What can be said about the myopic career choices of our male superstars that hasn’t been stated before? SRK, more than a Salman Khan even, has been at the other end of innumerable think-pieces by well-meaning reviewers who want him to take that leap of faith. No one expects Salman Khan to act. But SRK has always been the hope. When it comes to an SRK release, it’s almost as if we are all cryogenically frozen in the mid-90s, waiting to give another chance to the dimpled heart-winner who gave us Darr, Deewana, DDLJ and Yes Boss. Making excuses for Shah Rukh Khan is our second nature. Dilwale was a terrible film, but hey, he still can rock the messiah pose. Raees was lame, but he played a Muslim character in it after ages sooo… Jab Harry Met Sejal was torture, BUT boy does he look hot with that stubble.
Like the ever-defensive mother (Sheeba Chaddha) of Zero, his fans, nay, the entire nation is always ready with an aanchal full of excuses for him. Cue for you to say, “Saari burai to tumhein apne SRK mein hi dikhti hai!”
The film itself has just one moment of (appropriated) honesty in a runtime of over 2 hrs 44 mins. It comes well into the second half. A distraught Bauua Singh (SRK) is sprinting across cobbled pavements of an unnamed city in the US. He is dishevelled, he is sweaty and he has the wild, hunted look in his eyes that you associate with people who are prisoners of their own demons. It’s almost as if SRK is jolted by the realisation that he has just made a disaster of a film.
The rest of Anand L Rai’s Zero is dedicated to perpetuating the myth of Shah Rukh Khan, the pretence of an “interesting” storyline is entirely incidental.
Bauua, is an unapologetic brat who lives in a mansion in Meerut. He is vertically-challenged, but why bother being politically correct in referring to dwarfism, when the film screams bauna (the Hindi slang for a vertically challenged person) at every conceivable moment. The entire length of the film is dedicated to impress that fact upon us, that SRK, the 53-year-old heartthrob of the nation, has risked playing a vertically-challenged person in this film. What an incredible relinquishment of vanity this is. Wah, Wah!
He is an insufferable no-gooder, who believes in screwing the world because the world has screwed with him. You think chalo, at least there is some complexity to the character. But Mr Rai chooses to make Bauua a Bollywood hero, which means even his flaws can be pruned into heroic qualities. Woh ziddi hai, so he will persevere and achieve the insurmountable. He has a roving eye, which means when he eventually falls in love with someone, it will be the DDLJ walla love.
His incredulous wooing of a wheelchair-bound scientist, Aafia (Anushka Sharma) is riddled with problematic lines. Bauua insists that this brilliant NASA scientist, who has cerebral palsy, date him because she won’t get anyone “better” than him. This line of argument is consistent throughout the wooing period. Eventually, Aafia gives in, decides to marry him, and explains her decision to her parents by saying, “He is the only one who chose not to see my wheelchair!” Errrm! Hellow, are you kidding me? That was his whole sales pitch! Like creepy men who message women over 30 on Tinder, saying that they should hook up with them because their time is running out.
Bauua eventually dumps Aafia for the ‘woman of his dreams’: superstar Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif). A spunky woman with an anachronistic name. She has just been dumped by her jerk of a boyfriend, and has hit the bottle because why should only boys do Devdas-giri? Lest we forget that she is depressed, L Rai insists on slathering Kaif with the leaky eyeliner look. She takes Bauua under her wings, but for how long?
Eventually, the film ambles to a despicably silly climax, which involves interplanetary travel and homesick chimpanzees. L Rai, who was probably aiming to bring a fable-like quality to film, forgets that fables work because they are simple. They have to be sensitively written and executed. Zero is tone-deaf, uneven and maddeningly dedicated to carving Shah Rukh Khan out of its flawed protagonist.
When will the man realise that he doesn’t have to be SRK to be a superstar?