On: Disney+ Hotstar
Director: Mukesh Chhabra
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Sanjana Sanghi
This is the sort of romantic tragedy that inevitably kicks off careers of the leads starring in it. To the point that they really never have to look back from thereon. It’s set among lead characters in their early 20s, floating in young-love, yet with a base of death underneath it all.
Think Hrithik Roshan in Kaho Naa Pyar Hai (2000), if you like; or say, Aamir Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1989) much before. The male lead in this movie was around 33-34 during the filming— which is just as old as Shah Rukh Khan, his self-confessed inspiration from movies, was, in the campus romance Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998).
Here’s another thing about melancholic scripts such as these, hinged on movie-like innocence/ideas of first kiss, first love etc—they’re actually age agnostic. Sure, men in particular might pretend otherwise, while I’m pretty sure after this, they’ll click on the teeny-weeny Kissing Booth 2 that’s just dropped online. A good romance is as critic-proof as a top-notch actioner.
For far too long we’ve often reductively weighed films by stars in their reviews. They make no sense here, also because the star in this movie—above all the five on a scale—is the late Sushant Singh Rajput. He plays super-fan of Superstar Rajinikanth.
The setting is the steel town of Jamshedpur. The script is crisply simple and sorted, wasting no time getting to the point, and without excessively running around trees thereafter. The director (Mukesh Chhabra, with a solid body of work in the casting department) doesn’t seem like a first-timer at any moment.
But most importantly, this is composer-arranger AR Rahman, in fine form, after rather long. This could arguably be his best album since Delhi 6 (2009). Please read arguably in all-caps though. Rahman’s music can only be loved or discarded after it’s played on loop a minimum ten times already. Haven’t done that with his music lately. Just that this soundtrack is so viscerally accessible, it enters your bloodstream right away. And yes, it will play on and stay there for some time for sure.
Watch the trailer of Dil Bechara here:
This story itself is borrowed from the super-hit The Fault In Our Stars (2014), based on a John Green novel of the same name. Maybe for the local flavour/connect, which will always draw desis in, in ways that Hollywood can’t—this one feels altogether softer, and perhaps more “bhaalo; shotti”!
That touch of softness is there in all the surrounding characters—from the Bengali Basus (Swastika Mukherjee, Saswata Chatterjee, the heroine’s parents), to Dr Jha (Sunit Tandon). Even Saif Ali Khan in a cameo as a musician—dressed up looking/behaving like Bono, supposedly obnoxious, still somewhat saccharine.
At the centre of course is the boy Manny (Rajput), and the girl Kizie (Sanjana Sanghi; outstanding choice for a debut)—Kizie Aur Manny being this film’s original/working title. The former apparently being a Zambian word for one that stays with you.
You know at the outset this is a weepy, set to sweep you off your feet—much like the lead characters are into each other. They’re both terminally ill. It’s a question of who will pass on first. While that might be true for every so-called eternal couple in the world—the underlying pathos of days being numbered by a disease, is a ticking clock that’s hard to shut your ears from.
And yet these two give life a chance. Because, unlike the idiotic phrase YOLO, you actually only die once—you live every day, until that point. Yes, this is a film entirely about death. With the lead actor, Rajput, who died just over a month before the film’s release.
Rajput, in fact, kept going back to scripts where his character dies—over a pretty short career, if you notice, right from his debut Kai Po Che (2013), to Kedarnath (2018), Sonchiriya (2019). His last release while he was alive, Chhichhore (2019), was in many ways wholly an anti-suicide awareness movie, a step Rajput himself allegedly took only nine months later.
There are so many overt and coded references to death, including death by suicide, all through this movie that I’m just waiting for Internet to explode, pointing out references and ironies, making this far more a metaphysical an experience than all of Rajput’s #selfmusings put together. Already a friend I can see on Twitter has spotted Rajput wearing a T-shirt that has ‘Help’ written on it. There is a line in the film, “We can’t decide when we’re going to die.” Well, he did.
Have we ever been through a similar blurring of lines between true life and cinema, with regard to an actor on screen, who’s no more? Not to this extent. Maybe Paul Walker, most recently, came close with Fast And Furious? Felt sort of the same when I watched Angrezi Medium (2020), knowing Irrfan’s health condition when the film opened in theatres.
Likewise, I guess audiences back in 1988 would’ve gone through a lump in the throat with Waaris, the film where Rekha dubbed for the lead actor Smita Patil’s voice, because she passed away at 31, while the film was being made.
Watched Dil Bechara with my parents at their home, before a family screen—COVID-19 and Rajput’s death seemed to have united us for a film premiere, which is otherwise work for me! Surely millions across India would’ve done something similar, sharp at 7:30 pm Friday, making this Rajput’s, and in fact any movie-star’s most-watched First Day First Show ever!
Certainly better pushed than Rajput’s Drive (2019), that was force-driven to a digital release (despite theatres being operational). And Sonchiriya that was killed (with a redub, and pathetic marketing), even before release. That’s the journey every other artiste goes through, in some form or the other.
The parallel strain in this picture’s plot concerns a musician (Saif), who’s left his song half-finished, and exited the scene entirely. This person, as he writes over email, is not good with articulating certain thoughts in words. Why is the song incomplete, the heroine really needs to know. Why did he leave? Sushant’s audiences wonder too; sadly. The sadness of this film will last forever.
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