Zero movie cast: Anushka Sharma, Katrina Kaif, Shah Rukh Khan, Abhay Deol, R Madhavan, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Sheeba Chaddha, Brijendra Kala, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
Zero movie director: Aanand L Rai
Zero movie rating: 1 star
Rarely has a film aroused so much curiosity as Zero. Even those who stay away from the blitzkrieg of pre-release publicity, knew that in his latest, Shah Rukh Khan was playing a vertically challenged character. He does. Bauua Singh, four feet six inches, is a mini-me SRK, and that he does look so close to the ground, with even middling tall people towering over him, is impressive VFX for Bollywood.
The trouble with Zero is not just that the mini-me SRK is just SRK minus the inches. Every twitch is familiar: the tousled hair, commonplace air, the regular joe who wears ‘kachcha-banian’. We saw this SRK last in Fan. In that one, we bought him. In Zero, we don’t, because Bauua is always the Hero, accompanied by a best friend (Ayyub) whose only job is to prop up Bauua, who is enmeshed in a love triangle, who soars over his difficulties while singing and dancing and romancing. That vertically challenged bit should have been the differentiator. But it’s nothing but window dressing, a hook on which hangs nothing.
The bigger trouble is that the film doesn’t quite know what to do with its characters once it has them. The writing is all over the place, and everything is so choppy, that the characters all appear to float in their own bubbles, without any palpable connection with each other: they talk at each other, not to each other.
I suppose I would have got past these issues if the film had made me feel. The only thing I felt was dismay, because of the relentlessness of the drivel we are subjected to almost all the way through, as the long-drawn film meanders from Meerut to Mars via Mumbai.
In the beginning, you relate, because you see Bauua the ‘bauna’ having a tough time finding his groove, always tussling with mum (Chaddha) and dad (Dhulia). You relate too when Bauua show flashes of rage at his situation, and lashes out at people. But all too soon, the film abandons its minimal air of rootedness, and flees towards preposterousness.
Challenged people in challenging circumstances trying to find intimacy is a great premise, especially if there is awareness of how ‘out- of- the- norm’ people are forced to deal with so-called normal people. And Zero could have done it thrice over, because Aafia (Sharma), one of its female characters, is a wheelchair-bound NASA scientist with cerebral palsy. The other is a reigning film star called Babita (Kaif) who shows her hurt, vulnerable side, in a couple of unvarnished moments.
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But Zero fails spectacularly at giving us anything we can believe in, and we go from start to finish, with disbelief growing with each passing frame. Every so often, Zero comes close to substance, as when Dhulia’s dark feelings for his son rise to the surface, as when the son reciprocates with visceral dislike, as when a Muslim character says something about the difficulties of ‘Musalmaan ka visa lagwaana’ in today’s India. But each time, the sharpness is abandoned for fear of alienating those who seek comfort in worn cliches.
We wait for more sharpness, because SRK is capable of channeling it. We wait for insights into just how difficult being out of the norm can be. In vain. Characters uses the word ‘normal’ (as opposed to the ‘abnormal’ shortness and vocal slurriness exhibited by its principal characters) without realising just how insensitive it sounds. The rest is soft-focus blather.
This could have been a film for the ages. How many times do we see A-list Bollywood superstars go out of their comfort zone? SRK could have taken a deep dive into Bauua and emerged on another level: there is no one else who aces the lover-and-the-joker with as much self-awareness as he does. But he gets busy trying to do another Swades, and fly the flag, and be a patriot. In trying to do everything, very little is achieved.