Dil Bechara review: Swastika Mukherjee shines in Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film

An inspiring tale is let down by a messy adapted screenplay and below-par performances. Swastika Mukherjee and Saswata Chatterjee’s fine acts are not enough to earn 5 stars for this The Fault In Our Stars [2012] desi remake

Rating: 2.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

It’s not often that you watch a film with a heavy heart.  Dil Bechara [2020] promoted as the ‘last film’ of Sushant Singh Rajput.  Jeez, ‘last’ film. His last film before the ‘last film’ was about Sushant Singh Rajput underlying the value of life, a life that will not be judged by success or failure, but by life itself. To think that after Chhichhore [2019], you’d one day read that Sushant Singh Rajput ended his life, then how hollow can life be. You wish the real was reel, and the reel was real. The tragic reality is yet to sink in.

And with this heavy heart, you watch Dil Bechara [2020] a sentimental love story where if the film’s makers follow the source material to the T, you know what happens in the end.  An official Hindi remake of John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars [2012], later adapted into an American film of the same title, Dil Bechara has an empathetic title.  And Rajput’s shocking demise only built loads of empathy around it.  

Dil Bechara [Oh, you poor heart] . While the title is empathetic, its protagonists Kizie Basu [Sanjana Sanghi] and Immanuel Rajkumar Junior [Rajput] are not looking for any empathy.  Kizie and Manny – as Immanuel is lovingly called – are battling a terminal illness. “We don’t get to decide our birth or death, but how we are going to live our lives, that is entirely upon us,” Manny tells Kizie.  This inspirational quote forms the genesis of this sentimental love story.

Perhaps, Dil Bechara is a slightly loose title, but as first-time director Mukesh Chhabra said in his media interviews, the previous title Kizie Aur Manny wasn’t catchy enough.

 ‘Adapt to Indian sensibilities’ – we often hear Indian filmmakers beat this tune when they take inspiration from the foreign scripts. Fortunately, or unfortunately. populist cinema, in particularly Bollywood, is now a part of this Indian sensibility.

Chhabra and his screenwriters Shashank Khaitan and Suprotim Sengupta dumped the literature theme from the original and incorporated the desi love for cinema, music into Dil Bechara. Set in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, we have Kizie Basu who loves endearing music and is a big fan of forlorn musician, songwriter Abhimanyu Veer [Saif Ali Khan].  In contrast, Jamshedpur-born Tamilian Manny loves Rajinikanth and his over-the-top action thrillers from Tamil cinema, popularly known as Kollywood.  There’s Jagdish Pandey a.k.a JP [Sahil Vaid], Manny’s cheesy Bihari mate who dreams to make a Bhojpuri film before he loses his vision.

While Indian audiences love the filmi characters, but were they required for a sentimental love story like Dil Bechara?  In their bid to stand out from the original, Khaitan and Sengupta are guilty of giving a faulty screenplay for this The Fault in Our Stars [2012] desi remake.

The opening archival [Instagram] visual of Rajput playing the guitar, and one of his metaphorical #selfmusing, fills your heart with emotion, but once the fiction begins, there are very few moments that move you.  Josh Boone’s The Fault In Our Stars [2014] stood out for its simple, engaging narrative and top notch performances by Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Willem Dafoe.   While we are against a rehash, but Khaitan and Sengupta have failed to match up to the creative soul of the American film.  

Given the tragedy, reviewers are perhaps under pressure to speak their mind.  Sushant Singh Raput was an honest artiste. If he was alive today, he would have welcome the CONSTRUCTIVE criticism than any sycophancy or sentimental review. Sadly, Rajput looks unconvincing in this Jharkhand-born Tamilian avatar.  If your film is largely set in Jharkhand, then why have a forced national integration theory?  

A Bihari himself, Rajput struggles hard to bring the Tamilian out in this Jharkhand-based character. He played a gentleman in Chhichhore [2019] but ironically, Immanuel Rajkumar Junior strikes you as a bit of chhichhora [flirtatious in the context of this film] in Dil Bechara.  We see glimpses of the natural actor in the later half, but then it contradicts the earlier projection. The fault here lies with the characterization, and not Rajput.

Sanjana Sanghi had first faced the camera when she played Nargis Fakhri’s little sister Mandy in Rockstar [2012]. It appears as though she’s carried the ‘faulty’ genes (no disrespect to anybody with serious ailments] into her maiden role as a lead.  And just like Fakhri then, the young girl, too, looks under cooked.  She shows some promise in the beginning but as the film moves on, the wheels just come off for the Delhi girl [Sanghi].  Kizie is introduced as a girl who comforts bereaved souls at funerals, but that’s the first time she has met them. Strange indeed but the character does enlighten us with its meaning. Kizie, a Zambian name that means ‘sticky’. The cancer is clinging on to the girl like a kizie, but one is unlikely to be glued to Sanghi’s act here.

With the male lead out of form, and the female lead looking shaky, Dil Bechara is saved from being a big bore by the endearing performance of Swastika Mukherjee and Saswata Chatterjee.  Chhabra got this casting right here. The cherubic faces of Sanghi, Chatterjee and Mukherjee make them look like a genuine family.  Mukherjee is impeccable as Mrs. Basu, the emotionally strong, assertive, protective mother of Kizie. Sanghi’s few best moments come when she shares the screen with Mukherjee.  In fact, Kizie’s chemistry with her parents produces the best moments of the film.  The film loses steam once Kizie, Manny and Mrs. Basu land in Paris.  But the stifled presence of Mukherjee in Paris further jolts the film. 

Saif Ali Khan’s no Peter Van Houten [Willem Dafoe’s character in the American film], but the seasoned actor’s Abhimanyu Veer character is poorly scripted and grossly underutilized.

The hallmark of the American film were the events that unfold in Amsterdam.  For this reviewer, the most adorable scene in The Fault In Our Stars [2014] was the Hazel [Woodley] and Gus [Ansel Elgort] dinner date, paid by Van Houten at a plush Amsterdam restaurant.  The young lovers are getting a first taste of such fine dining, but the humble waiter’s [played by Jean Brassard] hospitality makes it a memorable evening for Gus and Hazel.  The sweet waiter explains to the couple how the wines at their restaurant taste like stars.  After a peg, Hazel tells the humble waiter “we’ll be needing more of this”, the classy waiter replies, “ Then I will have all the stars bottled for you tonight”.  Unfortunately, Kizie and Manny are denied such wonderful hospitality in Paris.   The Indian writers are guilty of rushed writing with the film going flat in the later half.

Yours truly hasn’t read John Green’s book, but Josh Boone’ s The Fault In Our Stars, too had its cons. Like Dil Bechara, your reviewer wasn’t impressed with the male lead Algort and supporting artiste Nat Wolf’s performances. Wolf had played Gus’ best pal Issac.  Dil Bechara had Sahil Vaid stepping into Wolf’s shoes and he was as disappointing as the American.  

Sushant, Sanjana, Swastika, Saswata, Saif, Sunit (Tandon), Shashank, Supratim! Phew! you hope this is a mere coincidence that the principal cast and the screenwriters all have their first name beginning with the letter S.  It’s a miracle then how Mukesh Chhabra fitted into the ‘S’-cheme of things here.

Coming back to The Fault In Our Stars [2014], one felt it was the Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern show that drove the Hollywood film.  While certain artistes disappointed, but Boone’s film stuck to the core essence of Green’s story – embracing life through any adversity.  While the story ought to ignite hope, inspire people battling terminal illness, Boone didn’t lose sight of the grim reality that Hazel, Gus and their respective families were facing.  We don’t get a sense of the grim inevitability in Dil Bechara.

Dil Bechara is largely disappointing but A.R. Rahman’s fine music lifts your sagging spirits.

You feel for Mukesh Chhabra for he is let down by a weak adapted screenplay, but as the captain of the ship, the onus lied on him to take it out of the choppy waters. Unfortunately, Chhabra disappoints in his directorial debut.

Dil Bechara [2020] maybe his last film but for us, it’s still his lofty strikes in M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story [2016] and the valiant effort in a losing cause in Chhichhore [2019] that will define the legacy of Sushant Singh Rajput.

Dil Bechara [2020] is currently streaming on Disney Hotstar.

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