Dil Bechara movie review: Sushant Singh Rajput's last bow is tough to watch, because it's his last...and it's dull
Dil Bechara subtracts from the positives of the original with its slipshod rewriting, sloppy editing, and ordinary production quality.
castSanjana Sanghi, Sushant Singh Rajput, Sahil Vaid, Swastika Mukherjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Sunit Tandon, Cameo: Saif Ali Khan
languageHindi with Bengali
Earlier this week, I wrote an article about the little-discussed vein of communal harmony that ran through Sushant Singh Rajput's seven-year-long Bollywood career. My research for that piece included rewatching Kai Po Che! (2013), PK (2014) and Kedarnath (2018).
I had found all three films moving back when I first saw them, but this time the viewing experience had an added layer of sadness that was inevitable, I guess, since their young hero left us prematurely and so tragically just weeks back.
With Dil Bechara there is only sadness - not because it is poignant cinema (it's hardly that) but because it is Rajput's last.
Dil Bechara is based on the American novel The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, which was made into a Hollywood film of the same name. The Bollywood version marks the directorial debut of ace casting director Mukesh Chhabra.
The story is about two cancer survivors in the US who meet in a support group, fall in love and struggle to cope with the burden that emotion carries when you know that your days on Earth - and therefore, your days together - are numbered.
Rajput here plays Immanuel Rajkumar Junior aka Manny, a rich kid in Jamshedpur whose defining characteristics are that he is a diehard Rajinikanth fan, he is popular, he keeps flunking college and he lost a leg to cancer. Manny's carefree nature is a sharp contrast to the perennially sombre mood of his collegemate Kizie Basu (played by Sanjana Sanghi) resulting from her years spent battling a form of cancer that has left her weak and with an oxygen cylinder as a constant companion.
Let me clarify right at the start that I am not entirely enamoured by The Fault In Our Stars. That said, that film may not have been the most profound or beautifully written treatise on death, but it was certainly poignant in its own way, had an energy you would not expect from such a morbid theme and it had the charismatic Shailene Woodley as its protagonist. Dil Bechara (translation: The Hapless Heart) is a shoddily produced film that, far from building on the positives of the original, subtracts from them with its slipshod rewriting, sloppy editing and unremarkable production quality.
Rajput and Sanghi are sweet, and AR Rahman's lilting soundtrack deserves every bit of the applause it has received since it was released earlier this month, but that is pretty much all that Dil Bechara has going for it.
The film has a hurriedly-put-together feel to it. For an example, watch that passage in which Kizie's mother demands to know if her daughter's virginity is intact, once it becomes evident that the girl is romantically inclined towards her older friend Manny - trust a conservative Indian parent to focus on the preservation of her female child's hymen despite knowing that her lungs are giving way and life itself may leave her any moment. The value of that highly believable scene is lost though when, much later, the same mother teases that same daughter with leading questions in that same boyfriend's presence, in a seeming effort to sportingly get them to admit that they have slept together. There is no natural progression towards this episode, nothing until then to indicate that Mom has become less stiff-necked about sex, but the scene is thrown in there anyway. Just like that.
Manny is also an over-cutesified character who does ridiculous things that we are clearly expected to find attractive - such as throwing eggs at the house of a girl who rejected his best friend (a scene poorly borrowed from the original) and yelling out inappropriate information at a random person's funeral. These elements appear to have been written to drive home the message that he is full of life and his life, therefore, deserves to last long.
The result of this lackadaisical scripting and equally lax direction is that Dil Bechara lacks zest and depth. Despite this, I admit there were moments when I found myself tearing up, not because of the content of the film but because of the real-life story running parallel to it. Dialogues about death coming from Manny and especially that final scene take on a whole new meaning since Rajput is now gone.
The actor's innate charm is on display throughout Dil Bechara. He is in good form during Manny's early encounters with Kizie and when Manny performs the title track on stage. The film is however overly reliant on his charisma and after a while he is over-stretched. To see him at his best, watch that scene when he visits a cave with Sara Ali Khan's character in Kedarnath, or the expression on his character's face early in PK when he realises that the cute Indian girl he just met on the streets of Europe is probably prejudiced against him because he is Pakistani, or the utter despair he managed to convey throughout Sonchiriya.
Sanghi is pleasant-looking and seems nice, but Kizie - the less flashy character of the two leads - bears the brunt of Dil Bechara's overall dullness.
One unexpectedly impressive aspect of the film is that it normalises the Indian Christian. For many decades, Hindi cinema portrayed this minority community as a hyper-Westernised, almost-alien lot. The Bollywood stereotype had no place for sari-wearing, Hindi-speaking Christians, and when the 2000s came around, the community more or less disappeared from screens. Manny is Christian, a big deal is not made of this fact, no reason is dredged up to 'justify' his religious identity and the film's Christians are the way Jharkhand's Christians are in reality - minority communities deserve to be represented in cinema because they happen to exist, and for this, kudos to Team Dil Bechara.
I wish I could report to you that there is more where that came from, more thoughtfulness and more heft. The truth though is that Dil Bechara is too ordinary to rise above being anything more than the film that stirs up emotions because it is "Sushant Singh Rajput's last film".
Potential unfulfilled, a song left unfinished (to borrow a metaphor from the film), a book left mid-sentence (this metaphor from Dil Bechara's Hollywood precursor) - there is so much material that Chhabra & Co had to work on but failed to carry forward beyond the promising concept. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in the casual writing and direction.
Dil Bechara is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
All images from Facebook.
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