Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Shah Rukh Khan's 'Zero' leaves us with many unanswered questions

The film has an ambitious story but trudges along slowly and is filled with many moments that leave us scratching out heads

Shah Rukh Khan in 'Zero'. 
Shah Rukh Khan in 'Zero'. 

Shah Rukh Khan's Zero is a ridiculous movie. That said, it has a lot of heart and can be entertaining in parts. The trouble is that despite all the heart – and an earnestness that is matched evenly by all three protagonists of the film – it has surprisingly little brain.

For most of its two hour and 44 minute run time, we're left scratching our heads about the utterly disjointed events unfolding on-screen. Zero is a movie that works only if you’re able to accept the complete lack of logic and plot holes as big as the craters on Mars that Afiya Bhinder (Anushka Sharma’s character) is studying.

The movie starts promisingly enough, with Khan’s character, 38-year-old Bauua Singh, establishing his coarse, arrogant, utterly self-absorbed character. Khan nails the opening sequence, his 4'6" short form vibrating with equal parts energy, fake bravado and anger over being stiffed in life.

He sees himself as a larger than life hero trapped in a body that will not allow his dreams to take flight. Bauua wants to get married. Not just to anyone — but the nation’s sweetheart, its biggest actress Babita Kumari (played by Katrina Kaif). That’s the dream, but closer to reality, he’s signed up for a matrimonial service and has rejected dozens of women. Until he chances upon the photo of a world-renowned scientist.

From this point on, it’s time to say goodbye to logic and make friends with disbelief, because the questions in your mind will be more than what the movie is prepared to answer, or even consider. The remainder of the movie is spent in showing us how Bauua, the man no one thought would amount to anything, manages to worm his way into the hearts of two women who should have never looked his way, and eventually ends up qualifying for a mission to Mars.

If the story sounds ambitious, it is. But the writing and execution leave much to be desired. The only part that makes Zero enjoyable is what Kaif, Sharma, and Khan do with the seriously limited and strangely cobbled together script they find themselves with.

More thoughts on Zero

Here are just four of the many questions we found ourselves grappling with as the film trudged along. Beware, spoilers below.

How does Bauua Singh get access to every place he wants to go?

He is a nobody from a small town in India who manages to, without exception or trouble, find his way into the most prestigious gatherings. He disrupts a school event and no one bats an eyelid, he delivers a speech at a press conference and ridicules the person being interviewed and no one rushes to grab hold of him to throw him out, he walks into an NSAR (the movie’s version of Nasa) party without any trouble at all. It’s not a big deal, but given that his interloping starts early in the movie, it’s a good indicator of how many things you’re going to be asked to believe, you know, just because.

Why is Afiya Bhinder so desperate to marry him?

Yes, we get that she has cerebral palsy and is confined to the wheelchair, and understandably has trouble finding a partner who can look beyond her physical form and appreciate her mind. But it’s tough to swallow the idea that a scientist credited with finding water on Mars would enlist herself at a marriage bureau in a small town in Meerut. At first she treats the idea of marrying Bauua, a man who has only been educated until the 10th grade, with the scorn that it deserves. But one romantic song and some skilful dialogue-dropping later, she is smitten enough to marry him? When he ghosts her, she comes searching for him in his town. When he tries to tell her he’s not ready to be married, she convinces him because she is the best he can do and he is the best she can. Again, she’s one of the most brilliant mind’s in the world.

What’s going on with Babita Kumari?

It is so infuriating that when Katrina Kaif finally sinks her teeth into a character, her role ends before we’ve even had a chance to fully appreciate it. As a heart-broken superstar, a lot of Kaif’s character references her own real-life break-up with Ranbir Kapoor two years ago. Babita Kumari is erratic, drinks a lot, and gets away with everything. For reasons best left unexamined, she takes to Bauua and he soon becomes her friend and the calming presence she so desperately needs. The next thing we know he has a meltdown and she throws him out. Bizarrely, in the very next scene she follows his advice and kicks her deadbeat boyfriend out. And that’s all that we get from her. No one knows why, or how, a mega star decides to take in a 38-year-old stranger with no talent or skill, allowing him to practically run her career. And that’s all that we see of her.

Why do they treat the Mission to Mars like children playing with dolls?

Yes, Bollywood requires its drama, and we’ve made our peace with the endless number of airport chase sequences where either the hero or heroine realise, at the 11th hour, that they can’t live without the person about to take flight. But treating a space station like it’s Heathrow airport … not cool. Afiya leaves her wedding to come rushing to the space station before Bauua’s rocket is about to take off, with seconds to spare. Also, given that she is the mastermind behind the mission in the first place, we’re expected to think it’s perfectly normal that she decides to schedule her nuptials for the exact moment of take-off. Sigh.

Throughout its promotions, director Anand L Rai has been talking about how Zero celebrates incompleteness in people and reality. It’s a pity that he was so enamoured by the idea of incompletion that he took himself a bit too literally and created the most incomplete movie to come out of Bollywood in recent times.

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Updated: December 22, 2018 10:32 AM

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