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Dil Bechara Review: A decent love story that tries too much to reinvent itself.

Rachit Raj

A dreamy idea of fiction in Dil Bechara, Mukesh Chhabra’s directorial debut, meets a tragic truth in the face of the late Sushant Singh Rajput, the actor who lights up the screen in his final film, that speaks about love, death and everything in between. An official remake of The Fault in Our Stars a novel by John Green, and the Hollywood movie of the same name, Dil Bechara is a largely honest interpretation of the tragic love story in an Indian setting.

Starring Rajput (Immanuel Rajkumar Junior) and Sanjana Sanghi (Kizie Basu), as the lead lovers, the film is designed as a fairy-tale placed in the very realistic setting of small-town India. The core of the film is retained from the novel, with minor changes. The two leads are suffering in their own way, and in the middle of the realism of their suffering, a magical love story finds its heart, blossomed by the enigmatic music of A. R. Rahman.

Right at its core, Dil Bechara does not have a novel story to tell. The characters, too, seem dated. Immanuel seems like a rebirth of Aman (Shah Rukh Khan) from Kal Ho Naa Ho, a fitting tribute to Khan’s charming presence given how big of a fan Rajput was of him. Kizie, the lesser developed character of the two, is the clichéd image of a terminally ill character. On paper, the film should not work. The memory of the English film is still fresh, and despite its success, the film — the novel that preceded it — does not have a lot to offer beyond a manipulative teary teen romance.

Yet, somehow Dil Bechara seems to work, at least in pieces if not in entirety. It is a bumpy ride, an imperfect melody, but eventually an enjoyable affair. It is impossible to not think of the off-screen demise of Rajput as you see him on screen, playing a character that plays a perfect embodiment of a shooting star here. It gives the film a sense of depth, a layer that one might easily assume to be a part of the film. A lot of scenes are amplified when looked at from the circumstances that have carpeted our emotions in the last few weeks.

The screenplay, adapted by Shashank Khaitan and Suprotim Sengupta, manages to hold on to the emotions of the original work by doing something more with the larger structure. The art of adapting a work of art that belongs to a different culture is not only in placing it in a localized world, but also giving it the texture of the world it is being adapted into. It is here that the writers of Dil Bechara triumph.

In realizing how Bollywood-esque this story is at its core, they give it the look of a tested commercial film. In a creative decision that does not always work, there is a film within a film that shows the clichés of a Hindi film being played out against a peppy song, while the “real” in the film plays out on a different, more somber tone.

The film plays out these two imageries as a reflection of two different ways the Hindi film industry would tackle a story like this. One is robbed from repeated actions — a Rajnikant fight sequence, the Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge homage (which found its way in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan too, earlier in the year) — and the other is infused with soft moments of love, again robbed but, toned to match the truth of Manny and Kizie.

However, the film is hit hard by the poor writing of Kizie’s character. Unlike the novel and the Hollywood interpretation, where the girls’ obsession with a novel’s abrupt end, and her quest to find answers about the future of those characters, makes sense against the broader thematic value of the narrative, that very pivotal section of the film feels forced and half-baked here. Kizie never breaks beyond her clichés, and while Sanjana Sanghvi is effective in her first major role, she is unable to hide the writing limitations of the character she plays.

For someone who has seen the English version, Dil Bechara has little to offer, and the points where the narrative shifts from the novel, are largely unconvincing. Mukesh Chhabra directs his first film commendably, though. He handles the delicate moments well and ensures that he is able to churn out the right emotions from the moments that matter. The church eulogy by Kizie, with Manny gazing at her, is especially effective, if not seen from the comparative lens.

Eventually, though, Dil Bechara belongs to two men — A. R. Rahman and Sushant Singh Rajput. Rahman delivers a stellar soundtrack and background score here, elevating the little moments in the film beyond their visual potential. However, eventually, it all comes down to the charming performance by Sushant Singh Rajput in what turns out to be his final film. He begins a little too forcefully but settles well into the skin of Manny, a character who is constantly chirping with enthusiasm, hanging on the edge of becoming annoying, but always remaining charming. To see him with the realization of his demise is both painful as well as poignant. Dil Bechara becomes all about him, and it is his presence, his performance that drives the film to safer shores when the narrative starts to turn patchy at times.

Dil Bechara is a tough film to watch, but thankfully it is not an entirely unworthy one. It provides us a chance to say our final goodbye to Sushant Singh Rajput, while remaining a decent love story that tries a little too much to reinvent itself within the set structure of the novel it is adapted from, succeeding and failing in equal measure in the pursuit.

Now Streaming on Disney + Hotstar

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Alternate Take

Alternate Take

A space for reviews, retrospectives, analyses, interviews around all things cinema, standing left of the field.