Thursday 24 November 2016

The Current Cinema - Adrienne McKibbins reports on the new Hindi film DEAR ZINDAGI and the increasing impact of Indian female stars

Dear Zindagi and the rise and rise of the female star in Hindi cinema

For those interested in something different in cinema, today 25 November sees the release of a new Hindi film, Dear Zindagi (Dear Life). This is the second feature for director/writer Gauri Shinde whose first feature English/Vinglish bought iconic actress Sri Devi back to the screen after a number of years.

The new film's central character is played by 23 year old Alia Bhatt, the daughter of renowned Hindi director Mahesh Bhatt and actress Soni Razdan. Since her debut in 2012 she has already made 8 films and virtually all have done well at the box office. She has proved that despite being from a filmy family (her sister is an actress/producer/director,  her uncle and father work together on productions and her brother is also working as a director), that she is an actress of exceptional talent. 
Hindi cinema has a great many film families whose children are launched into the industry but do not have the talent or charisma of their parents. But Alia has a wonderful screen presence and a natural ability to be whatever the role requires.

Dear Zindagi, is set primarily in Goa, Bhatt's role is that of a young women working as a cinematographer trying to deal with relationship ups and downs, broken hearts etc... She gets a new perspective of life when she meets Dr Jehangir Khan who becomes her "life coach". Dr Khan is played by Shah Rukh Khan. It is of interest that Shah Rukh Khan was directed by Mahesh Bhatt in two films early in his career. The film has been called "a slice of life" film, but both actors (Khan & Bhatt) in promotional interviews have said that is too much of a simplification.

This film is bound to create more discussion around the rise of what has been called "women centric cinema" in the Hindi industry. There have been no shortage of great actresses and female stars in the history of Hindi cinema, but the "hero" or leading man is more commonly than not at the centre of the narrative.  The same discussion about male stars being paid much more than female counterparts that happens in the American, English and other industries is also under discussion in the Hindi industry.

Female stars from Hindi cinema have been doing extremely well of late, Deepika Padukone recently starred in PIKU as the central female protagonist, her co-stars were Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan. Great as these actors are it was Deepika's film. Recently Deepika was in Vanity Fair photo shoot, and has completed work in American as Vin Diesel's leading lady. Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World who entered the industry in 2002, has worked consistently, making close to 50 films features in 14 years. She has also starred in a top rating TV series QUANTICO in America, embarked on a singing career with a highly successful album, and is about to star in the film version of Baywatch.

While these two actress are doing well in both the US and India, a number of other female stars have proved they can open a film, Kangana Ranaut has had enormous success with both Queen, and When Tanu Weds Manu and its sequel. Anushka Sharma, an actress who made her debut in 2007 with Shah Rukh Khan has made some 15 films and has set up her own production company. She has worked with a an impressive number of directors from Anurag Kashup to Karan Johar to Yash Chopra, in fact she is the only actress to be directed by both Yash Chopra and his son Aditya Chopra (now the head of Yash Raj Films). She is also one of the few actresses who has had a leading role with all three of the Khans, Aamir, (PK) Salman (Sultan) and Shah Rukh Khan (Rab ne Bana di Jodi, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and the upcoming Imitiaz Ali film The Ring. Many of the best directors are vying to work with her.

Another actress who can and has opened a film on her name alone is Vidya Balan. Although she has done exceptional work in a wide range of multi-starrers, with The Big Picture (2011) and Kahaani (2012) she has proved to be a real drawcard. Kahaani 2 will open before the end of the year.

The examples cited are just a few. Many other actresses, including Sonam Kapoor (Anil Kapoor's daughter) who starred in Neerja 2015 and Sonakshi Sinha (Akira, 2016)  who have made successful films where the lead character is a woman of substance.

Alia Bhatt (Publicity shot)
There are any number of reasons to see Dear Zindagi. It is the second film by a female director, whose first film was both impressive and very successful. This new work has a somewhat different story line and the presence of superstar Shah Rukh Khan in yet another very different persona. As the film (unusually) has been released in some countries before its opening in India, good word of mouth is coming through, but a primary reason is to see Alia Bhatt in what promises to be her best performance to date.

For Interest Alia Bhatt's best roles, all currently available on DVD.

Highway 2014
2 States 2014
Kapoor & Sons 2016
Udita Punjab 2016

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