Sunday ReRun: Zero, All the Reviews Combined

Oh boy! All 4 Zero reviews in one place! This should be super fun. And perhaps not 100% coherent.

As a Shahrukh fan, I am going to tell you all go to see this movie because he needs the box office hit.

As a film reviewer, I am going to tell you not to see this movie because it is bad.

You pick which Margaret to believe.

This movie has some great visuals, and two interesting characters, and is certainly ambitious. But at some point the special effects ended up substituting for the emotion.

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This scene could have been really great if there had been any logic to their conversation during it

Not the Little Person special effects. Shahrukh’s character is solidly grounded in the concept of a Little Person who feels any sin he does is justified because of his suffering since birth. The effects are mostly seamless for him and they aren’t pointless, they are a vital part of his character and the plot. No, it is all the other special effects, especially in the final 3rd of the film, that feel like they have no point beyond showing off. Spectacular and interesting visuals, for sure, but at a certain point I lose interest when there is no motivation behind them.

The best part of the film, for me, is the section with almost no special effects. When Katrina and Shahrukh interact, everything locks into place. All the chemistry that was missing between them in Jab Tak Hain Jaan is here in spades, and I am fascinated watching their characters together. I don’t necessarily want them to be together romantically, I just love watching them onscreen together. They are the two most clearly drawn characters in the film, and when they talk, the film makes sense. Really, I am looking forward to finding this film streaming just so I can rewatch that section.

Problem is, Kat is only there for a 3rd of the film, and the rest of it is with Anushka who is the least clearly drawn character in the film. Her chemistry with Shahrukh is still (always) there. And she does what she can with her performance. There just isn’t that much to work with, I am never super clear on her feelings or motivation scene to scene.

In the end, the only way Anushka makes sense is if I accept a regressive view of the Indian woman as loving her man above and beyond everything else. It’s a very strange message to put in this film, with all the special effects and everything else around the edges, this deadly old-fashioned ridiculous vision of womanhood. That alone would have made the film hard to swallow for me.

But added on is some basic narrative structure issues. The first half is tight and logical, but the second half wanders all over the map. I expect a plot shift at intermission, I don’t expect 4 more massive twists. Especially when they are ultimately all switchback twists, that is, we are zigging and zagging in order to take 4 times as long to get to where we could have gotten in a simple straight line.

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This is the plot. When we could have just gone straight up the side of the mountain instead.

So, that’s what you will see. Several weak characters around two really good ones, twists so tight and fast you will get whiplash, and a regressive version of Indian women.

But also, it’s a new Shahrukh movie and a good performance from him. And it has one really great song. And most of all, #SRK4EVER !!!!!! He is KING!!!!! Buy lots and lots of tickets and then just throw them away just so he can be back on top of the box office race!!!!!!

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Whole plot in two paragraphs:

Shahrukh is a middle-aged Little Person living in Meerut (mid-sized city in central India). He spends his father’s money constantly, doesn’t work, and has a crush on the actress played by Katrina Kaif. And then he is called up by a marriage broker and asked how he could break the heart of Anushka Sharma, so in flashback and voice over, Shahrukh tells his friend Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub all about how he seduced her. Anushka was an American scientist who came back to Meerut to get an award from her school. She has cerebral palsy, but is brilliant. At first, he insults her and she humiliates him. Frustrated, he decides to force her to see him and woos her assiduously, eventually seducing her. And then changing his phone number and avoiding her. It’s been a month, his friend is shocked at what he has done but Shahrukh has no regrets. And then they go home to discover she has found his address and his parents have confirmed the wedding. The day before the wedding, Katrina Kaif comes to Meerut for a mall opening, she is miserable and drunk after a broken love affair, Shahrukh and Mohammed go to see her appearance and chase down her car as she leaves, she stops the car and kisses Shahrukh on impulse. This gives him the pride and confidence the next day to go to the wedding and tell Anushka everything that is in his heart, and then he runs away from the wedding to enter a dance competition in an effort to meet Katrina again.

Shahrukh wins the dance competition and gets to meet Katrina again at a party, where all the other leading actresses of film are gathered around as well. He becomes Katrina’s confidant, and friend. Eventually Katrina helps him realize that he really does love Anushka, it just took all this time to see it. He makes a scene at her party, forcing her to throw him out so he will be free to go to Anushka, and with that confidence, she goes back in and finally breaks up with her toxic ex Abhay Deol. Shahrukh goes to America to find Anushka and makes a romantic scene, and then learns she had his baby and is now engaged to Maddy. She didn’t know at the wedding she was pregnant, she was fine without him but then his family forced the marriage on her and she got happy and excited, and he broke her heart. Shahrukh, to stay close to her, enters the training program at the Not-NASA where she works. He succeeds so well that it is suggested he replace the ape trained for the Mars mission. He challenges Anushka that she will stop him before the mission, she loves him too much, and she challenges him that he will be a coward and run away again. At the last minute, she runs from her wedding to the control room to say good-bye, and he goes to Mars. The end of the film is 15 years later, his capsule finally re-entering the atmosphere and the top popping off to reveal his hand coming up as he declares his love for Anushka again.

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Also, there’s a whole thing about how Anushka can’t send the chimp into space because his family would miss him too much.

You see what I mean about too much plot? Really, this is about a man who seduced a woman out of spite and the sense that she was vulnerable, then felt forced to marry her, and ran away at the last minute to pursue something better. Only to discover he loved her after all, and desperately try to win her back. To turn his back on the amazing fantasy woman, or rather to be taught by the amazing fantasy woman that women are people too and not fantasies, and what he had was true love, but without the filmi trimmings.

That scene between them before the wedding is a marvel. We can sense that Shahrukh wants to run away, is planning to run away, and I was expecting him to run without talking to her. But instead, he tries to be as honest as he possibly can to her and she is honest in return. It is the kind of confrontation we never get in Indian films, an honest and messy discussion of what this relationship is from both sides. Shahrukh acknowledges he didn’t want this, he isn’t meant for marriage, he doesn’t want to settle down. And Anushka argues back that they are perfect for each other, equals, because they are both flawed. Essentially Anushka is saying they should settle for each other and be happy, and he is saying that he would rather remain unmarried than settle. These are valid arguments from both sides, and honestly, Shahrukh was right to run away from the wedding if that is how he felt in that moment. And that is also a really interesting movie I would love to see, both learning the flaws in their arguments, Anushka to learn she didn’t have to settle (since Maddy offers to marry her) but she still wants Shahrukh, and Shahrukh to learn that there is nothing better out there than Anushka, she is what he wants. But, it’s not the movie we see. That’s kind of the end of any logical emotional journey for Anushka, and Shahrukh’s journey is interesting for a while and then takes a turn.

This and the wedding conversation are the high points for Anushka’s character

There’s something really interesting in there about filminess in Shahrukh’s story, he seduces Anushka by setting up an elaborate song number for her (which he describes including how much it all cost for his friend), just like a producer would for his star. There’s a thrown away line from his father about how Shahrukh doesn’t really love his mother, he just thinks he should because Amitabh in Deewar loved his mother. And his love for Katrina is pure filmi, a magical first meeting, an epic quest, and so on and so forth. Having that film party and making Kat into a film goddess must be on purpose, and is really the best part of the movie, seeing her life and how her fame both destroys and strengthens her (she finally breaks up with Abhay remembering that Shahrukh had told her how Meerut thinks she is an angel, that she can grow wings and fly if she wants). It’s the filminess that blinded him to what he had with Anushka, and blinded her to the reality of what he was. She fell for the fantasy with him and then demanded something real later. And he fell for the real but didn’t realize it because it was too real.

If only it weren’t buried in the space INSANITY!!!!!!! And the baby insanity. Honestly, that baby is just thrown in for no reason at all!!!! We learn that Anushka didn’t even know she was pregnant when she married him, and Shahrukh wanted to get back together with her without knowing about the baby, and then it never comes up again as any part of their motivation! Anushka is going to marry Madhavan, the baby isn’t even at the wedding let alone mentioned as part of their future plans, like “I want to marry him so my baby will have a father”. Shahrukh is ready to go off to space to prove his love to Anushka, never considers that being a present and loving father to their child might be a better thing to do. And Anushka never considers stopping him so her daughter can know her father! There is no plot purpose to the baby whatsoever, it is just thrown in because it makes one scene more dramatic (the moment when Shahrukh learns it is his baby) and then forgotten. Oh, but the space stuff is much much worse.

We spend an hour on space training, and it is suuuuuuuper boring. All that needs to happen is Anushka sets Shahrukh an impossible task and he fulfills it and proves his love. Most movies, they knock that kind of thing out in ten minutes. Remember Tezaab? Madhuri didn’t believe Anil was sorry for tricking her and told him to jump off a building? And then he did? And recovered and they were in love? And that was all done in, what, 30 seconds? It’s not even the real plot of the movie, you probably don’t even remember it. In terms of plot and narrative necessity, Shahrukh has to earn back Anushka’s love once he realizes he is truly in love with her, and any task would do to make that happen. Making it this space mission takes me way out of the film because I just can’t suspend disbelief to the point of believing the chief scientist would be allowed to send the father of her baby on her mission. Or that there is truly no one else who can do it. Or, most of all, that her love challenge is to stop the mission to prove her love. You can’t STOP A SPACE MISSION as part of a romantic game of chicken! She doesn’t have that authority, NO ONE has that authority!!!

This is how you do “struggling and earning back her love”! Jump off a building, 15 seconds of recovery, love song

In my head, this is the movie we should have had: Anushka is a brilliant scientist, but not for not-NASA, for the Indian Civil engineering department. Everything else happens exactly the same. Only instead of this space stupidity, Shahrukh’s challenge at the end is to fit into a small space and fix a leak in a dam or something like that. It’s not global, it’s not billions of dollars and thousands of people, it’s local and thousands of rupees and thousands of lives that could be saved. And most of all, it doesn’t take 45 minutes of training montages to get to that point.

My head-movie makes more sense largely because it removes the totally unrealistic view of space travel, unrealistic to the point of making the film un-enjoyable. But it also makes sense because the whole middle section with Kat (which is, again, the best part of the film and the strongest part of the film) is about understanding the reality of love and life. Shahrukh should run from reality and flaws in the first half, learn to appreciate that the real can be fantastical through his time with Kat (she can be an amazing woman that all of Meerut believes is an angel, and also throw up into a toilet), and then run back to reality. But instead the film takes him off to another fantasy, to a vision of America which is itself fantastical (including a ridiculous view of our red light districts), and then the not-NASA and Mars mission which is far more of a fantasy than anything Katrina was selling him. The message is gone.

They try to bring it back at the end. Anushka has a voice over tying it all together, saying the miracle was Shahrukh coming back after running from the wedding, the miracle was her forgiving him, and so on and so forth. Essentially, we should celebrate the moments when life is hard and we survive, when our better angels prevail, rather than dwelling on the bigger moments. But how can I believe in that message when the last third of the film is telling me to celebrate an over the top heroic mission to Mars which finally redeems Shahrukh in the eyes of his family?

Oh, one other thing, that Shahrukh redemption. Blurgh. The Shahrukh and Anushka relationship in this film is EXACTLY what I feared when I learned Aanand L Rai was making a movie with Shahrukh. Anushka is weirdly almost inhumanly heartless. Shahrukh has to “teach” her to love their baby (one of the few times the baby comes up again). And she is ready to send him to Mars to die because she hates him so much (not because she is a scientist, but because she hates him). Shahrukh of course tricks her and destroys her and so on, but then he feels really bad about it, so the film forgives him and makes him the wise and perfect character that has to “teach” Anushka a lesson. And finally, of course, Anushka turns her back on her much more compatible and kind and reliable and attractive romantic option to go running to the flawed hero who took her virginity. BLECH.

But Katrina’s character is great, gets to be kind and smart and destroyed by love, and then get over it and realize how awesome she is and throw Abhay out of her life and her heart. It’s just poor Anushka that gets shoved into the “An Indian Woman Loves Only Once” box.

She is awesome. Broken and drunk and sad and messy, and then getting back her own strength and throwing out her toxic man and getting on with her life. If only Anushka was allowed to do that!

That’s my review and description of the theatrical version. But Zero is special, because there was a second version released on Netflix.

Big picture, I think this is a far better version of the film than the theatrical version. Anushka’s character is softened at certain key moments. One of my biggest problems with the theatrical version is that Anushka was so opaque. It messed with the other characters because they had nothing to act against, and it made the film hard to watch because we didn’t sympathize with her or want good things for her. And it also made the ending voice over very strange, to have her be the character that gives the little sum up after she was so empty and unknown before then.

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This version has a few small changes, almost all of which can be tied back to deepening Anushka’s character. And a couple others which I can’t find a reason for. Overall, this feels more like a “director’s cut” than a recut to me. Like the version we saw in theaters was the one edited to give Shahrukh more of a hero’s story and without bits that might be “extraneous” to the plot even if they are artistically more satisfying. I wonder (and actually sent a message to Netflix asking, always a slight chance they will respond) if this truly is the director’s cut. If the Indian distributors and theaters put pressure on Red Chillies to release a more “popular” version, but their deal with Netflix let them put out the original real version.

The biggest change was the opening. The new opening is Anushka giving a voice over as we see her in the center of a crowd rushing around backstage. She gives us the setting, that she is about to go speak to a symposium. And that she is upset and has a gun. But far more important than that is what she says about herself, and what the choice to use this opening tells us about this film. Anushka explains that her voice doesn’t normally sound like this, but she wants us to hear it this way first. The film wants us to hear her voice this way too, to get inside of her head, to have this moment in our minds and wait for it to come for the rest of the film. It is now definitively Anushka’s story, not Shahrukh’s.

It is also a story of disability. Anushka introduces herself by telling us not to laugh at her, by saying she wants us to hear her real voice, and then by talking about how her family loved and supported her, gave her an education, and she succeeded in life. This is why this voice over was supposed to come right before Shahrukh’s intro, we have to understand that their circumstances made them into what they are, gave them their own weaknesses and strengths, both created through their disabilities and how their families and situations reacted to them.

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This scene is still not included. I wonder where it disappeared to? Or if it was just a look test for the CGI.

And the message of the film is Anushka’s too, in a nice little bookend of this scene and the final voice over. She starts out explaining that this story is to warn us not to trust cute charming little men. But by the end of the story we will have the moral of trust and faith over all, look to the good and not the bad.

And then we come to the theatrical opening, a fantasy of an old west town with Shahrukh as a cowboy saving the damsel in distress. Which goes into his real life and his family who treat him with a mixture of contempt and pity. We have the direct contrast of Anushka, far more disabled than he is (wheelchair, difficulty speaking) who is loved and surrounded by family with Shahrukh, left in his room to talk to the maid, hated by his father and pitied by his mother. That is what makes them match.

And then I think there is a very small change with Shahrukh’s first real scene, but I’m not sure if it is a real change or if I just didn’t remember it correctly. He comes out on the balcony and Zeeshan Ayyub is below, telling him about Katrina’s latest romance breaking up. And then he asks Shahrukh to throw down money in order to help them celebrate Eid. The money throwing is generosity, fellow feeling, in response to a special occasion. As I remember the theatrical version, Shahrukh throws the money down in response to the Katrina news, making it all about himself, and seeming a needless waste of his father’s money. In a similar fashion, after he has the confrontation with his father, his father takes away his car keys. Which is why they have to take the rickshaw to the theater. Those two little changes (if they were changes) combined with Anushka’s opening voice over changes my whole first impression. He is not egotistical and spoiled, he is struggling because his family never believed in him and therefore he never believed in himself. He rebelled by making friends among the Muslim lower classes, and when his car is taken away, he is willing to ride a rickshaw and not feel embarrassed.

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And also not be embarrassed to use his size to try to get a discount, since he already has no self-respect

And then no changes in the next part, so far as I can tell. They go to the movie, Shahrukh gets a phone call from the marriage broker, Zeeshan asks what that was about, Shahrukh explains how he saw Anushka’s photo, tracked her down, was turned off by her disability while she was turned off by his class and lack of education and general demeanor. Again, opening with Anushka and having the contrast in how they are treated by the people around them changes this. Anushka is a snob, looks down on Shahrukh for his personality, not seeing that it is a defense mechanism he learned to handle his disability, a defense mechanism she was lucky enough not to need. And Shahrukh is clinging to the small confidence he has in himself, by looking down on Anushka for her much greater disability. Their back and forth becomes explicitly about class and privilege more than anything else.

Blah-blah, Shahrukh successfully seduces her, she lands up at his family house and his father encourages the marriage. There’s a little moment when his father talks to hers and encourages them to take Shahrukh to America and put him on display, sell tickets to see the freak. Having in our head that Anushka’s parents were loving and supportive of her from that first voice over makes this moment have extra resonance, the father who sees his daughter as a blessing, doesn’t want her to settle in marriage, versus the father who sees his son as a literal freakshow.

No changes to this sequence, thank goodness, because it is kind of perfect.

Shahrukh and Anushka have their painful conversation, Shahrukh runs off and joins the dance contest, wins, goes to the party, sees all the famous actresses, meets Katrina, becomes her best friend, keeps thinking about Anushka, calls her as Madhavan is proposing to her, has a fight with Katrina, calls up Zeeshan and tells him they are going to America. They arrive, go through security, and then NEW SCENE!!!

We go from security to the beginning of Anushka’s speech. The sound is way off in this part, her lips don’t match up at all. It doesn’t really give new information, but it works as an editing choice because we need that moment of recognizing her outfit and the location and realizing that it is the moment from the opening.

Other new part, a quick conversation outside the building between Shahrukh and Zeeshan where he uses eye drops to make fake tears. And then we are back to the part in the theatrical version. Anushka talking and Shahrukh and Zeeshan walking in from the back. This whole thing ties back to the opening scene, with us in the audience knowing that Anushka is angry and waiting for him and has a gun, the tension is building and building as we see her talk and Shahrukh arrive outside.

And then the tension releases with the scenes we already got in the theatrical version, him arriving and Anushka shooting at him, and then the reveal that she had his baby. The baby reveal works as a “you thought you knew everything, but wait there is another surprise!” moment. Works better than in the theatrical version where it is two total surprises on top of each other (gun, and then baby).

Blah-blah, no changes, Shahrukh applies to the astronaut program, has an angry conversation with Anushka, stays in the program, does well. And then, in the theatrical version we had a weird bad sequence of events. Anushka notices that her chimp doesn’t want to show off his skills in front of strangers, then sees him with his family, then tells Madhavan that the chimp is failing because he doesn’t want to leave his family and they talk about possibly Shahrukh going instead, Anushka is against it because she doesn’t trust him.

But this version cuts all that! We don’t have to wonder when Anushka became an animal trainer instead of a mathematician, and we don’t have the implication that she is wildly sending her ex-boyfriend to space out of petty spite. No, instead we go from Anushka saying good-bye to the monkey to having a totally different conversation with Maddy.

This time, it is a calm discussion of SRK’s worth as an astronaut by Maddy, and Anushka being upset as he talks. Anushka isn’t sending him to space, Maddy is suggesting it and she is against it. Instead of it being proof of Anushka’s hate and bitterness, filtered through a plot illogic, it becomes foreshadowing of how she still loves Shahrukh. The peak of her emotions was when she confronted him, the bit from the opening, and now she is coming down and making sense of how she really feels. Like a person, instead of a plot device.

And along those same lines, the conversation with Shahrukh about NOT going to Mars feels completely different. Anushka pulls him aside and tells him to run, that she knows he is a coward and won’t go through with it and should just leave. With the original cut, where she was part of the decision to use him, the whole thing feels like a strange test, she is setting him up to fail and doesn’t even know what she wants. And then he makes his star trick work and all the stars fall out of the sky and Anushka drives home torn up inside over what she is doing to him as the stars themselves tell her it is true love and she is wrong.

But in this version! We go from the conversation where Anushka tries to object to Shahrukh going to Mars but can’t come up with a logical reason to her talking to him and trying to convince him to run. Instead of a test, it feels like she is sincerely trying to save him. In a twisted way of course, but still trying to save him. And it’s an important contrast, her conversation with Maddy was calm and reasonable but he didn’t really understand her. With Shahrukh, he knows exactly what she is saying even if she doesn’t say it.

And then it ends with all the scientists coming out to watch the stars falling in awe (not Anushka driving away). And Zeeshan comes out too and talks to one of them and learns that Shahrukh will be going to Mars. Instead of the sequence being about Anushka being petty and Shahrukh loving her, it is about all these small people who are part of a much larger story, Anushka may want Shahrukh to run but he can’t because it is his fate. The stars aren’t a sign of love, they are about a greater destiny than that.

And we go from there to another new scene! I think. Zeeshan and Anushka talking about the mission, Anushka wants him to sign papers as Shahrukh’s next of kin. Zeeshan begs her to ask Shahrukh not to go, she pretends not to care. But with the way the previous scenes were structured we (the audience) know that in her own way she has been trying to stop the mission. This scene adds a little extra layer of depth to the Zeeshan-Shahrukh relationship too. Zeeshan is who started the movie with Shahrukh, Muslim and poor and low calls, but his true friend who follows him everywhere even when his family forgets him. Zeeshan truly is Shahrukh’s family, the only one who cares whether he lives or dies, and signs the papers to prove it in this scene.

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Zeeshan’s eye thing still doesn’t work for me. I got the vague idea of him being poor and disabled and humble and still Shahrukh’s friend, but it still doesn’t quite land.

The echoes of this scene come into the next one with Anushka when Maddy asks Anushka to sign off on the mission, and Shahrukh watches as she does. The two people who care about him (Zeeshan and Anushka) both signing off and sending him away. Without it (if I am remembering correctly that it wasn’t in the original), we don’t have that feeling.

And then the ending is just a little party of alterations. Anushka’s wedding sequence is very quick, they sit down, Maddy gets a call, tells her the launch is happening, she looks doubtful, he says “how long does it take to travel 1.2 miles at 5.8 miles per hour?” She understands what he is saying and gives the answer then says “Only right that I say good-bye” and leaves. My memory of the theatrical version is that this part is dragged out a bit longer, and I don’t remember the cute math joke at all.

The good-bye scene between Anushka and Shahrukh is unchanged, but right after that there are reports around the world of his launch and we see Katrina again, looking light and happy. In the theatrical version, she says “I kissed him once” which is a lovely tying together of their story. That is missing in this version. Such a small change, but it does serve to make the Katrina and Shahrukh relationship feel slightly less meaningful, and therefore give even more weight to the Anushka-Shahrukh relationship.

And then the ending was changed, but not in a way that makes any sense at all! Anushka’s voice over is the same, explaining that Shahrukh was lost in space but she chose to cling to the good things. That is what I would have changed if I had the power to change things, not the voice over, but that it just keeps going as he is lost for 15 years and so on and so forth. But instead, what they changed was adding a Shahrukh voice over about his dimples after Anushka’s speech (I think that was an add at least) and cut his calling of her name, “Aafia!” right before the end credits. I truly have no logical explanation for this change. Do you?

Overall, with these small changes and with just seeing the film a second time, I had a slightly more favorable impression. But I still think it is deeply deeply flawed. The space plot just does not work, the baby still feels like a surprise twist more than a person they want to deal with, and I still don’t like the way Shahrukh is set up as the bad guy for running out on a wedding he didn’t want after honestly talking about how he didn’t want it.

But there is some slight improvement in clarity as to the relationship between Shahrukh’s bad behavior and the way his parents’ treated him, and a great deal of improvement in Anushka’s characturization. We can see a line now from the confident cheerful woman who meets Shahrukh and is won by him, to the angry crazed woman who shoots at him, to the one who chooses hope and faith at the end. That’s a good movie, that’s a good through line. Just dump the baby and the spaceships.

This is supposed to be a movie of doubling. Anushka and Shahrukh play two halves of the same person. Each fills what the other lacks. Anushka is American with education and privilege and success. Shahrukh is Indian with almost no education. Anushka dreams of the stars in the sky, Shahrukh dreams of the stars on the movie screens. Anushka wants to send a rocket shooting off of the earth, Shahrukh pulls the stars from the sky. And most importantly, Anushka reacted to her disability by refusing to acknowledge it, by hiding her feelings about it deep inside. And Shahrukh on the outside had no faith or interest in accomplishing anything, used his disability as an excuse, but deep inside was fighting against it.

Part of the joy of this song is that Shahrukh is trying his hardest, no excuses and no asking for pity, for the first time.

The pairing is built deep into the structure. Shahrukh makes a fool of himself when his usual trick fails in front of an audience, Anushka makes a fool of herself when her usual trick fails in front of an audience. Shahrukh can’t leave his logical reasonable perfect “true love” until she forces him to go, Anushka can’t leave her logical reasonable perfect “true love” until he forces her to go. And in the end, at the same moment, they both take a great leap of faith, Anushka swearing to wait for him and Shahrukh swearing leave for her.

It doesn’t work of course. For many reasons. The plot around the doubling just has too much spectacle to it, everything NASA to Sridevi which distracts from the real story that is supposed to be about those two people. And the central complications between the two of them get far too deep and confused, the real issues are lost.

The real issues come out in a few scenes between them which stand out from the rest of the film because of the honesty there. The first long conversation when they are both drunk. The conversation before the wedding. The conversation in the anti-gravity chamber. The conversation the night the stars fall. And the final conversation between them. Those are real, those are deep, those are the conflict of the film.

This film has a lot of similarities with Shahrukh and Anushka’s last film Jab Harry Met Sejal. Both of them are character studies wrapped in a romance. But while JHMS decided to have almost nothing happen, let the character interactions be in a vacuum, this film had far too much happen and the character interactions were almost lost in the plot. These important conversations that are supposed to be the whole point of the film somehow disappear into special effects and plot twists.

This song has a special magic to it because it is Anushka and Shahrukh together, the only song in which they are together. This whole movie should be about the two of them, not just this bit.

During their first long conversation, Anushka starts to brag, constantly. Shahrukh finally gets sick of it and asks why she always talks about herself, he never does. That’s the central conflict between the two characters in that moment. Anushka is proud of herself and what she has accomplished, overly proud although she is seemingly humble. Shahrukh is the reverse, appears to be proud of himself but in fact has a deep sense of humiliaty and inferiority. Both attitudes are in response to their life long disabilities. Shahrukh was taught by his mother’s pity and his father’s hatred to see himself as worthless, to accept his place as less than others and not try to be more. Anushka, on the other hand, was taught to be proud of her strength in overcoming everything. And now she is overly proud, afraid to show any hint of weakness. That’s what Shahrukh craves from her, a sign that she feels weak, that she acknowledges her disability, that she is the same as he is.

The conversation before the wedding is when, finally, they both reveal their true selves to each other. Shahrukh reveals both his hidden shame and his hidden hope. He doesn’t believe he is meant for marriage, doesn’t believe he fits into normal life. He points out that Anushka is settling for him, they aren’t meant to be together anyway, how can they overcome their differences? And Anushka reveals what she truly thinks, down deep. That Shahrukh is the best she can do. That they are equals, they can look each other in the eye. Underneath all her confidence and bravado, Anushka is terrified she will never truly be loved. And Shahrukh, underneath all his acceptance of abuse of his family and attitude of being less than others, truly believes he deserves more than this, more than being the kept husband who is good enough for the disabled woman.

After the wedding, Shahrukh finds his strength and pride and freedom, escapes from his destructive family and reaches the stars (metaphorically). And Anushka retreats to her family, and struggles to reach the stars and succeed. It’s only when they come together again in the anti-gravity scene that their lives find balance. Anushka explains that it was her hurt pride that she holds against him, she didn’t want to marry him, she was fine and strong on her own, and then he won her over. And Shahrukh takes it, does not defend himself. Anushka has gone from the woman who was always in control and laughed at his petty frustrations in their first scene to the opposite, the frustrated angry one while Shahrukh is in control and knows who he is and what he wants.

Another flaw in the film structure, this song is important for Shahrukh’s character process and decisions, we need a similar song for Anushka’s character to make the pairing balance.

The conversation the night the stars fall is another pairing, this time with the conversation before the wedding. Then, Shahrukh was begging for permission to go and Anushka would not let him. This time, she is asking him to leave, and he won’t go. Anushka wanted him to be her equal and stay with her because they are both disabled in the first scene. In the second, Shahrukh wants to stay and become her equal by rising up in life and society. The first time, it ends with Anushka alone in an empty wedding room, the second time (in the original edit) it ends with her alone under a sky of falling stars. Anushka closed herself off to love and Shahrukh ran from it after the first conversation. After the second, Anushka starts to open up to love again and Shahrukh is running towards it.

And then we have the last conversation, as Shahrukh is in the rocket about to leave. Anushka asks if he would have stayed if she had asked, and the beauty is, we don’t know which time she means. Was it at the wedding? Was it that first night when she could have asked him to stay in her room? Was it the fight in the anti-gravity chamber when she could have asked him to start a new life with her and their daughter? Or is it just now, leaving on the rocket? There isn’t necessarily an answer, their whole relationship has been Anushka digging herself in and afraid to reach for happiness, while Shahrukh is constantly running after different happiness.

Along with the two central characters, there is a nice arrangement of supporting characters to help tell their story. Zeeshan Ayyub is supposed to be the one person who loves and supports Shahrukh. While Anushka is seen always surrounded by people who love her, Shahrukh has one humble friend. Katrina is Shahrukh’s mirror, the person who can give him a new way to see himself just as he gives her a new way to see herself. Madhavan is Anushka’s ideal self, intelligent and calm and kind and without emotion, what she aspires towards but cannot manage.

First meeting, Katrina kisses Shahrukh to turn him into her, another broken hearted one. Second meeting, Katrina comes up behind Shahrukh and uses his phone as a mirror. Literally Mirroring each other! I see what you did their Aanand!

This is the story we were supposed to get. Two people who are a little bit incomplete, a little bit broken, and keep avoiding the one person who can make them whole. But the film was flawed, we could all see it was flawed, because there was just too much on top of this nice settled human love story.

But this, what we ultimately got, is just sort of messy. The lovely little parallel moments are lost, instead of realizing that Anushka and Shahrukh’s humiliation is paired, we are distracted by wondering how and why she has a gun at her speech. Instead of focusing on their conversation, we are looking at the anti-gravity chamber. And instead of grasping the wonder of the leap into love that they take in that final moment, we are thinking about the oddity of Shahrukh being sent to Mars.

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34 thoughts on “Sunday ReRun: Zero, All the Reviews Combined

  1. All of this breaks my heart. If we know anything about Shah Rukh, we know how smart he is. Why didn’t HE see any of this. This wanted to be such a great movie. See, this one failed under its own weight. JHMS was undermined from the outside, I’m convinced. It is a very very good movie. But not Zero….

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    • A sad possibility is that the two are related. JHMS was very good, Shahrukh trusted his director and his instincts, and then it flopped. So the next time around he no longer trusted himself and he ended up with a disaster.

      On Sun, Oct 6, 2019 at 4:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Hence the break for so long now. Gauri used an odd turn of phrase recently when she was asked about it. She said, soon he’ll be “up and about” which is what you’d say of someone ill. And clearly he hasn’t been ill..we’ve seen lots of him….

        Liked by 1 person

        • Probably too much to hope for, but maybe he is finally getting real treatment for his depression instead of just powering through and keeping it inside. Wouldn’t that be great? A year’s sabbatical to figure out a mild medication routine and how to handle the side effects? Seems like the kind of medical treatment who could have managed while still doing international interviews and all, but not while doing the punishing schedule of an actual film shoot.

          On Sun, Oct 6, 2019 at 5:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Now that is an interesting thought. Carol thinks that the over-caffeined and the smoking are because he is ADHD and stimulants interestingly calm you down if that’s the case. I hadn’t considered the depression…which we all know is always there.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh that is an interesting thought! I had him pegged as manic depressive rather than ADHD, but ADHD with depression seems like a better fit. He has tons of energy and jumps around in his thoughts, but without that kind of crazed incapable of functioning way. Anyway, if he comes back no longer drinking coffee or smoking, we can hope he is on actual prescription medication. Or at least intensive therapy.

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          • He is still smoking but he’s gotten more careful about not being seen too often in public with it. However, the paps spotted him smoking after he shot an ad recently. He was seen smoking while partying in Trinidad too.

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          • It would be amazing if he used the time to work on his health, both physical and mental. But unlikely. This man was saying he doesn’t believe in therapy *while* promoting Dear Zindagi, a movie about therapy. What’s the likelihood that he would go and get some help?

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      • The truth is that he is bored. I don’t know if you saw some of his Zero interviews. He was almost pleading for this movie to work so that he doesn’t have to go back to making what he calls template films. He was so clear about not wanting to do those kind of movies anymore and saying that he has no interest in them. I think he picked Zero just based on it being the craziest and most audacious idea he found.
        Neither the writer or director could deliver a good product and really, he would not have even known what to anticipate. He said during interviews that he had never seen any movies Anand Rai had made – not even the Tanu weds Manu movies. He said the same during Dear Zindagi interviews that he had never seen English Vinglish. He had never even seen a single movie Alia had been a part of! He works with people when he has no idea what they’ve done before or how capable they are. It’s insanity.
        After JHMS flopped, he said his family had made him promise that he has to watch at least 1 Hindi movie a month if he wants to keep working. Prior to that, he had completely stopped watching Indian movies. Unfortunately I think by that point, work had already started on Zero and it was already in the pipeline. It’s hard to make sudden u-turns even if you know things need to change.
        Hopefully this year off has given him enough time to right the ship. At least read full scripts, watch the previous work a filmmaker has done, watch what else is happening in the industry.. these are easy things to correct. At least the process can be corrected first.

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        • If this is his ‘process’ of selecting a script, that’s just insane!!! I mean isn’t seeing the Directors’previous work a basic necessity before signing up for their next extravaganza?

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  2. I simply love the structure of the movie and what you call “doubling”. Although I prefer the theatrical version, I can appreciate the change of tone in the other version. In both ways, I marvel about the fact that the movie makes sense on three different levels: the narration about four people with disabilities (physical/emotional) where it is not the disability the main plot but their human interactions – the magical level of what you can tell in stories – the filmindustry level which partly reflects the four protagonists’ position/situation in the filmindustry.
    There are some flaws (minor, in my eyes) but they did not bother me at the first view and even less in the following ones.
    I think Zero is meant as a parable. I already thought that it would be one through what was said in the promotional interviews.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This movie still makes me angry. I genuinely think it’s the worst movie he’s ever made. No others even come close. I ignore stuff like Guddu because that was in the 90s when he had no control over it. But post that, even his flops like Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani or Asoka were still fairly good movies.

    Zero is completely unwatchable for me. So frustrating, boring and exhausting. Even the individual scenes makes you want to tear your hair out. I still can’t figure out WHAT the bathroom peeing scene with Anushka was about. It was neither romantic nor funny.. just leaves you questioning your sanity for watching it.

    I’m glad he took a long break because if he thought a movie like Zero should have been greenlighted and had so much money wasted on it, he definitely needs to reevaluate what the heck he is doing. His style of working has gotten increasingly bizarre over the last few years. He agrees to do movies based on one line and you will hear him say in interviews that he has never seen any movie the director has made before. Movies start filming before the script is even complete. Raees wasn’t supposed to have songs in it and then they started adding all kinds of crazy stuff while filming it. This is a ridiculous way to work. If you are lucky, it might work out for you but the chances are against it.

    Sometimes this way of working has made me feel that maybe he’s just lost interest in movies and his heart is not really in it anymore. But then weirdly enough, his acting is actually getting better even though the movies are not.

    (Btw, I tried watching Bard of Blood — I only watched the first episode but I found it not very good)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just to clarify, my theory about Shah Rukh and ADHD didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the experience of a friend of my daughter’s, who smoked like a chimney and drank coffee nonstop. She’d been diagnosed as a kid but her parents were mistrustful of medication. As an adult, when she started appropriate medication, the smoking and coffee reduced dramatically. It was her doctor who pointed out that she was self medicating with stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. Anyway, I thought there might be a similar situation going on with Shah Rukh.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I really love the song & dance numbers in Zero. I thought the plot was ridiculous, but I thought it was ridiculous before I saw the film. I read he was a dwarf who falls in love with a disabled woman and goes to space, and I rolled my eyes. Before the movie came out on Netflix I saw it on Einthusan and I don’t know which version I saw, but I felt the only thing his character had going for him was charm. I didn’t like seeing SRK as a dwarf. It feels wrong. It feels like a dwarf should play a dwarf and the best acting and special effects doesn’t change that. But then I loved those song and dance numbers. If given a choice between rewatching Zero or Koyla, I will take Zero. I will take Zero over Asoka, or even Chalte Chalte because I like spectacle, I like dance, I like Anushka and after watching Zero I now like Katrina too. If SRK is ADHD it has served him well in life. If he is depressed, that would be a normal reaction to putting so much effort, love, and money into a project that is thoroughly rejected by the world. I theorize that women often look at men as lost souls who need saving to the point that we almost forget that both genders are simply human, and as humans we will have ups and downs in life. It would be inhuman to simply blink and immediately bounce back from professional catastrophe. SRK might be a star, he may be extraordinarily charming and bright, but he is human. He has a strong family. He has close friends. He has a lot of money. He is going to be okay.

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    • You are slightly new to Shahrukh, yes?

      Useful interesting information, he really does have periods of intense depression. He doesn’t call them that, but what he describes in interviews (and what his friends also say about him) is that he will feel very sad, for days on end, to the point of not wanting to live the house or his room. His sister (his only living relative) has clinical depression to the point of not being able to function. She had to drop out of college and Shahrukh has been supporting her and caring for her since then. She lives in his house, but is barely mentioned in interviews or seen at public appearances, he refers to her as “ill” and protects her from the media. And everyone else goes along with it, which I always felt was kind of sweet, even the most vicious attack article won’t touch her. As I see it, Shahrukh has depression but can still function and so doesn’t see it as related to the illness at the level that his sister suffers. From what he has said, it sounds like his father also had depression in a similar way to Shahrukh, periods of intense misery usually brought on by the situation around him. It must be very strong in their family, so strong that anything below the level of what his sister suffers is just considered “normal”. Sometimes life gets you down and you have to lock yourself in your room for days, unable to be happy about anything.

      On Mon, Oct 7, 2019 at 1:29 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I knew about the sister, I didn’t know about the father. I guess I don’t think of days out do to depression as problematic. I’ve seen interviews where he is ON – engaging and charming and basically flirting with the world. And I’ve seen interviews (usually older ones) where he is off – he’ll have a flat affect, he’ll respond to the questions but not to the interviewer as a person. And I thought that was a side effect of acting. The actor goes through all the emotions, feels them on screen, and then afterwards… It would be hard for me to feel anything after such an intense display. But that is me, perhaps SRK is depressed. Perhaps he needs medication, but, but, my hunch is he just needs down time to figure out what his goals are, what he wants, to remind himself of what it is that makes him happy. To have so many real and perceived failures back to back. There is not a human that would be happy after that. U.S. culture and I have many ongoing arguments, one of which is the forced smile I feel it tells its people to wear. Why should anyone smile if they aren’t happy? And why should we expect people to always be happy? I actually think his time off, his basic admittance of the fact that yeah, the world hates Zero and that sucks, and he is bummed about it, is a sign of strength. Why pretend that everything is okay when it isn’t? I think he is going to be okay, and I hope I’m not wrong.

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        • I’m sure he’s going to be okay, I just think he is making it harder for himself (and his family) than it needs to be. What has been mentioned in interviews is that it is a routine thing (not common, but happens enough that he knows what to do about it) for him to be so depressed he can’t leave the house, and he doesn’t feel safe talking to his children and won’t let them see him. He functions, he takes time out and his family and friends know to leave him alone, but wouldn’t it be nice if instead of just powering through those dark times he actually got some kind of treatment for them? And wouldn’t it be really nice of that is what he was doing this year? Some version of talk therapy, at the very least, even if it is talking to a religious adviser or some other not “doctor-y” kind of situation.

          Personally I would love to read a psychological study of Shahrukh’s family, because (purely from an interested lay person’s perspective) I find their mental health history fascinating! His father sounds like he suffered some kind of combination of PTSD and survivor’s guilt, Shahrukh believes he died of a broken heart in the end. But his sister sounds like she has straight up brain chemistry mental illness, not situational at all. And then there are more and more studies talking about how children of survivors of terrible things end up growing up with some of that pain inside of them, from what Shahrukh has said about his father it sounds like he internalized a lot of that uncertainty (his obsession with owning a house for his family at any cost definitely seems related to his father losing his home). So you’ve got this fascinating combination of a potential genetic tendency towards depression, along with trauma passed down from father to son, and the artistic temperament, and the things Shahrukh and his sister survived (nothing as bad as Partition, but still losing their parents at a young age). It’s just a whole messy tangle of things all coming together, and on top of that you’ve got the uncertainty of the film industry and Shahrukh having to deal with public failure which brings in echoes of his father’s public failures, and public hatred, which brings in echoes of his father surviving a genocide. It’s just A Lot.

          On Mon, Oct 7, 2019 at 9:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • A detailed family history would be fascinating. And clearly he can’t fit into a “normal” category of human psychology, because normal people don’t become Shah Rukh Khan. He is the second most famous actor in the entire world? (I put Jackie Chan as #1, even though I’ve never seen one of his films). This idea of passing along trauma is fascinating, it bothers me, I don’t want it to be true. SRK did such a good job in Dear Zindagi, if he can play a therapist in the movies does that mean he has personal experience with them in real life? I hope so. And I thought I saw an interview in which he said his sister was ironically a psychologist. She might have her own mental health issues, but she could still be an excellent person to talk to. I would love a more in depth book than Anupama Chopra’s. In one interview with SRK she alluded to a falling out he had with her, but I couldn’t find any other references to it online.

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          • Here is a generalized wikipedia entry on genocide and the intergenerational effects: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_genocide_on_youth#Intergenerational_effects

            And here’s one on childhood trauma potentially affecting the next generation: https://qz.com/1297342/the-emerging-and-devastating-evidence-that-childhood-trauma-could-affect-the-next-generation/

            I follow a strong policy of “everyone’s got stuff”. So if your parents’ trauma is affecting you in some way, that’s okay, because down the road another kid is being affected by male pattern baldness or something. Shahrukh sounds like he had loving parents and a happy childhood, but clearly his father’s trauma has affected the way he lives his life (clinging tightly to the few family members he has, obsession with building a secure home for his family that cannot be taken away, and so on). And yes! A “normal” person wouldn’t be Shahrukh Khan. His ambition and determination, his quickness to form creative partnerships, even his passion for finding love from his fans, that is all kind of a “gift” of his family background in a weird way.

            For Anupama, she gave some really terrible reviews to all of his recent films. Not just “I did not like this movie” but snide and dismissive to all the work he put into them. He chose not to give her interviews for a while, and then she kind of ambushed him on location while filming JHMS, he gave her a loooooooong in depth interview, and she gave JHMS another dismissive insulting review. It’s very irritating. I don’t know if you saw it, but Shahrukh had an amazing little speech at the critics awards earlier this year calling out the way critics in India profit by insulting films instead of trying to find something, anything at all, worthwhile to say about them.

            There are other people here who follow this kind of stuff a lot more closely than I do and have better sources, than can give you more details.

            On Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 3:15 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. I loved this movie, but it is not a movie I’d recommend to even non-fans as I would a dozen of Shah Rukh’s movies. I think he was seduced by the tech and by Anand’s idea of taking away some of his physicality while keeping the charm (except they didn’t really keep the charm because Bauua is self-hating in a way that Shah Rukh’s most charming characters are not). I agree with others’ idea that he’s just plain bored with movies somehow, while delivering some of his best performances as an actor.

    I hope that the technological advances Red Chillies made in order to film Zero will pay off for them in new types of business and more business.

    I hope Shah Rukh will find the next thing that fascinates him and dive into it, or will fall back in love with the storytelling possibilities of visual media and the entire creative collaboration process, or both, especially because little Abraham will be growing up too, just like his older two kids have done.

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  7. Reading where you came out after seeing the different versions, I don’t think we’re far apart on Zero. I like it slightly less on rewatches, missing the swept away feeling of the movie theater. I agree more with you on the training sequence seeing the Netflix version. Totally agree, still, that the dynamic and emotion of the Kat sequence feels locked in as many other scenes don’t, and I suspect you’re right that it has to do with Kat’s character being better drawn than Anushka’s. The baby, the gun, and the monkey still argh. I still like the scenes between Bauua and Aafia in the space center, it’s the third center of emotional gravity after the wedding and the Kat confrontation.

    Just two things to add:
    – In the wedding scene, Aafia defends Bauua to her family in a way that goes beyond settling, saying he’s the first one to see her for herself. The way she responds to him when he talks about his doubts is tender and full of empathy. Then he whispers to her that Babita Kumari kissed him…and she laughs at him. And says “if Babita Kumari kissed you, then I’m carrying Leonardo DiCaprio’s baby.” When she laughs he shifts from looking like she was talking him around to deciding to leave. Because Babita did kiss him and now he’s going to prove to the world what he can do. He’s not wrong to leave, but the feelings she was showing were genuine, she drove him away by laughing at him like everyone else always laughed at him. And she maybe did know she was pregnant, even if she didn’t use that to keep him.
    – On rewatching, I think Zeeshan’s character is kind of Brechtian (ha!), he’s more a metaphor than a person. It doesn’t totally hold up so I might be wrong, but he seems to shine the flashlight on Bauua at key moments, after missing all the lead up action because he can’t see. Mostly I really dislike the way this character is written, Zeeshan is great and he has to play so dumb in this part.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really wish that wedding scene could be removed and put in a different film, because the whole scene start to finish is just so good. Two people talking to each other honestly about their emotional needs, and acknowledging that those needs might conflict. Right until the moment when it goes wrong, the way these kinds of conversations can go wrong. If that conversation was placed in a character drama about a couple being forced to marry, and followed by them separating only to come together with full hearts once they understand what marriage and love truly is, that I would love.

      On Mon, Oct 7, 2019 at 11:11 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Thank you! Yes, that confrontation at the space center is another great scene, gets to the same level of rawness as he has with Kat but it’s him pushing Anushka instead of himself. He’s at peace with his own choices by then.

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