I agreed to watch Dear Zindagi primarily for its director, Gauri Shinde. I thought she did an exemplary job with her last movie, English Vinglish, which depicted the transformation of a low on confidence home-maker to a woman with a high degree of self-esteem through her efforts to learn English. It made for a highly entertaining film.
Dear Zindagi, too, revolves around a female protagonist, Kaira aka Coco, played by Alia Bhatt. Kaira is a cinematographer and the story showcases the emotional crisis that this young ambitious single woman living in a metro is left to endure. A lot of young women would identify with her fears of being judged by society.
Movies are a reflection of the society we live in and Dear Zindagi is a take on various contemporary issues.
Homosexuality is one such issue. The screenplay is crisp. One of the well-written scenes in the movie is where Kaira, in a complete non-judgmental way, asks a friend whether he visits a therapist so that he can convince his family that he is homosexual.
He responds saying that he visits the therapist not for his family, but to help himself accept his own sexuality.
This is something that I (and am sure all therapists) connect with. The societal stigma against homosexuality is so strong that even the individuals have internalised it and find it difficult to accept themselves.
Another dialogue that caught my fancy was when Kaira’s uncle makes a snide remark about how Bollywood is filled with homosexuals. Kaira retorts saying Bollywood is just more accepting about homosexual relationships than the rest of society. It’s a well-made point.
The story revolves around Kaira struggling with her interpersonal relationships, especially with her romantic partners, which has taken a severe toll on her sleep pattern and mood.
She decides to meet a shrink or as it is referred in the movie – Dimag ka Doctor – Dr Jahangir Khan, played by quirky Shah Rukh Khan. He helps her explore her fears of abandonment, which stems from her childhood. This fear of being lonely affects her romantic relationships and she is always pushing them away.
His methods would meet with disapproval from most therapists. He makes judgemental remarks, too much of self-disclosure (about his personal life) and makes assumptions too early in a therapy.
However, the film gets my approval because, for a change, it does not depict psychiatrists as beasts who throw people into asylums or as people who fail to have a single sensible nerve like they are projected in a few Bollywood movies earlier.
It takes efforts to discuss a stigma as sensitive as mental illness and how seeking help for your emotional issues is similar to seeking help for any of your bodily illness. The movie also sensibly tackles the issue of transference (feelings) between a therapist and a client and how it impacts the therapy.
To conclude, as a therapist myself, I am reasonably impressed with Dear Zindagi and would term it as India’s first therapy film. I would rate it a 4 on 5 for its sheer excellence in projecting an issue less discussed in our society so well.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, opinion or position of My Medical Mantra
The author is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist based in Mumbai