Om Shanti Om! Not the most obvious comparison for Dear Zindagi. But I’m thinking specifically of the second half, and the way Shahrukh interacts with Deepika, changing her into a stronger and deeper person. And the way that interacts with the first half, where it is the other way around.
Okay, ignore the first half of Om Shanti Om! Pretend you didn’t see it, you have no idea what happened, you are starting fresh in the present day bit. In which an older male movie star hires one of his biggest fans, and gives her a make-over.
If we just look at this part of the film, the most interesting thing to me is the uncertainty of their relationship. What is it, exactly? It’s not romantic, but it’s also not not-romantic. He yells at her and makes impossible demands, then kisses her on the forehead. She has a silly crush on him, but also is the only one to believe him unquestioningly and is willing to risk her life for him.
To have her work with him, Shahrukh makes her over, inside and out. The outer part is the easy bit, giving her old-fashioned make-up and putting her in a sari. But the inner part is more complicated.
When we meet Deepika 2, she is simply a stand-in for all the dreamy SRK fangirls. Just like “Om Kapoor” is simply Shahrukh by a different name. She faints when she meets him, she watches old Shahrukh movies in bed at night while eating ice cream, she is willing to do anything he asks just because he is asking it.
But then it changes. He yells at her, no longer being the perfect ideal of a movie star but revealing his humanity. And she gets upset and mad, becoming a little more than one-dimensional herself. This is when his friends tell Shahrukh that he needs to reveal the truth to her, let her in on their secrets if she is going to be able to do everything they need.
And this is when their relationship shifts to a different kind of mentorship. He tells her the whole unbelievable story of his reincarnation, he gives her the “serious Shahrukh” face, and she believes him! She tells him that after believing everything he does onscreen, how could she not believe him when he tells her this story in real life? And Shahrukh kisses her on the forehead. Huh.
He kisses her on the forehead again at the end of the film, that’s the most resolution we get to their story. Are they in love? Does he simply care about her as a person? Who knows?!?!?!?
Although there is one other interesting moment, if you watch carefully. In the final confrontation, Shahrukh thinks Deepika 2 is continuing with their plan, even though Arjun now knows the truth and she is in danger. He rushes down and tries to stop her, to tell her to cancel the plan.
This tells us that, first, Shahrukh knew that Deepika 2 would continue to follow the plan no matter what happened because that was the kind of devotion she had to him. And Deepika really was going to, if she hadn’t been locked into her room.
And it tells us, second, that Shahrukh was willing to cancel his whole scheme, the thing that was going to give post-mortem vengeance to Deepika 1, the love of his lives, if it put Deepika 2 in danger. He had finally “moved on” from his past life, and found someone he could care about in the present more than the miseries of his past, someone who cared about him enough to risk her life.
Now, remember you saw the first half of the film again. What is so interesting, to me, is that the second half relationship parallels the first half, only with the gender and ages reversed. When Shahrukh first meets Deepika 1, he can’t even talk to her, he sees her as this perfect Dream Girl movie star. But then she is rude to him, walking right by him, and he doesn’t know what to think. Just like when Shahrukh yelled at Deepika 2 in the second half.
In the second half, Shahrukh chooses to tell Deepika 2 his truth, which makes her see him in a new light. In the first half, it is accidental, Shahrukh following Deepika 1 and happening to overhear a conversation. But the meaning is the same, both Shahrukh and Deepika 2 suddenly see their idol in a new light. And it is because they are able to believe the unbelievable, Shahrukh that Deepika 1 is secretly married and hopelessly powerlessly in love with her husband. And Deepika 2 that Shahrukh is reincarnated and still in love with the woman who was killed in his past life.
And then the culmination is the same in both stories, and confusingly happens simultaneously. Deepika 1 has returned as a ghost. And she has come back not for her own vengeance, but to “save” Shahrukh. She doesn’t want him to suffer and kill on her behalf, her care for him has overcome her own love for Arjun. And at the same time, as previously mentioned, Shahrukh has come to care for Deepika 2 such that he doesn’t want her to risk herself just to gain his vengeance.
So, what does all of this have to do with Dear Zindagi? First, there’s the idea of positions being more important than gender or age. Doesn’t matter that Shahrukh is a man and older than Deepika 1, she is a movie star and he is a junior artiste and a fan, so she has all the power. And in the second half, Deepika 2’s age and gender matter less than her position as a fangirl.
In Dear Zindagi, clearly Shahrukh is a man and older. But I am assuming that his power and wisdom and teaching of Alia comes not simply from that, but from the position he is placed in relation to her. That he is her therapist or her teacher or something. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shahrukh tries to soften his power that comes from his age and gender, tries to relate with Alia as an equal on those levels (similar to what I was talking about with his interactions with Anushka in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi), and only uses authority that comes from the honors he has earned in life, not the advantages he received at birth.