Veer-Zaara (2004): ***
First things first. Veer Zaara’s somewhat better than SRK’s previous three pseudo-stylish “love-legends” Main Hoon Na, Kal Ho Naa Ho and Chalte Chalte. In the same breath, let me add that the genre-defining quality of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Dil To Pagal Hai this simply doesn’t have.
The so-called epic’s tale is as simple as simple can get — love buds between a boy (SRK) and a girl (Preity Z) (here’s the clincher– “from two different countries”). At the crucial moment of boy’s proposal, the girl’s fiancee (Manoj Bajpai) enters the scene. As expected, the girl’s been engaged under much pressure from her parents (particularly her father who sees the alliance as his political-career’s springboard). This vexed fiancee and the girl’s mother (Kirron Kher) persuade and pressurise the dedicated loverboy to spend the rest of his life as a captive with a different name to shield the girl from any societal disgrace and the loverboy agrees. Yes, you heard it right– he agrees without as much of a frown here and a pout there. Fast forward to 22 years… while the loverboy graduates to being a mute lovelorn oldie in the cell, the girl’s life is a mystery. Things are set right by a die-hard feminist-cum-lawyer Saamiya (Rani) and all’s well that ends well.
There are so few things that work for Veer Zaara. And there are so many that just don’t. Let’s get over with the positives first:
It doesn’t burn the screen, but SRK-Preity chemistry is warm and simmering alright. Both the actors have been given minimal dialogues (I say kill the screenplay and the dialogue writer!), but right from the yearning expressions of the lovelorns to the raw passions of lovers- they both get everything damn right. It won’t be wrong to quote that its all thanks to these two actors that I could survive this painfully stretched flick.
Preity-dimples-to-die-for-Zinta finally graduates to being the archetypal Hindi film heroine in this dreamy-surreal avatar. The coyness, the innocence, the anguish, the dilemma… everything’s seeped in dollops of nubile feminity which was so missing in her previous performances. With none of those tomboyish in-your-face antics (which so killed her performance in Kal Ho Naa Ho) and free of those look-at-my-gait-and-my-cleavage-and-my-hour-glass-figure antics (so very present in every other actress in the industry today), Zinta makes for one hell of a Zaara.
As Veer, even the otherwise high-on-hamming-and make-up Shahrukh pitches in a controlled performance. All compliments aside, seeing him making a false thick baritone whenever asked to mouth the Punjabi dialogues made me laugh.
Speaking of Punjabi dialogues, its Amitabh Bachchan who gets them right to the last syllable in his gazzillionth special appearance. Supremely endearing as the rustic “jatt”, his moments with his screen-wife Hema Malini are some of the few watchable ones in the film.
For once, the Chopras aren’t obsessed with Switzerland, England, Italy, GAP, Gucci, Nike and the works. If there is someone who has really relaxed, its costume stylist Manish Malhotra and production designer Sharmishtha Roy. Ironically enough, these two names are why Yash Chopra’s last film Dil to Pagal Hai is still talked about. Clearly, this time around the director isn’t keen on giving his “love-legend” a radical look and resorts to “punjab ke khet”, “punjab ke gaanv”, “lahore ke bazaar” and its quite relaxing to see SRK finally don a dirty blanket in the cell rather than some faded Adidas trousers.
A stray subplot of women’s education in rural India comes across brilliantly as we see Zaara dedicating her 22 years constructively towards village people. I expected her to cry herself to death in some kaal-kothri like SRK!
The film boasts of three bewitching melodies — Do Pal Ruka, Tere Liye and Main Yahaan Hoon and all three have been sewn in the screenplay with fantastic timing and feel.
So where does the film falter?
As if you haven’t yet realised, Veer-Zaara is basically a Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge hybrid with the India-Pakistan dosti angle thrown in. The only thing that the film’s nonsensical screenplay can actually boast as its “own” is the redemptory stretch of 22 years during which the lovers live separately. Or probably I am wrong. Even this 22 year angle is lifted from Yash Chopra’s very own “Waqt” (a Balraj Sahni multistarrer of the ’70s). So this otherwise 3 hour long saga is basically a collection of some forced songs and some forced scenes.
The Preity-SRK love story though kept aloft by the lead pair’s performances is jeopardised heavily by cliched sequences and umpteen number of songs. Both Veer and Zaara are your typical do-gooders, think-gooders, sacrificial lambs who are trampled under the feet of the cruel society (sob sob).
The DDLJ hangover is so strong and so obvious in every damn scene that one wonders if Sr. Chopra has actually lost it as a film-maker. You can’t help but go back to Kajol prancing about in the rain in “Mere Khwabon Mein” as Preity wiggles about in “Hum To Bhai Jaise Hain” (albeit in ahem ahem salwar-kameezes). In fact the resemblance is so uncanny that even a sequence in choreography is there (Kajol woken up-Preity woken up, Kajol bathing-Preity bathing, Kajol in rain-Preity in rain). Seriously, can’t we have a different way to introduce the heroine? The song-borrowing from DDLJ carries on with “Aisa Desh Hai Mera” and “Do Pal” feeling more and more like “Ghar Aaja Pardesi” and “Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko To Pyar” with every passing shot.
And it doesn’t end there. The whole SRK-falling-for-already-engaged Zinta, Zinta realising her love for SRK after he leaves; the corny, tear-jerking dialogues between SRK and Zinta’s mother Kirron Kher when Mrs Kher pleads to SRK to leave Zinta; and even the characters– Zinta’s slimy fiancee and intolerant father… its all so damn DDLJ and so damn repetitive. Simply goes on to confirm what our mainstream Hindi cinema has finally become– a recycling factory.
I wouldn’t even hesitate accusing the SRK-coming-back-for-Zinta sequence for being a photocopy of the SRK-winning-Kajol sequence in DDLJ. Its just the geography of the matters stopping me in doing so. In DDLJ, our SRK had to traverse some many thousand miles from London to a village in Punjab. Veer Zaara sees him travelling from the Punjab village to Lahore in Pakistan.
Which basically leaves us with two minute novel “issues” that the film so forcibly tries to address– one’s of “women’s status in today’s society” and the other is of “Indo-Pak friendship”. Let’s see how touchingly these two “issues” come across–
The “women’s status in today’s society” angle comes across through this headstrong lawyer called Saamiya whose dialogues are written more for the seetis and taalis of the frontbenchers. In fact there’s a noticeable trend you notice as Ms Saamiya Siddiqui pouts a humanitarian dialogue, swashes around and then catwalks as the just-outsmarted opponent looks on, mouth wide open. This trend is noticed everywhere… whether this smug-with-righteousness is talking to a police officer, replying to her opposition… its so in-your-face and so spoonfed, it makes you crack up. Like with all the other characters, Saamiya’s character lacks any real depth and however hard the- otherwise-efficient Rani Mukherjee tries, this Chopra-brand underdog is nowhere near to Karisma’s Nisha of Dil To Pagal Hai or Vinod Khanna of Chandni.
The “Indo-Pak friendship” angle is conveyed through lyrics like “jaisa desh hai mera, waisa desh hai tera” or dialogues like “Mere bharat ki izzat ka sawaal tha, aata kaise nahin” or “Yeh ek pakistani ka waada hai”. In fact, its hilarious as lovers boast more about their countries in their few moments together than talk about themselves (no wonder Preity forgets to tell SRK that she’s engaged.
Some of the characters suck so much, they actually end up funny. Take Zinta’s father for instance– poor man gets such a massive shock on hearing about Zinta’s affair, he ends up on a death-bed. Its another thing that the very next shot sees him stripped off all the ventilators etc and smiling as Zinta nods to the alliance. Ditto for Zinta’s maid (Divya Dutta) who speaks in a hybridised cockney-Kabuli-Punju-Hindi dialect. While I am at it, there’s no explanation given as to why Manoj Bajpai lets SRK rot in the jail when Zinta doesn’t marry him. If only Mr Chopra didn’t spend so much screen time on songs like “Lodi” and “Hawa”, maybe I would have got some clues.
Moral of the story– If in love, get ready to be a sissy. Get ready to be ordered around to spend the rest of your life in captivity if need arrives, for all you do care about is your lover’s respect in society. (My take– f*ck this society.. stand up to your love!)
Finally– Go watch Veer Zaara. Just don’t presume it to be a love-story of this planet– the world (read India and Pakistan) and its people are nowhere as black and white as the film shows them.
In the closing shots, as Saamiya utters “Jaane yeh Veer aur Zaara kahaan se aaye hain… zaroor khuda ke bande hain”, I couldn’t agree more.