Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi (DS)-possibly a partial piece of proverb ‘hang on dear life’- is a welcoming introduction to pioneering paradigm of Sigmund (papa) Freud’s world of psychoanalysis(rechristened Brain Therapist in this film), writes Socio-analyst Sushil Kumar, who is a senior IAS officer.
For an average Bollywood spectator, it is a basic introductory course on adult neurosis/neuroses stemming from infantile impressionistic experiences of rejection, repression, regret, haunting memories, blame, accusation, fixation, ‘transference’ ( conundrum created by counsellor’s comforting conversations with patients on the couch) and all that theory of ‘ free association’ , catharsis and taking out all ouches on the couches with psychoanalyst lending a non judgmental ear (judgment word being liberally used in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Pink and DZ too indicating its importance young people’s lives) . However, the film uses idea of ‘free association’ rather freely to explain past events and experiences but exonerates any personal responsibility of protagonists as there are always reasons for/of justification and rationalization of irrational actions.
Earlier too, though far and few in between, Bollywood has attempted to cinematically explore the unconscious in films like nargis…sister…but nothing comparable to what Hollywood has done in last fifty years and it’s masterpiece was the master Hitchcock’s Psycho exploring Oedipus complex. It was the great Ingmar Bergman who made great films on individual and social neuroses and neurotic relationships nearly half a century ago( Autumn Sonata , Cries , Fanny and Alexander, Scenes from a Marriage)
Wonderfully, coincidentally both cinema and psychoanalysis originated in last decade of twentieth century and share tremendous similarities as both are exploratory enquiries of human’s latent values and both look deeply into things inherent drives differently; and both are projections of wishes, fears, anxieties on to screen in one and on heroes or heroines in another; one can be called dream detectives and other the mystery solvers or demystifiers and in one role the role of police was substituted by psychoanalysts and psychology. Both are driven towards meaning creation between the film, filmmaker and spectator. Or to put in words of ‘Spellbound’ that psychoanalysis is ‘the method by which modern science treats the problems of the sane’ and opens the locked doors. If that be so, there can never be limit in opening locked doors for newer understanding and this explains how Hollywood continues to make ‘opening locked door’s movies even after ninety years as it was in 1926 when first film namely ‘Secrets of the Soul’ was made by G.W.Pabst ( scripted by Karl Abraham who was in inner circle of Papa Freud ).
Hollywood has a rich tradition of making films related to psychoanalysis that began in 1926.In fact , Papa Freud was offered a fortune to make a film on this theme which he predictable declined. It’s difficult to mention so many but films like David and Lisa,Sisters,Piano Teacher, Blue Velvet, A Dangerous Method, Ordinary People, Three Faces of Eve are well known. In India, films of this genre which were widely watched are Analyse This ,Silence of the Lambs, Basic Instinct, Sleeping with the Enemy, Fatal Attraction, Good Will Hunting,Girl,Interrupted etc.The directors who specialized in this genre include the master craftsman Alfred Hitchcock whose Spellbound and Psycho stand out. Another great in this genre is Woody Allen whose films continually contextualize these themes be it What’s New Pussycat, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan.
In India, however, the films of this genre are a rarity due to commercial failures – films like Bahen( made before independence) and Raat Aur Din ( schizophrenia) didn’t succeed. Some films like Khilona,Funtoosh, Khamoshi, Bandini , Ittefaq,Red Rose did contain some elements of psychological disorders but these didn’t capture popular imagination . Some films like Darr portraying manic obsessive character did achieve some success. Later films like Kyunki,Aetbaar and Tere Naam did try to break through the box office with limited success.DZ is bringing the whole theory of overcoming one’s problems through psychoanalysis to the fore as the need and time for this medium to help middle class youth has come evident and some skeletons are falling out .
Film’s subject of individual’s angst, ennui, existential dilemmas are typical mental muddles of modern man’s material progress particularly experienced in megapolitan life and living of industrialized world and are subsumed under social/individual neuroses and melancholia of urbania.
Actually, one must acknowledge the film’s attempt, even if not deliberate, to encapsulate entire film storyline, as it were ,in opening shots the film: a young fashionable couple’s communication contending commitment , professing love , then making up in tight embrace and girl throwing admiring glance on hunky handsome passerby while still in tight embrace mirroring a walk-in and walkout relationship between young couples nowadays, metro landscape of Malaysia, a young lady professional cinematographer ( though still a rarity in India) and her ambition to conquer cinematographical world; drinking in bars ; plane ride; talks of relationship and commitment; casual admission of casual sex with another while still in committed relationship without any apparent anguish , marvels of mobile communication, female bonding ( given a metropole meaning of friends bonding in Dil Chahta Hai, Yeh Zindagi Na Mileygee Dobaara and earlier versions include Chasme Badoor), young gang ‘s support system replacing the family/kin support etc.; possible professional plane ride to US; heartbreaks arising out of fluid boundaries between familiarity, friendships, dating,mating,hating,hurting,heartbreaks and their outcomes in form of all hell breaking loose.
One also laments how the Bollywood film makers are overlooking basic issues afflicting the modern youth viz unemployment, linguistic, religious and caste issues. It’s long time since film like Mere Apne are made though films like Rang de Basanti did strike a chord with urban youth and recently Udta Punjab did some soul searching ;but for most part Bollywood still believes that film is the opium of the masses and profits best when it serves an escapist outlet.
This year’s Noble laureate Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics ‘ times they are a changing’ best describe film’s theme. India’s young population ( about fifty percent are below age of twenty five ), rapid urbanization ( projected to be forty percent by mid century mimicking western world milestone) with four megapolitons housing over forty million, unemployment and under employment (engineers starting salary lower than of a driver in government jobs), combining to create urbania’s ubiquitous uncertainties unleashing affliction of high incidence of mental illness ( 6% of population) and reports of relationships ruin abound for both unattached or committed ( including conjugal ).This film is addressing some of the mental issues already afflicting the young under age of twenty five and mostly unknown to elders unless they explode on their faces. DZ brings the exploration of the unconscious through unraveling unto consciousness through catharsis and marks the transition of issue from exclusivity of elites to middle class comprehension and correctional commandments for conduct.
DZ portrays life and living maxims of high society ( though due to financial woes, protagonist’s family had to leave her with grandparents in childhood) set in megapolitan Mumbai and westernized Goa with most drinking finest liquors and ‘breathing’ wines in crinkling cut glasses in expensive bars/nightclubs and flying /driving in and out of villas and relationships, having all fashion accessories and gadgets( smart phones is fast becoming an accompaniment across middle classes) as if pangs of paying and pain in personal relationships are virtually nonexistent. One notices that films like Ae Dil e Mushkil,Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani etc.portray continuous celebration of life or hedonism by youth without a word of who is footing the bill. The film’s appeal and identification of viewers would be rather limited as in India only a miniscule live that life and would have limited acceptance amongst youth of emerging cities unless identification stems from aspiration and wish fulfillment. After all, the escapist element of cinema can’t be counted out completely even now.
One notices a disconnect where India touts itself for strong family and kinship ties but in films like DS ( Ae Dil hai Mushkil, Yeh Jawanee Hai Dewaanee) the protagonist is portrayed primarily in narcissistic nuances where all other relationships and characters exist as means for ‘my’ fulfillment and happiness and conflict commences when ‘others’ operate in opposite orientation. In DZ, protagonist hems and haws whenever others don’t go along or get along. Though the protagonist is unable to digest hurt caused to her but her own conduct in causing anguish to her parents, friends is portrayed without any contradictions .But it is equally true that one can’t expect every facet to be covered in film dealing with unconscious motivations and maxims.
In keeping with trend of conveying life’s maxims encapsulated in one liners or motivational maxims for present generation not having time to dwell deeply into inner alchemy or gut wrenching self introspection a la Dostovesky.DZ conveys certain maxims mouthed by the psychoanalyst Jahangir Khan played by Shah Rukh.But the maxim of trying chairs till reaching comfort level for personal relationship is flawed to the core as it treats the other as a commodity sans any consciousness . One can safely say that any relationship based on this is flawed from the first handshake and foundation. But then in present consumerist society, the extension of others existing as objects for one’s satisfaction is taken for granted. The film missed mentioning the basic ingredient necessary to sustain all relationships- continuation of communication irrespective of all turbulences as that alone guarantees the outlasting all obstacles. Another one line advisory for youth is that blaming all and everything is a sure recipe for disaster whose recurrence is guaranteed in one’s life if fault is attributed to others. Actually, youth is synonymous with ambition and single minded pursuit of passion/s irrespective of the object of such drives and this drive in itself inheres the seeds of individual neuroses.
One notices one recurrent motif in all films set in Mumbai- after leading exhausting life of ceaseless celebration , the protagonist/s go/es to Goa following mantra of ‘Go to Goa’ to retreat in sunshine and sea to recover , reflect, repair, reassess , recollect and mend broken fences/pieces of life (Shah Rukh Khan echoes this sentiment in the film). One has wondered why Goa is the eternal first choice for such sojourns ; one finds answer in Goa being yet another opportunity to continue same patterns of celebrating life( fun, food, frolic, beverages) and living as it uninhibitedly allows pursuing of all sensory pleasures, without the additional baggage of complexes both within and without. Additionally, Goa’s celebratory culture still carries colonial remnants where youth would not be stared or whispered at – unlike most parts of India. Or is it the vastness of empty spaces and sea and sea coast and that fresh oxygen that metaphorically allows one to infuse fresh breaths into one’s life and to freely breathe and be born again. It’s much like most people returning to mountains to connect with nature- both inner and outer.
Like Western society ,DZ highlights heightening of human need of having someone who can listen without any judgment or correctional advice. Basically, psychoanalyst fulfils this need as a person can unload all his fears and anxieties, transfer all worries, feel light and making an individual a better ‘adjusted’ social being- of course s/he gotta pay for the time and effort. In this film, the protagonist lightens after catharsis to be again ready for another relationship ! DZ has bringing home the ultimate maxim afflicting all help seeking relationships -in final frames, when protagonist professes interest in the psychoanalyst ( not sure whether was a psychiatrist though couch confirms otherwise),we have the ultimate papa Freud’s transference theory and Jahangir Khan uttering it to be utterly natural.
Once again one laments Bollywood’s business model of film production that virtually books all profits even before the film hits the screens. The film sponsors pay few crores to get eyeballs that only films can assure and even ten sponsors can ensure no loss status of the film. After all, like in DZ, who can reject the tempting offer of buy-in by eBay. One wants to turn and test this model on its head- say first a producer or a director declares intent to make a film and sponsors pitch in and on basis of assured pool in one can weave a web of story line and stars. In other words its sponsors who will customize the film based on buy in committers. Eureka ! Hey let’s build a Google type algorithms that can posit a plot immediately and suggest a product. And we would be in keeping with the now famous model of ‘aggregation’!
One also notices the increasing trend in how the anger is let out on objects lying at arm’s length. ZD also shows how anger management fails by breaking things and objects to vent out frustration and anger; this portrayal is borrowed heavily from Hollywood and is likely to reinforce this avoidable behavior as acceptable.
Though the psychoanalyst professes problem solving with unusual solutions but all his solutions like mending fences with broken relationships, acceptance, let go, hysterical cry to let out repressed emotions, carry the most basic of psychological solutions. And though time schedules are discussed but never the payment nor there is another patient that is waiting in line.
Interestingly, the film has come at interesting time and an incident typifies the times- a reputed actress who has walked through three passionate romantic relationships that are played out in full public view, has since become an outspoken ambassador of coming out to fight out the demons of depression.
The film is a tad long and for this reason drags in the second half and audience thinks at two junctures that film ended or could have conveniently concluded. It would have been better if it were of 100 minutes rather than of 150 minutes. The film songs are forgettable after the first steps are taken to exit the hall.Alia Bhatt has proven time again that she has a felicity of displaying full range of facial expressions and is impressive while shedding tears. The close up shots of Alia while emoting is indicative of confidence the director has on her abilities. Ali’a three boyfriends are mere embellishments.
The script and storyline would have limited appeal to urban youth. The aerial shots of sea add some effect. The film seems to have been shot in hotels and villas and hence appearances are too sanitized . Shots of that tree lined road ( on way to the old church ) are becoming iconic for all films shot in Goa.