Dear Zindagi (in English, Dear Life) is not exactly a new movie, but it touched me the most this year. I watched it in February for the first time upon the recommendation of one of my best friends Shashi, and I watched it two more times since then and recommended it to several people in my life.  

What’s refreshing about this movie is that it’s not a typical boy-meets-girl Bollywood story. No dances with the hero and heroine singing love songs. However, that’s not the reason why the movie is special. The movie talks about a topic that’s generally taboo in Indian society. The movie talks about seeking professional help for emotional crises and behavioral issues, and not just serious psychiatric disorders. In Indian society, people generally don’t seek therapy for behavioral issues and they may go see a psychiatrist for serious mental health illnesses when they really get out of hand. Emotional crises are considered just that – things that will blow over and not worth talking about once they are over. There’s something else too that’s unusual about this movie. It talks about commitment conflicts in a young woman. For a society in which arranged marriage is still the most common way of getting married, a young woman with commitment conflicts and relationship issues is a ‘bad woman’. Forget about giving her any benefit of doubt.

The movie does a great job of telling her story in a very sensitive manner. That too with popular actors (Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt) in a beautiful place like Goa. The young woman, Kaayra, is an up and coming cinematographer who wants to shoot her own short film soon in her career. She sees Dr. Jehangir Khan by chance when she happens to be waiting at the door of a hotel conference room and gets interested in what he is saying about psychotherapy, and decides to seek his professional help because she finds herself emotionally broken. The movie shows how her therapist helps her work through her own emotions in a nonjudgmental helpful manner. There’s a bit of a poetic license in there because therapists don’t conduct sessions outdoors and they do not share their own personal stories with their clients. (Who wouldn’t want to get therapy from a hot-looking, kind, single therapist who conducts a session or two on the beach?) Transference and countertransference are portrayed in a very sensitive manner. There are songs (what’s a desi movie without songs) which are sweet and lovely.

I am not much of a movie watcher and the only other movies I have seen that showcase psychoanalysis are the comedies ‘Analyze this’ and ‘Analyze that’ with Billy Crystal as the psychiatrist and Robert de Niro as the gangster who wants to leave mob life. As much fun as they are, they don’t necessarily have a message for the society at large. Dear Zindagi makes the audiences aware that there are professional ‘brain doctors’ and the maid in the movie who learns this for the first time in her life says with a smile that everyone probably needs one. Because the topic is taboo in Indian society and because there is a lot of ignorance related to behavioral health and mental health issues, having a mainstream movie like this is much needed. Movies like these accelerate social change.

Overall, it’s a fun movie with a helpful message for the society. Double thumbs up.

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