One of the plotlines in Zubaan is about the Gurdaspur-based Dilsher (Vicky Kaushal) overcoming his stammer and becoming a singer. Another one follows Dilsher as he attempts to compensate for the loss of his father by becoming some sort of son to Delhi-based gazillionaire Gurcharan Sikand (Manish Chaudhary, who’s really become peerless at a Zen kind of scenery chewing) – Sikand is also from Gurdaspur. A third one is about how Dilsher loses his way after he leaves home (Delhi, unsurprisingly, makes him corrupt; big cities, in these films, are always leading small-town boys astray) and how he finds his way back, finds himself. Any one of these threads could have been spun into its own movie, but director Mozez Singh is ambitious – he tries to weave together all three. There may even be a fourth, involving Dilsher’s relationship with a singer named Amira (Sarah Jane Dias). That’s all she is – “a singer named Amira.” We never get a sense of place with her. We keep seeing her in a desert, in an artily lit step well, in some sort of tunnel. The charitable way to look at it is that she’s a free-floating abstraction, a goddess who’s in the movie just to give Dilsher his wings. Or you could be less philosophical and say no one had a clue what to do with her.
Zubaan isn’t a bad movie (I certainly didn’t mind it) – but it’s a strange one, with a lot going on at every point. The most compelling parts are the one-upmanship games between Dilsher and Gurcharan’s son Surya (Raaghav Chanana), who’s got daddy issues of his own. He wants nothing more than to earn his father’s love, respect – but the man looks right through him. And worse, Gurcharan seems to adore Dilsher. They share a love for Punjabi devotional music. They share a love for hockey. They share a talent for ruthless deal-making. They even have similar names. Gurcharan is referred to as “Lion of Gurdaspur.” And Dilsher translates to… Heart of a Lion. In this menagerie, Surya, with his fluted speech and with his beard manicured just so, comes off like a sight gag from a Swiss finishing school. He’s a hideous misfit, and he hates it that this utter outsider has fit right in. “Punjabi khoon hai tera. Meri tarah,” Gurcharan tells Dilsher, and we realise, slowly, how literally he means it. Looking at Gurcharan and Surya, I was reminded of the dysfunctional father-son relationship at the centre of John Updike’s Rabbit novels.
The other narrative strands are weak, they dilute the film – or maybe the way to put it is that it’s a problem when what’s meant to be an edgy coming-of-age story is hijacked by a campy, entertainingly nutty family soap. The gnomic utterances (the only person who can save you is yourself; write your own destiny, and here’s a pen) don’t feel earned, feel out of place – it’s like finding scriptures written with graffiti spray. The fussy craft began to annoy me after a while. A lot of times, we see more art direction than direction. Two people can’t enjoy a moment by the pool without there being a string of gauzy lights overhead, and with a row of mirror-work buttons on the shoulder of a shirt. Zubaan is over-embellished in every sense. But I enjoyed watching Vicky Kaushal, who has a relaxed, natural way about him – he unclichés clichés. I’d like to see him happy for once. Someone cast him in a rom-com, quick.
- Punjabi khoon hai tera. Meri tarah = Like me, you have Punjabi blood in you.
- John Updike’s Rabbit novels = see here
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