Zero lacks Aanand L Rai's nuance, gives in to Shah Rukh Khan's massy cinematic vision
Zero is a film that features one of the superstars of the country and thus, everything needs to be in excess.
At the very beginning of his career, after having delivered duds like Strangers and Thodi Life Thoda Magic in succession, no one had an inkling that the coming years would see Aanand L Rai as a powerhouse in Bollywood. That Aanand L Rai would weave magic with his talent and films was something that was beyond imagination at the time. The mega success of his three consecutive films - Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhanaa and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, changed the equation and took him to a pedestal where he became the cynosure of all eyes. The rise was both astronomical and phenomenal, and his subsequent foray into the production arena only made him reach dizzying heights. Films like Nil Battey Sannata, Happy Bhag Jayegi, Newton, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Mukkabaaz and Tumbbad, which credited him as producer, made him a force to reckon with.
When Zero was announced, there was very little scepticism involved. All doubts were laid to rest about its ability to succeed as it brought together two industry heavyweights. But it seems like Rai's signing of superstar Shah Rukh Khan (or maybe the other way round?) for his directorial venture changed many things, just as things changed for directors like Imtiaz Ali, Rahul Dholakia and also to an extent, Gauri Shinde (with whose film Dear Zindagi, I associate superficiality). The launch of the film was announced with much fanfare and full page ads, set images were leaked, a teaser of the song featuring Salman and Shah Rukh gyrating together was launched on the day of Eid and to top it all off, the news of Salman doing a cameo made it to the headlines. In other words, Aanand L Rai who in the past had never resorted to such tactics for his films, must have presumably been forced to resort to said gimmicks. The constant adulation on social media platforms between the director and its crew members too became nauseating after a point of time. The hidden message was loud and clear: Zero is a film that features one of the superstars of the country and thus, everything needs to be in excess. Rai seemed submissive in the entire process.
A viewing of Zero clearly reveals that Rai has compromised his craft to cater to SRK’s sensibility. A director who is much revered for his earthiness and ability to capture the hinterland in all its glory and beauty, has completely faltered and how with Zero. It’s bizarre to notice that none of the sparks that have made Rai the director he is, are visible in his current film. Despite the hard work put in by the film’s leading star, the film seems incoherent, and one sometimes assumes that the script may have lost a few pages in between while the film was being shot. Rai is one of those filmmakers from the industry who is not known to compromise on his craft and thus Zero unsettles you even more.
It's puzzling how none of filmmakers who worked SRK in the recent past could produce translate even an iota of their brilliance onto the screen when they were paired with the superstar. Much hopes were pinned on Aanand L Rai, Imtiaz Ali, Rahul Dholakia and Gauri Shinde to bring out that signature Shah Rukh Khan charisma to the fore, but the efforts have been futile. The million-dollar question here is: Why? When the actor concerned is SRK, why is it that directors known for their craft and a certain sensibility, falter? The answer could at best be a hypothesis. Does the answer lie in the fact that they get so overwhelmed by the presence of a superstar in their film that it takes a toll on their creative juices? Or is it the elephant in the room that everyone is clearly aware of but hate addressing it – that SRK interferes in the creative process of his films. The assumption could also be far-fetched but they are also rooted in the fact that the traits for which these directors are known for, go simply missing if it’s a Shah Rukh Khan film.
In the film, when Katrina Kaif makes a public appearance with an alcohol bottle in one hand, one simply fails to understand how Rai could allow this to creep into the film. It looks so superficial. The same issue plagues the film when Salman Khan makes a cameo or when actresses like late Sridevi, Kajol, Rani Mukerji, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and Karisma allow themselves to be made a prop in the film when they could have easily been done away with. These are nothing but tricks which cater only to a certain section of cinegoers, but Rai’s films have never been defined by such things. When Shah Rukh Khan made Pritam, Imtiaz Ali and Irshad Kamil do a small jig for a promotional video song from Jab Harry Met Sejal, it somehow looked odd and seemed an aberration from their normal public persona. Whatever the truth be, it reeked of subservience.
Zero, primarily a love story at its core, fails to evoke feelings and moisten your eyes, and that is what contributes to the failure of the Aanand L Rai film. There is simply no connection with audience at any point of time. The magic of Rai’s direction is evident in the film till the time the film remains confined to Meerut. The moment it moves to Mumbai and later to the United States, Rai's grip over his film weakens.
Rumours of Anurag Kashyap and Shah Rukh Khan doing a film together keep cropping up at regular intervals. Some newspapers have also reported about the two meeting and discussing possible projects, but it’s been years and nothing has materialised. Now, isn't that a detour from Anurag’s uncompromising attitude?
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