‘Zero’ is not just finally a good exploration of SRK, but a beautiful picture of inadequate individuals.
SRK is a curious case as an actor today. He has made a career out of being either the perfect male hero in films like DDLJ and ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, or the most inadequate male character in films like ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na’ or ‘Devdas’. In the former kind of films, he gets all that he desires, whereas, in the latter, his desires lead to his own peril. In both of these cases, he is defined by a sense of heavy, overwhelming passion.
Perhaps, that is why his films are struggling currently. SRK is one of the few actors today with a rigid onscreen image formed through various years and films. Nobody quite seems to know what to do with him but to exploit the very SRK image of him- ‘Dilwale’ being the example. And he, like his co-star in ‘Zero’, Katrina Kaif, is worst hit by the swathe of realism or innovation in modern Indian Cinema- he has neither the experimental beat of the younger stars like Ranveer nor the social vocation and variety of a stalwart like Aamir. Maybe that is why the roles that come close to working for SRK today involve altering his very physical image- the prosthetics in ‘Fan’ and the VFX in ‘Zero’.
With ‘Zero’, he has found the right hands in the form of director Anand L Rai. Who is, after all, one of the few filmmakers today who commands equal interest from the cheering single screen crowd and the quiet multiplex audience. His films have that old-school flavor, as does the orchestral music of Ajay-Atul. Anand is thankfully not interested in celebrating SRK as much as in exploring him as an inadequate person who can’t find his footing in the world. The whole film, in fact, is a lesson about coming to terms with what is truly meant for us, and what disrupts us from being content with that.
Desperate for marriage, when the 38-year-old dwarf Bauaa Singh meets the scientist Afiya(Anushka Sharma) who is wheelchair bound due to cerebral palsy, he is at first repelled by how being a physically challenged woman, she still insults him. He returns the favor by insulting her disability, which when rebuffed by Afiya, leaves Bauaa with no option but to grow respect and love for her.
Afiya, who slowly begins to accept Bauaa’s advances, but this is not just another woman giving in because it is an SRK film. No, Anushka is just right for this because she herself has made a career as a female character who has their own passion. She gives in to Bauaa’s ability to be unabashed, to perhaps the very well designed song “Mere Naam Tu”- Bauaa wants background dancers his size, so he deliberately hires children for that role, and you’ve got to trust SRK to be the one Indian actor today who sings a song onscreen.
Their relationship is constructed out of having a personal corner of their despise, or with their inadequacies. She’s a scientist who’s planning the exploration of Mars- life on another planet, perhaps for people who cannot fit in here?- He has a gift to move the stars at the signal of his fingers.
But Bauaa is only narrating all of this in a flashback to his friend Guddu(Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, forever the friend to Anand’s protagonists). That makes sense because this love affair was all well and good, but Bauaa is silly, he’s moving on from this corner of his life because he wants a more ‘normal’ partner, a more ‘normal’ place in this world.
On comes the film star Babita Kumari(Katrina Kaif) in Bauaa’s city of Meerut. Anand tweaks with Katrina’s image too; she’s no longer an exotic beauty, but a troubled person who has inadequacies of her own- a past relationship. Bauaa paces after her car along with Guddu, and on an impulse, she stops on a quiet, dark street and steps down to confront him. Here’s Babita, who is not just ‘normal’, but a dream bigger than his life. She plants a kiss on his lips just for the kick of it and tells him that nobody will believe him the next morning when he boasts about it. He stands there stunned, as Guddu, who is visually challenged in the dark himself, seeks him with a torchlight. Guddu says, “Tujhe le Gayi Kya?”(did she take you away?). That she has, a part of Bauaa out of himself. A fantastic scene, a new rendition of SRK’s drunken speech in ‘Om Shanti Om’– both involve his friend partnering him after a special experience. Should Bauaa choose the inviting world of Afiya, or go after the delusions emanating from the world of Babita? He’ll make more and more silly choices.
All of Anand’s films have a similar nature in their second halves- they build up to an absolute fever of sorts before the eventual calm. From ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ to ‘Raanjhaana’, he fills his final parts up with a heavy diet of emotion and activity. That is not a healthy diet for SRK, who himself can be such an overwhelming presence of sentiment and melodrama onscreen. It is in these parts that the crowd in the theatre once again detach with him, but this is finally a version of him that won’t let you look away from. He is finest in the climax, which cannot be revealed here. Bauaa sits immovable in a seat- finally comfortable?- and as the woman, he’s fixed on speaks to him through a screen, SRK delivers everything from pain to surprise to liberation with a still body in a medium shot. When he claims having done something for his country, the woman tells him,
“Tu Kya desh ke lie kuch karega, tu toh aashiqui me hin marne ja raha hai!” (what will you do for your country, you’ve chosen to die for your passion!). That sums it up for the state of both the quality and the struggle of SRK the actor- perhaps he isn’t meant to appeal to anything other than the primal senses.