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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Shah Rukh Khan’s latest brew has Zero kicks in its formula

It’s clear that love of intoxicating beverages plays a significant part in Zero’s story and its ridiculous plot

mumbai Updated: Dec 23, 2018 00:11 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Handout still from 'Zero'
Handout still from 'Zero'

When the trailer for Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero dropped, the reason for the title wasn’t obvious, but it reveals itself swiftly if you watch the film. Zero is the number of people involved in the film who were sober during the making of Khan’s latest release.

This is the only explanation for the ridiculous plot and once you know what you’re looking for, it’s clear that love of intoxicating beverages plays a significant part in Zero’s story. How do Bauua (Khan) and his lady love Aafiya (Anushka Sharma) bond? By getting drunk. What does Babita (Kaif) wave around in the air when we see her making a public appearance as a Bollywood superstar? A bottle that looks suspiciously like it has a grey goose on it. The fictitious international space research centre in Zero? It sounds like a slurring drunkard trying to spell NASA (“NSAR”).

The best part about getting drunk is that it makes every thought feel like a brainwave. So yes, while floating in an intoxicated haze, it might be funny to imagine a gang of mean dwarves (played by kids) who lurk in New York’s alleys, looking to beat up other vertically-challenged persons. It may also seem logical that a school kid would mistake a 38-year-old person with dwarfism to be a fellow student, just because they’re both roughly the same height. Similarly, it may seem like a good idea to have the cerebral palsy-afflicted heroine (Aafiya) writhe on the ground in one of her first scenes, trying to pick up a pen that was deliberately dropped on the floor to humiliate her and draw attention to her physical disability. Just like the decision to include a neurotic chimpanzee and a new-born baby in her re-introduction scene may seem like a genius when one is seeing double. Under the influence, you are forgiven for thinking candidates for space missions line up like those auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance and that the selection process to decide who will go to Mars is like a game show.

However, at some point, you should snap out of it and drink some coffee instead. When you don’t, you get a film like Zero. And this is particularly unforgivable when you keep in mind that the ground floor of the Khar building that houses Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment is a gigantic coffee shop.

According to reports, Zero has had a record opening in Bihar, which suggests something about an overconfident, Brahmin man-child who isn’t held back by his small-town background and lack of education resonates with audiences there. The film wants us to be impressed by Bauua’s swagger and the fact that he doesn’t let reality intimidate him (why we are constantly reminded of his caste with shots of his janeu, however, remains a mystery). Bauua has no doubt he’s more than Aafiya’s equal, even though he barely finished school and she’s a celebrated scientist. He confidently takes a stab at playing footsy with Babita, undaunted by the fact that she’s a beautiful celebrity while he’s a nobody with limited physical charms and dependent on her charity. Throughout the film, Bauua lives off others because he is at a physiological and financial disadvantage. Yet his sense of entitlement swells like a perfectly-risen soufflé.

Babua is wish-fulfilment for all those who live in hope that male privilege will help them sail through life. His failures are forgiven, his wastefulness is tolerated and his insensitivity is adored. Meanwhile, the two heroines are plagued with self-doubt despite their many accomplishments, which is frustrating but remarkably realistic. In Aafiya’s case, she does all the work and a man gets the glory, which is also very much the norm for women in science and technology. Clearly, the one detail that is immune to the happy haze of illogic in which Zero was written, is the power dynamic between men and women.

On the plus side, the film has given us Kaif’s Babita, a fantastic heroine who battles addiction grapples with having her heart broken by a playboy superstar, takes a dwarf under her wing, and comes out at the other end stronger than ever. Just imagine what a delicious takedown of Bollywood we’d see if Babita got her own film.

First Published: Dec 23, 2018 00:11 IST

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