a broken heart and that's what this film left me with".
- Sarthak Awasthi
"Through the 2 lenses of my spectacles"
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