As we sit down to watch Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film, let us leave behind the controversies and primetime debates to celebrate the actor and his art.
"Pain demands to be felt."
Hazel's favourite book from The Fault in Our Stars did not make it to Dil Bechara, but its famous line holds true as we sit down and watch Sushant Singh Rajput one last time. The last time he makes an 'entry', the last time he sings and dances, the last time he woos the leading lady, the last time he breaks down, unable to take the weight of it all.
Watch the trailer of 'Dil Bechara' here
There is no doubt that Dil Bechara's viewership this Friday evening would break more than a few records. The film has been made available for free, as a tribute to the actor. The millions who will be watching the film are looking for something more sublime and ephemeral than entertainment – they are perhaps searching for catharsis. And amid the open animus and deep schisms, perhaps art can be the only salve. Dil Bechara is a celebration of Sushant and the deep love that brought him to Mumbai, and made him a star. The film is about the millions of fans who are bidding goodbye to their loved one, beyond the hostility and bitter primetime debates.
Sushant plays Emmanuel Rajkumar Jr, or Manny, whose life was just 'touched' by osteosarcoma. He enters the films backside first, engrossed in his 'worship' of Rajinikanth. Sensitive, sexy and smart – all at the same time – he manages to pull Sanjana Sanghi's Kizie Basu out of the stupor she has fallen into. A cancer patient herself, Kizie's constant companions are her oxygen cylinder – nicknamed Pushpinder – that she lugs around, and her concerned parents (played by Swastika Mukherjee and Saswata Chaterjee).
As the camera captures Jamshedpur in all its beauty, Kizie and Manny's low-key courtship happens over Thalaiva's movies and an incomplete music album. Kizie believes she has found a kindred soul in the album's creator, Abhimanyu Veer, who went AWOL years ago. Manny finds him for her and wins over her parents and her doctor's objections so that they can go and visit the musician in Paris.
The film veers away from its source material, the John Green novel, and its largely faithful Hollywood adaptation, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Adapted by Shashank Khaitan and Suprotim Sengupta, the script loses the novel's acerbic humour and its hyper-verbal but self-aware leads. If The Fault in Our Stars was a YA cancer drama about two people who refuse to take any of the platitudes seriously, Dil Bechara is primarily a romance of two star-crossed lovers.
The film's message of laughing in the face of death is bittersweet and poignant. A dialogue about suicide actually made me wince. I would, however, prefer to remember Dil Bechara for Sushant telling the world, "Janam kab lena hai aur marna kab hai yeh hum decide nehi kar sakte, lekin kaise jeena hai woh toh hum decide kar sakte hai". It is this message of hope I intend to take away from the film.
In Sanjana, Dil Bechara has found a confident actor who keeps Kizie natural and engaging. Both Saswata and Swastika bring depth to their performances as parents hovering over their daughter, worrying what tomorrow might bring. Debutant director Mukesh Chhabra is yet to find his distinctive cinematic style and the film does miss a few steps.
Would I call this Sushant's best performance? No, I will not. I remember sitting stunned in a theatre as I watched him as Lakhna in Sonchiriya, a 'baaghi' mulling over the concept of justice in the unforgiving ravines of Chambal. I still marvel at his transformation in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story when I had to remind myself that I was watching an actor playing the cricketer in that 3-hour-40-minute drama. And then there was the wet-behind-the-ears Byomkesh Bakshy, whose adventures were cut short by a heartless box office. Having said that, Manny will always be special to me and to you. Because this is the last time we will see Sushant, a talented young man with stars in his eyes, telling us a new story.