During the table read for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD), held earlier this year as the film wrapped up 10 years, Hrithik Roshan, who starred there, said, “(Reema and Zoya) do not write hero. They write characters.
He added that he had nothing to do to fit into his role and that he had borrowed everything from the environment and the people around him. “For me it was a revelation,” he said.
Speaking of Katrina Kaif’s character Laila in the 2011 film, Vir Das, who moderated the conversation online, said, “She feels less like the women I see onscreen and more like the women I see on screen. know personally. “
Both Katrina and Hrithik said the one thing about ZNMD’s script that stood out for them when they first read it was how real and relevant the characters were. It’s true. In fact, this is one of the main reasons Zoya Akhtar’s films continue to feel fresh and relevant no matter when they were made.
The Hindi film industry is notoriously infamous for creating tropes – hero, heroine, villain, best friend, vamp, comedian – one-note characters that she loves to store in neat little boxes. . But real people, you and I, cannot be labeled. We’re much more layered and complex than black, white, and shades of gray. We are everything: blue, red, green, yellow, pink, brown and various shades of every other hue imaginable. The same goes for the folks in Zoya’s film verse.
Take Vikram Jaisingh from his first movie Luck By Chance (2009), for example. Leaving his father’s established business in Delhi, he came to Mumbai to become an actor. He is the protagonist of the film, of course, but not a hero. He is as frail and defective as any of us. In his attempt to land the lead role in a big producer film, he does it all: fools his competition, licks good people’s asses, and even cheats on his girlfriend.
Realizing his mistake, he comes back to her to apologize, but only because he’s looking for an anchor, and suddenly finds that he doesn’t have one. When he asks Sona (the woman he cheated on, played by a wonderful Konkona Sensharma) if she doubts the sincerity of his apology, she replies no. Why not? “Because you are always so selfish,” she remarks. “It’s always been about you. Where am I in all this? “She asks him, tears in her eyes. And finally, she adds,” There is nothing you can do about it. Can you? Some people are just made that way.
Another example is the famous painter Salman Habib from ZNMD. He was 25 when his partner got pregnant. She wants to get married and raise a child. He doesn’t; he wants to paint and travel the world. So they go on their own paths; he leaves them without ever looking back. When he recounts all this years later to his adult son at his request, there is not a hint of remorse in him. He recounts his abandonment of his only child and his decision never to meet him in such a natural way, it’s heartbreaking. And yet you don’t hate Salman Habib.
Then there is Neelam Mehra from Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), performed by a formidable Shefali Shah. She’s a middle-aged woman struggling with a dying marriage and her husband’s many affairs, a mother who wants the world for her son but tells her daughter to focus on her family rather than her business. His expectations of his adult children are conventional and patriarchal. She doesn’t flinch when she conspires to marry her son to a wealthy businessman’s daughter to save their sinking business empire or when she sends her daughter away every time she tries to open up. to her.
But there is so much more to Neelam Mehra. The scene, in which she stuffs her mouth with cake after confronting her husband Kamal about flirting with a guest on a cruise, is so haunting that it’s fresh in my memory as if I had watched it yesterday. Another equally evocative scene is where Kamal tries to get romantic with her on the night of their 30th wedding anniversary and she responds with a straightforward, pained face, “You don’t have to act comedy. No one is watching right now.
And finally, there’s Murad Ahmed from Gully Boy (2019). His story as he discovers rap, falls in love with it and tries to make a name for himself, is so realistic that you forget you’re watching him in a movie. Murad’s reality is as real as any underprivileged slum dwellers in their early twenties. It is not necessary to be from his socio-cultural background to identify with him, his thoughts, his struggles, his ambition and his follies. There are several redemptive characters in the film but Murad is not one of them. And yet, he’s the protagonist, it’s his story, he’s the Gully Boy.
One remarkable quality in Zoya’s leadership is that she doesn’t glorify. Even if it’s a Hrithik Roshan in the frame, a Farhan Akhtar or a Ranveer Singh. His people are superimposed; it humanizes them but at no point do you feel like it is propagating their behavior or trying to establish one right and the other wrong. There are no heroes or villains in his films, there are only people.
Zoya’s films make you feel like a spectator, silently watching us talk about our lives. There is a Vikram, a Salman, a Neelam and a Murad in each of us. We’ve been them at one point or we know someone who looks like them. This is the real legacy of Zoya’s films. As the maverick filmmaker is a year older today, I hope she and her team continue to watch us and show us as we are – private and public, best and worst. , and all other steps that fall in between.