Bauaa Singh (Shah Rukh Khan) is a 38 year old dwarf living in Meerut who wants to get married ASAP. A marriage counsellor (Brijendra Kala) gets him to meet Aafia Yusufzai Bhinder (Anushka Sharma), a wheelchair-bound space scientist suffering from cerebral palsy. The two connect despite their differences and it looks like true love is blossoming between them. But Bauaa has his heart set on Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif), the reigning Bollywood queen. He gets a chance to meet her by participating in a dance competition and runs away from his marriage mandap to realise that dream. He does manage to get close to her and become her confidante but later realises that his heart actually belongs to Aafia and he has hurt her badly. How he wins back her trust and her love forms the crux of the film.
How do you describe a rose? Do you just describe its petals and ignore the thorns? There is a certain beauty to the thorns as well and sometimes it’s the thorns that end up defining the flower. That’s the dilemma faced by a critic while analysing a film like Zero. The film is Aanand L Rai’s most prestigious project till now. It’s grand in its scope and vision. And yet remains a human story at its core. A story of a simple man on a quest of true love. Willing to go to any length to reach it. It’s also Shah Rukh Khan’s most unique film till date. He’s playing a dwarf but this dwarf has ten times the charisma of a regular Shah Rukh Khan character. You believe it when he’s able to charm not one but two beautiful women in the film. Women who live by their own code and have strong-willed personalities. And the way he romances them both are some of the best portions of the film. It’s Shah Rukh at his best. It’s SRK telling you how it’s done and you bow to a master. If you have read so far, you must be wondering what the rose analogy was about as it all looks, well, rosy till now. Well, here come the thorns…
Aanand L Rai’s strength has always been his writing. Writer Himanshu Sharma has been the bulwark of most of Rai’s films, conjuring up tales of intense interpersonal relationships and setting them flawlessly in small town India. You connect to the characters in Rai’s films because they remind you of yourself and of people around you. Here, the characters are too fabulous and their journey is too esoteric for you to find an easy connect with them. And the screenplay is too disjointed. It takes you on a flight of fancy for the sheer indulgence of it. It’s like an arrow shot high in the sky. You admire its trajectory but it’s not going to stay afloat forever. To cut it short, you feel like you’re watching two different films as the first half and the second half are vastly dissimilar to each other.
When the writing is right it’s brilliant. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s character, for instance has night blindness and follows SRK with a brightly lit torch in the night. It’s something straight out of a Marx Brothers film and makes you laugh by its silliness and by some punchy dialogue given to the actor, who makes the most of the opportunity. And Katrina Kaif has gotten the best author-backed role of her life so far. Her lines are self-referential about the toll this industry takes on its heroines. She’s a manic-depressive borderline alcoholic who’s suffering from perennial heartbreak. It’s a pity the film wasn’t more about Babita and Bauaa. One of the best scenes in the film is where she humiliates him and throws him out. It’s all real and raw and you wish that this level of writing was maintained throughout. Even the intense, emotional scenes between Anushka and Shah Rukh are well-written. Their courtship early on is witty and charming and their interactions reflect both the pain and laughter of two people well aware of their handicaps.
It’s the acting which carries the day. Anushka Sharma, as the woman who hasn’t let her condition get in the way of her intellect or ambition delivers another powerful performance. It’s not only an emotional rollercoaster of a role but has a physical side to it as well and she aces delivering both facets. Katrina has been given the most real role of her life so far and has run away with it. She makes you see the grime beneath the glamour and one can feel she’s having a lot of fun doing a role that kind of demystifies the film industry. Shah Rukh Khan is experimenting with each film and must be admired for his zeal to attempt something out of the ordinary and not playing it safe. He has given it all to the film and makes you believe in Bauaa’s madness even in the film’s most fantastical scenes.