Rajput’s energy is so infectious, we fall for him the same way Kizie does.
It is very difficult to objectively review a film that has just lost its star. Even harder when the loss is so heavily politicised. But the movies that grace our screens are the hard work of more than just one person. ‘Dil Bechara’ may be Sushant Singh Rajput’s last official release, but it’s also a first to so many people. Mukesh Chhabra’s directorial debut, Sanjana Sanghi’s first lead role are beginnings to yet unexplored paths. ‘Dil Bechara’ is about celebrating life and death equally, both on and off screen.
The adaptation of ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ (2014), based on John Green’s best-selling book with the same name, Chhabra’s ‘Dil Bechara’ thankfully doesn’t replicate its predecessors. However, in the process of reinterpreting the story for a new audience, the makers lose out on a lot of key parts. The basic premise is the same: cancer-stricken teens Kizie and Manny learn to embrace love, life and death with each other. But the characterisations are slightly different, which ultimately impacts how the story plays out.
Sushant Singh Rajput plays Immanuel Rajkumar Junior a.k.a. Manny, a young gentleman quite different from Augustus Waters in mannerisms but similar at heart. From his first scene outside high school it is immediately evident that Manny lives his life like a masala film hero. He doesn’t fear oblivion per say, but he does crave to be remembered as a hero. Rajput obviously looks too old to be playing a high school student (a problem that plagues many youth films in Bollywood), so the film justifies it by clarifying that Manny is actually 23 years old, but never explains why he still hasn’t graduated. It doesn’t really matter though, because Rajput effortlessly charms Kizie and the audience. Unsurprising, really, considering how naturally it has come to him ever since his TV days.
Kizie Basu is a lot different than the witty, jaded Hazel. We see a lot of Sanjana Sanghi in this character, who in this version is timid and melancholic. Interestingly, Kizie yearns to be the normal, frivolous teenager that Hazel never had the time of energy for. The push for normalcy in ‘Dil Bechara’ comes from Kizie herself, as opposed to her parents, which is why Mr. and Mrs. Basu deviate from the original as well. Mrs. Basu (Swastika Mukherjee) is a strict, controlling mother who worries too much, while Mr. Basu (Saswata Chatterjee) is the more relaxed, understanding parent. On paper, those are their only characteristics, but Mukherjee and Chatterjee being incredibly good at their craft go beyond these descriptions.
These changes aren’t necessarily deal breakers for an adaptation, but it seems that Chhabra is so enamoured by the love story in ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ that he forgets the central point of the narrative. John Green’s story is about cancer, about the unique predicament of a dying teenager just learning how to live while being forced to confront the futility of life itself. Hazel is constantly dealing with complicated ideas of death and what she will leave behind for the people she loves after she passes. Books, songs and movies are the first step, but this shared vulnerability is what really bonds Hazel and Augustus. In ‘Dil Bechara’, this main thread of the story pushed aside as a side plot. Cancer here is the elephant in the room instead of a daily reality, so the characters only deal with it when required. By softening the corners of the illness, Chhabra loses an important part of the story. As it is, ‘Dil Bechara’ is a pleasant, but superficial love story.
Now on to the love story in question. The first half is a precious, funny glimpse at teenagers falling in love. Rajput’s energy is so infectious, we fall for him the same way Kizie does. Filled with self-aware dialogue-baazi, secret meetings and modern day yearning, it’s all so charmingly filmy. The scenes of Kizie and Manny shooting their own Bhojpuri movie are so fun to watch. Rajput really hams it up for the camera, having the time of his life.
But somewhere in the second half it all becomes disjointed. Conflicts resolve in seconds because the film just wants to move on to the fun parts. Manny’s cancer confession is particularly jarring, as there is no time for the audience to process the severity of the situation. The first kiss that is built up so much in the first half is never really shown, merely suggested through short clips during “Khulke Jeene Ka”. Fans of ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ will also be disappointed to know that there are no equivalents to the airplane confession or the restaurant date in ‘Dil Bechara’. Saif Ali Khan’s cameo, although too brief, is incredibly fun.
Overall, ‘Dil Bechara’ has some great moments. But when the film misses the main point of the story it is aiming to tell, there is only so much a stellar cast and a perfect soundtrack can do. Augustus and Hazel would have made fun of the way cancer is depicted in this film.
There is an incredibly poignant moment in the previous versions of this story, which is sorely missed in ‘Dil Bechara’. At Augustus’ funeral, Hazel suddenly realises that grand speeches, eulogies and social media posts are all for the living, not the dead. Maybe it’s time we realised that too. Rest in peace, Sushant Singh Rajput. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity.
‘Dil Bechara’ is streaming now on Hotstar. It is available free for all globally.