The first teaser trailer of ‘Zero’ got the excitement levels going as it featured lead actor Shah Rukh Khan sharing the screen with Salman Khan. Although the latter was in a cameo role for a song, the Aanand L Rai directorial was one to watch out for. Not least because it would see King Khan sharing the screen with Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif but also because he plays a dwarf for the first time. Also, the VFX the film promised was to be par excellence and it was only right that this was one film that was given a fair chance at Christmas.
The story revolves around Bauua Singh (Khan) who is a dwarf, proving popular with his friends but less so with his father. When he comes across scientist Aafia (Sharma) who has cerebral palsy, he is astounded that she doesn’t really give him the time of day. In a quest to make her notice him, he gets close to her by spending time and also challenging her to do things that she would find difficult to do. He eventually falls for her but it’s temporary and he moves on quickly. After a sudden appearance of Aafia at his home, his father announces that the two should get married. However, Singh finds out his ticket to meet his favourite actress Babita Kumari (Kaif) has been successful. What will he do? Choose to marry Aafia or follow his dreams?
Rai is known for the way he humanises his characters and situations in his movies and ‘Zero’ is no less. It’s evident in the first half that all three main characters have flaws – not just of the physical kind. They are unreasonable, difficult to identify with and larger than life in so many senses. Despite these things, they are also all endearing and what they go through is enough to keep you engaged. The second half lets the film down slightly but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is the case. Perhaps it’s because too much happens in the story or because the situations become very unbelievable. It could also be because characters become a little too human or because the mission to Mars aspect just doesn’t seem to do the rest of the film any justice.
The performances of Khan, Sharma and Kaif are commendable in so much as they fit into their characters quite well. Khan as Bauua Singh does well in this “chota packet” role which is a “bada dhamaaka” somewhat. Sharma as Aafia is perhaps the best of the lot but this would have been something most would have expected. Kaif is a revelation somewhat as a love-torn actress, finding it difficult to move on from a broken relationship. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is a great supporting actor as Singh’s friend. Tigmanshu Dhulia as Singh’s father makes a good performance in the short time he’s seen on screen. The special appearances by Abhay Deol and R Madhavan also add some sturdiness to the story.
One of the film’s highlights is seeing Khan’s heroines in special appearances, as themselves. Kajol, Rani Mukerji, Karisma Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Sridevi are seen sharing the screen. It is the last time the latter will be seen on screen. The moment is somewhat poignant and great for Bollywood lovers.
Many will watch ‘Zero’ and see it as another film which doesn’t quite strike a chord with the audiences. However, the Red Chillies VFX team deserve a big bow for the work they’ve put in to create what is visually excellent on-screen. Khan, it has to be said, should be applauded for the contribution his production company and him as a producer is making towards the Indian film industry and the strides it is making towards sci-fi and special effects. It’s not entirely fair to just say ‘Zero’ doesn’t work because it does work in so many ways. The biggest way is that Rai manages to etch characters with physical flaws but he depicts them so that these flaws aren’t the first things you see or think about. This is a huge leap in the audience’s gaze. ‘Zero’ promotes the thought that disabilities are different abilities and this should be what every audience member should take away from the film – whether the story disappoints or not.