“Pain demands to be felt.”
This line in John Greene’s bestselling novel ‘The Fault in our Stars’, strikes a different meaning altogether in its adaptation in Mukesh Chhanra’s directorial debut Dil Bechara (2020). The reason being in its becoming of the swan song of Sushant Singh Rajput, who passed away last month. How does one start to review a film that has become so much more than just a film? The tragedy that develops within the film lies in the devastating absence of the man at the centre of it, and not so much his presence. And slowly, as one proceeds through this realisation, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the real from the reel. The pain is felt in this decision to choose.
Set in Jamshedpur, Dil Bechara opens with college student Kizie Basu (Sanjana Sanghi) at a funeral with an oxygen cylinder by her side. She has thyroid cancer and she likes to attend the funerals of strangers where she hugs people who are grieving. She meets Immanuel Rajkumar Junior/Manny (Rajput) a filmi, flirtatious guy who loves Rajinikant and is making a film with his friend JP, Jagdish Pandey (Sahil Vaid), who is fast losing his eyesight to cancer. Manny himself is fighting a limp- his lower right leg is a metallic rod. Something strikes between them instantly, and they start find themselves through each other. Kizie opens up to Manny, about her admiration for a singer called Abhimanyu Veer Singh (Saif Ali Khan in an insipid cameo appearance that instantly reminds of the brilliance of Willem Dafoe in the other counterpart). She’s perplexed that he didn’t complete a song and disappeared; she wants to know more about him, meet him. This would lead them to an unforgettable trip to Paris in search for the singer, and in turns, discovering themselves anew.
Adapted by screenwriters Shashank Khaitan and Suprotim Sengupta, Dil Bechara is that unusual Bollywood offering that is shorter than its Hollywood predecessor- The Fault in our Stars, that starred Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. It is a crisply edited and gorgeously choreographed; some scenes being smartly added to fit the bill. But even when the audience is aware of the acute sense of foreboding that marks the narrative, there is something amiss. The relationship of the two protagonists does not feel meaningful and pure, there’s hardly anything they share. It is from here where the lack in emotional investment is stemmed, and this is where Dil Bechara falls short in building that tragic world marked with sombre humour and hope. Despite falling short in these aspects, Dil Bechara manages to ride high on the unwavering support from A. R. Rahman’s music- suiting every mood and sentiment to the toe.
Well regarded as a casting director, Mukesh Chhabra works his magic here in the casting choices as well. Apart from the two leads, the parents of Kizie, played by Swastika Mukherjee and Saswata Chatterjee rise above stereotype, adding nuances to their characters beautifully. Sahil Valid is pleasing and promising as the aiding friend. These characters add warmth and a much needed poignancy to Dil Bechara. And even though Sanghi gets the author backed role here- which she somehow manages to inhabit despite a few false instances in the second half, it is Sushant who unsurprisingly steals the show. When Manny says, “Janam kab lena hein aur kab marna hein yeh hum decide nahi kar sakte” it is impossible to stay intact in the references within the character. Although his antics in the first half of the film might come off as problematic, he manages to transfer that ache and helplessness without letting it override his smile. It is a charming, spontaneous performance.
But ultimately, we knew how Dil Bechara would become more than just another Friday film to be decided upon- that it would be more than the overwhelming grief in the story of its characters, but also of Sushant Singh Rajput and his shocking death a month ago. Dil Bechara, is dated to go down in cinema history not so much for its content as for the fact that it would mark the end of the journey of a promising young actor who marked his way from mega-serials to films, who had a real promise (rewatch his performances in Kai Po Che, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, Sonchiriya and the Mahendra Singh Dhoni biopic that he owned despite never having held a cricket bat in his life until he landed the role) and shined evenly amidst a board of newcomers. It is a reminder of an untimely loss, in some ways a last chance to say a goodbye to an actor lying underneath the character. Seri, Sushant. Seri.