Best Character of 2016, Editor’s Choice: Who Felt Like They Could Walk Off the Screen and Sit Next To You?

This was my rule for finding the best character.  Who felt like a real person, a full 3-dimensional person, like someone you almost expected to see on the bus on the way home?  And I promise, my massive prejudices played no part in this decision!!!

Dr. Jahengir Khan, of course.  One of the commentator’s suggested either of Alia’s two friends in Dear Zindagi, Jackie or Fatty, for this award-and I agree, they were wonderful!  And so was Alia’s brother, and Ali Zafar’s brief character turn, and Kunal Kapoor, even Aditya Roy Kapoor was great right at the end.  But of all those characters, Dr. Jahengir Khan stood out the most.

Not just because Shahrukh was playing him, although that was part of it.  There had to be a really good actor to fully bring him to life.  But more because Gauri Shinde was writing him.

In my “least favorite film” post, part of my anti-Ki & Ka rant was how unfair it was that Gauri had to struggle so hard to get her film made, while her less talented husband could get his out within a couple years.  But that might also have been a good thing, because it felt like, in both this film and English/Vinglish, every single character was fully considered and full realized.  I could envision a re-write process in which each of Alia’s friends, and boyfriends, and Dr. Jahengir Khan, were each tested out as the protagonist, the story told with them at the center instead.

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(The Amar Akbar Anthony of self-discovery movies, if you will, with Alia and Jackie and Fatty each sharing the lead.  I’d watch it!)

That’s what it feels like at least, while watching the film, that these aren’t just “supporting characters” in Alia’s film, but rather lead characters in their own films and they are just making cameo appearances in Alia’s.  Kind of like a TV show crossover vibe.  And if everyone else is making a cameo from their light-hearted dramedy, than Jahengir Khan is making a cameo from his critically acclaimed HBO miniseries.  The life and backstory and personality and conflicts and everything else which are just hinted at through the dialogue, it draws a portrait of a far more complex person than anyone else in the film, including our protagonist.

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(Just look at this picture, one of these people has much more going on inside of him than the other.  Also, those are the same glasses from “Zaallima“, right?)

And yes, he is played by Shahrukh Khan!  But I don’t think he is my favorite character because he is played by Shahrukh, I think it is more than that.  Or, yes, it is because he is played by Shahrukh, but not “Shahrukh-The Man I Love”, but rather, “Shahrukh-Really Really Good Actor With Amazing Screen Presence”.

I spent hours after watching the movie discussing with my friends and trying to fill in the gaps in the life and times of “Dr. Jahengir Khan”.  And then we all spent even more time in the comments on the blog doing the same thing.  And, why?  He’s just a therapist, he’s just there to facilitate Alia’s journey to a healthy self.

But he feels so real!  Like he could just walk off the screen and into your life.  Like he could sit next to you in the theater and comment on what’s happening onscreen.  Or like you might see him on the bus on the way home, wearing his glasses, looking over his notes.  Or like if you went to Goa and looked hard enough, you would find his house and him inside, just waiting for you.

It’s a rare combination of actor and script.  The script gave us the divorce, the estranged son, the impressive credentials, the casual approach to therapy.  But the actor gave us the little things, the way of delivering a story, the laugh, the picking up trash on the beach and putting it in his pocket just so.

Often people will say “This is a character like none other before in film!”  And I was going to say that about this too.  But then I thought, no, this is a character we have seen plenty of times before.  The wise older figure who guides our young hero, everyone from Obi Wan-Kenobi to Thakur Sahib, they’ve all been there before.  The reason this one feels unique (and, for that matter, why “Ben Kenobi” and Thakur Sahib felt unique) is because this feels like a real person.  And real people are unique, each and every one of them.

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9 thoughts on “Best Character of 2016, Editor’s Choice: Who Felt Like They Could Walk Off the Screen and Sit Next To You?

  1. I would definitely rather Dr. Jahengir Khan walk off the screen and sit next to me than either of Shahrukh’s characters from Fan! I loved this movie and this character. I have a feeling that this will end up being one of those ‘comfort food’ type of films for me.

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  2. I would absolutely faint if Shah Rukh was ever on the bus with me!!

    Putting that thought aside for a moment–after collecting myself–those may be the same glasses as in Zaalima but he has sooooo many pairs in that shape it is hard to tell.

    And on the topic of “parsing” Dear Zindagi, did you see this piece in FirstPost, in which Gauri Shinde talks extensively about the film and the characters? I was happy to see that I thought the way she did, about therapy, and how it was portrayed in the film, and the characters. Would love to know your thoughts:

    http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/gauri-shinde-directors-cut-on-alia-bhatt-srk-therapy-and-an-entrance-exam-for-parenthood-3187510.html

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    • Oh, it’s Anna Vetticad! She wrote something I really liked a while back, but of course now I can’t remember what it was. Maybe a discussion of the issues around ADHM?

      For my thoughts in general, well, generally, this is kind of what I mentioned in my “least favorite” post about how female directors tend to be put on the defensive about every little thing in their films more than male directors. I don’t even think these questions are necessarily out of line, but I don’t think a male director would be asked them, or asked them in the same way.

      I hadn’t noticed the last name thing, but now I am fascinated by it! Especially considering the Goa setting, which is one of the few areas in India where just knowing her family is from there and her grandparents owned a big house wouldn’t tell you her background, because it is such a vacation haven. They could have originally been from anywhere else in India and chosen to move to Goa.

      And then a lot of the rest of it gave me good feels of “ha! I was right!” the way I saw the Shahrukh chair squeak moment, the reason Aditya Roy Kapoor had to be added, that her childhood trauma was purposefully not that traumatic, all matched how I saw it! HA! Although, as Guari says, there isn’t necessarily a “right way” to watch a movie, but I am still glad I correctly understood her message.

      And finally, why did they have to cut the fort scene with the discussion of the son related to a later scene? What would the later scene be, her seeing him from a distance with his son?

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  3. Just finished watching Dear Zindagi for the first time. I do agree that SRK’s performance was one of his best because it felt so real and even though we don’t know much about him, we can theorize in logical ways about his world.

    Life everyone watching I too could see the transference coming a mile away and was suitably embarrassed for the characters but also thought those scenes were written beautifully.

    I’m one of those people that tends to “pair” movies in my head. And this one for me felt a lot like Good Will Hunting. The troubled young adult and the sympathetic but very human therapist.

    Other notes: I loved Jackie and that actress made a great impression in Phobia, too, in a small role. I’ve always loved Ali Zafar and he’s his most charming self here…I’m hoping for the best with the Pakistani artists situation. I need more songs and picturizations like Madhubala from MBKD in my life! I’m mad that his versions of the songs aren’t on the soundtrack.

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    • Ali Zafar did such a good job in this movie. If you like him, and you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely track down Tere Bin Laden, his “breakthrough” role. He is just brilliant in it.

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