Jeter: Sushant Singh Rajput, Sanjana Sanghi, Saif Ali Khan, Swastika Mukherjee, Saswata Chatterjee and Sahil Vaid
Director: Mukesh Chhabra
Evaluation: 3 stars (out of 5)
As Dil bechara unfolds, two things rise to the surface instantly – and poignantly. One is the realization of the enormity of the loss that the untimely demise of Sushant Singh Rajput represents. This awareness is painfully reinforced by the film itself. He rejoices in life and love in the face of impending death. The other is the gnawing feeling that the lead actor, who has had several fine performances in a tragically short career, perhaps deserved a more uplifting swansong. Sushant Singh Rajput hits her pace early on, but is part of the inevitably heartbreaking Dil bechara could have done with a stronger emotional burst under his wings.
The lead actor features a bubbly boy from Jamshedpur who sheds light on a disability caused by cancer. He draws his joie de vivre from his growing bond with a terminally ill girl whose lungs are frequently acting. He has a false leg; she has to carry an oxygen cylinder. Time is running out for the two, but the couple are determined not to let the sense of mortality weigh them down.
Unusually for a Hindi film that is a remake of a Hollywood hit, director Mukesh Chhabra’s feature debut is 20 minutes shorter than the original. There are portions in Dil bechara where the editing appears a little rushed, leaving in its wake jerks that undermine the flow of the film. For once, we would like to have a few extra minutes to line the folds.
Adapted by screenwriters Shashank Khaitan and Suprotim Sengupta from The fault in our stars (John Green’s book and Josh Boone’s 2014 film script are acknowledged in the opening credits), Dil bechara combines unchanged borrowings from the original production with significant plot deviations in the process of story-shaping for Indian sensibilities. It pulls one way here, then pushes another there and ends up feeling a bit stretched at times.
Still, one can’t help but fall in love with Rajput and debutante Sanjana Sanghi. They build a lively rapport. The most sparkling passages, imbued with humor and warmth, owe their existence to the source material. Dil bechara is a film about illness, distress and death that approaches the brighter side of life through the tears of fear and the experience of losing a loved one.
Tatanagar takes the place of the Indianapolis suburb. Kizie Basu (Sanghi) and Immanuel “Manny” Rajkumar Junior (Rajput) meet at a college festival before getting close to each other in a cancer support group led by Dr RK Jha (Sunit Tandon) . A first dance number introduces the audience to the male protagonist’s love for Rajinikanth in particular and popular films and music in general. The girl, who lives with her parents (Swastika Mukherjee and Saswata Chatterjee), digs into the work of an alternative musician who has disappeared from the scene leaving her favorite song incomplete. While Manny and his best friend Jagdish Pandey (Sahil Vaid), another cancer patient who is on the verge of losing their eyesight, want to make a movie with Kizie as the heroine.
Convincing the girl takes work, but once she’s on board – seri, in Tamil, is the couple’s watchword – the relationship between her and Manny quickly blossoms and the two become inseparable then. even that Kizie’s mother is worried about her delicate medical condition.
Manny, on the other hand, does everything he can to spread good humor in Kizie’s life with his cunning, good-humored pranks and uninhibited manners. Together, they seek to make the most of the limited time they have. They take a trip to Paris, where Kizie’s favorite singer now lives. She wants to understand how the retired crooner’s unfinished number should end.
In The fault in our stars, the young couple’s visit to Amsterdam results in a disappointing encounter with the heroine’s favorite writer (played by Willem Dafoe) and the recognition that he is a terribly eccentric human unworthy of idolization. In Dil bechara, this crucial part of the story is inexplicably overlooked. The reclusive singer Kizie adores is presented more as a man out of his rocker than a cynical musician grappling with the weariness of the world.
The small town vibe of the tale is operated with reasonable skill. The landmarks of Jamshedpur – Tata Main Hospital, Jubilee Park, Tata Ironworks, and Payal Cinema – provide the backdrop for Kizie and Manny’s exploration of the little joys of camaraderie. However, the city does not acquire the kind of centrality that would have been an integral part of the scenario.
The character of Laura Dern, mother of Hazel Grace, played a lot more The fault in our stars. In Dil bechara, its significance is greatly reduced although Swastika Mukherjee’s calibrated performance ensures that it does not recede completely into the background. On the other hand, the role of the father is clearly reinforced. This extended run gives Saswata Chatterjee the opportunity to be a scene thief more than once. Newbie Sanjana Sanghi is a charming good even if, in terms of impact, she’s not exactly in the Shailene Woodley league. Sahil Vaid, playing the hero’s friend who in one scene gushes out of Manny’s “killer smile” and triggers a lump in his throat, has limited footage, but he strikes a chord.
Dil bechara will obviously always belong to Sushant Singh Rajput – a reminder of a curtailed career and many blocked potentials. Out of all the money, his performance demonstrates exactly why the chops he owned weren’t ordinary.
The fault in our stars, with its disarming simplicity and youthful verve, pulled us to our hearts using elements that were in the narrative framework of the film. Dil bechara, on the other hand, will remain in the history of cinema not so much for what its text contains as for the fact that it brings down the curtain on the career of a young talented actor who has shown panache for creative challenges. (witness Détective Byomkesh Bakshy, Sonchiriya and the Mahendra Singh Dhoni biopic which he owned although he never held a cricket bat in his life until he landed the part) and reveled in carrying burdens heavier than that Dil bechara place on his shoulders.
Dil bechara, which premiered on Disney + Hotstar on Friday, is just a few steps away from the benchmark Sushant Singh Rajput has set for her most successful films. But watch it all the same to celebrate a career that deserved a much, much longer race.