I wondered if Shah Rukh Khan's Zero would be as terrible as I imagined it to be. I was wrong. It was worse.
Zero revolves around Bauua Singh (SRK), a man with dwarfism, and his adventures with love and fame. He falls in love with Aafia (Anushka Sharma), a scientist with cerebral palsy but is afraid to commit and runs away from his hometown to meet his celebrity crush Babita (Katrina Kaif). You'd think the plot sounds simple enough but through it all certain incidents or creative choices left us wondering, "What?"
Maybe I was expecting more from Anand L Rai and maybe I thought being objective about Zero (i.e., ignoring that SRK was cast in a role better suited to a man with dwarfism) would make the movie more bearable... but I did not expect to experience so much confusion through out the movie.
Bauua Singh is anything but charming
Perhaps the idea was to give Bauua Singh a charming but arrogant personality so that he could be said to be short but larger than life (a pun that shouldn't be okay). But the way the character was written, Shah Rukh Khan's Bauua came off as disdainful, uncouth and oddly narcissistic.
He actually mocks Aafia's style of speech (reminder, she has cerebral palsy) and then attempts to woo her in a manner that was laden with excessive entitlement. He would insist she take his remarks about her as compliments and would shift blame on her for not accepting his advances.
This made for very uncomfortable viewing. 2018 is ending and we still have entitled heroes wearing women down in the name of romantic gestures. Can we please stop showing this as something that works?
A part of me wondered if these traits had any relation to his dwarfism, as if to show him overcompensating, but if that's the case then it was executed way too poorly. There was rarely a moment in the film where one could empathise with the character.
I emerged from the cinema believing that Bauua Singh is the kind of person you make sure never finds out about your party because you know he'll crash and ruin it.
Anushka Sharma plays a scientist but her main goal is shaadi
Anushka Sharma's Aafia is a scientist at NASR (a play on NASA) and 60% of her screentime involves wedding talk and another 30% is about her love life.
Aafia is way out of Bauua's league, despite the film's attempt to make you think otherwise - because a person with one type of disability can only be with another person with a disability, right?
She refutes Bauua's advances when he mocks her speech, she tries to maintain boundaries when he is being overbearing (and is shamed for it), but it takes all of two dance performances and cheeky Bollywood one-liners for her to be smitten by a man who's barely graduated high school and can't understand her work by a long shot. She even rejects a perfectly wonderful person to go back to him and it was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai all over again.
It's been over a year to Kangana Ranaut's 'Bollywood Diva Song' where she crooned the words, "She's a scientist from Poland, who just talks about her boyfriend," and I'm wondering if she was foreshadowing Anushka's role.
Katrina Kaif's Babita was the better one in the lot
Katrina Kaif has made quite the journey in Bollywood with her dancing skills but in Zero, she was the better actor in the cast as well.
Katrina played Babita, an actress hung up on her ex and acting erratically post breakup. She takes in Bauua as a part of her entourage and tries to make him realise his love for Aafia and his mistake in running away.
Babita is a straight-shooter and while there are parts where the character is one dimensional, Kaif makes it work. This is was a pleasant surprise considering her co-stars Khan and Sharma were predicted to have more promise. Unfortunately, Khan's egocentric portrayal of Bauua was a let-down and Anushka's portrayal of a woman with cerebral palsy was also not convincing and left a lot to be desired.
Zero's script is incoherent and lacks substance
The film is two and a half hours long but it felt to have gone on for much much longer. Every twenty minutes I'd check my watch expecting an hour to have gone by, all the while thinking, "I gave up watching Into The Spider-Verse for the seventh time for this?"
Bauua Singh has the ability to either predict shooting stars or cause them and we don't know why. He leaves Aafia at their wedding for a dance competition and we never understand why he got cold feet or why things were rocky between him and Aafia in the first place.
When Bauua Singh decides to return to Aafia after ghosting her for a year, she refutes him. This time, instead of leaving his hometown, he decides to leave the planet. Yes, it does escalate that quickly.
The last half hour of the film shows Singh preparing to go to Mars because scientists at NASR with their decades of experience and intellect realised that him being the same height as a chimpanzee makes him the perfect specimen to use for this mission. Insert cringe here.
How it became so relatively easy to become an astronaut, how Bauua Singh got selected despite not having any background in the field and how scientists actually thought it was okay to treat a man with dwarfism like a chimpanzee, we will never know.
End of Spoilers
The plot, albeit sounding very linear, is very messy with events happening very inorganically and a very jumbled up structure. The script suffers from inconsistent writing and not only is there a lack of exposition for anything in the film, there is also no build-up, leading the audience to be very confused.
There was barely anything redeemable in Zero and I'm surprised a film so disjointed and badly written made its way to the big screen.
There is still no justification for Shah Rukh Khan to take on the role of a man with dwarfism
The film opens with a dream segment where Bauua Singh imagines himself as a man of average height who is saving damsels in distress. Post this three-minute segment, there is no such portrayal and I wonder if this very unnecessary scene was the reason behind casting SRK.
While I love the idea of having movies feature characters with disabilities without having their disability being the focus of the film, I'd enjoy it more if it actually did have actors with disabilities portray them, to move ahead the point of inclusivity.
SRK had no reason to play a man with dwarfism in Zero and had he played the character in his own physique, there would be little to no difference in the progression of the movie. Except for the "surprising" twist of fate that lacked too much research from the production team's department.
I've been vocal about SRK's problematic casting in Zero and seeing his character in the movie just solidified my stance. And while I attempted to suspend my disbelief, whatever mention of his height in the movie was almost a punchline and it was too cringe-worthy to handle. Quarter into the movie I even wished the same for Anushka Sharma's character.
Zero is further proof that star-power can only get you so far in the entertainment industry. We want good content and it does not matter what face delivers it. I am tired of half-baked ideas revolving around a singular idea - in the case for Zero making superstar a man with dwarfism - being deemed worthy enough to hit the big screens. That's two and a half hours I'll never get back.