By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “Zero”; Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma; Director: Aanand L Rai; Rating: ****1/2 (4 and a half stars)
When this achingly irreverent ode to misfits was over, I thought, how wonderful that “Zero” is dedicated to Sridevi. No more befitting homage could be paid to an entertainer who brought us smiles all through her career.
Bauua Singh of Meerut is like that only. He is a dwarf, and let’s not soften the blow by beating around the bush about his shortcoming.
The brilliantly askew screenplay by Himanshu Sharma certainly does not shy away from addressing disabilities. This is a film that calls a spade a spade and then shovels us a welter of speckled wisdom that I last saw in “Forrest Gump”.
“Zero” is like a box of assorted chocolates. You never know what the feeling would be in the next one.
Indeed Tom Hanks from “Forrest Gump” would have chuckled approvingly at the insolent antics of Bauua Singh and his pal Guddu Singh (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, torch in hand, hair dyed blonde) as they turn the crowded city of Meerat into their personal arena of gratification.
The film opens with a wacky sambar-western dream sequence where we see a ‘normal’ Shah Rukh Khan taking on his worst enemy in the world his father(Tigmanshu Dhulia, doing a Sudhir Pandey) whose shrunken scrotum the dwarf hero openly blames for his shortcomings. Mom Sheebha Chadha is too jaded to be embarrassed.
This is the only time Shah Rukh stands at his actual height in the film. It reminded me of that one time in “Koyla” when the ‘mute’ Shah Rukh Khan spoke up in a dream sequence because the distributors and exhibitors wanted a ‘normal’ Shah Rukh to speak up.
Ask Bauua Singh if he cares.
“Zero” is a film that doesn’t believe in numbers. In no time at all we lose count of the number of times we loath Bauua’s self-obsession and then fall in love with his character again for doing something unexpected that nobody believes he could.
Like that kiss which the super-hot Babita Kumari smacks on his wet lips. Or for that matter, like this completely unexpected film from a superstar who spent all his life playing only one role and has now discovered the freedom of exploring people who are flawed fractured and therefore simply fabulous.
Oh, I forgot! What is “Zero” about? Well, it is about three fractured lives , people who don’t feel sorry for their deficiencies and are never threatened to fall apart because there is really nowhere to go once you hit zero.
Rather, they pity those who waste time pitying them. Bauaa Singh in pursuit of a life partner courts and wins and loses the cerebral palsy inflicted space scientist Afia (Anushka Sharma, in an embarrassingly artificial performance) because well, he has the hots for screen-queen Babita Kumari.
As Babita, Katrina Kaif just tears the screen apart. Now where did that come from? Kaif is so stunning in her role as a dumped alcoholic actress, she gave me goosebumps every time her kohl-laden eyes swelled up with unshed tears.
In one of the film’s most enchanting episodes she drags Bauaa out of her party and then drags herself out of a relationship that has her chained to misery.
In another episode of magical misgivings Bauua woos Afia in the corridor of a posh hotel with the the colours of Holi, a symphonic orchestra and little girls creating a cascade of chorus rhapsodies that only a Bauua Singh could conceive.
The mesmeric moments end abruptly with the hotel manager complaining about the mess on his premise.
Bathos, a word I am sure Bauua doesn’t know, rules his life. To no one’s surprise he decides to chase his lost love all the way to the US, becomes an astronaut and replaces the moody monkey that was supposed to fly to Mars.
Why would BauuaA want to be expelled to outerspace? Good question. He has a very special affinity with the stars, the ones and above. And when the stars on earth mock him for his overweening ambitions his ego, much larger than his physical stature, revolts.
There are many passages of lyrical beauty in this gem of a film, passages that may pass you by like ships sailing in the night, if you aren’t vigilant. Because, really, Bauaa, doesn’t care if you are watching or not.
“Zero” is a film made out of the impulse to woo whimsy without getting anxious over the audiences’ attention. Not all of it coheres, many sequences stand apart in stubborn isolation, and Anushka’s performance brings the narrative down considerably.
But finally “Zero” works.
It celebrates incompleteness as no other movie in any language has ever done. Like the film, Bauaa Singh isn’t afraid to fail. He has the great immortal Sridevi telling him it’s okay to fail. I couldn’t ask for more. Can you?