Review: Veer-Zaara (2004)


Director: Yash Chopra | 192 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, Manoj Bajpai, Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Anupam Kher, Boman Irani, Divya Dutta

The Bollywood film Veer-Zaara basically has a good starting point and a lot of (dramatic) potential, but unfortunately has a disappointing effect. With a more carefully constructed, and above all more subtle script, this could perhaps have become a minor genre classic. In its current form it is only a reasonably competent film, with more than enough pros, but also some disturbing cons, which prevent the film from its (potential) greatness.

The film aims to tell a moving story about forbidden, but transcendent love, with the gravitas and resonance of a Romeo and Juliet. It turns out that Veer has been in prison for Zaara for 22 years. When you hear this as a viewer at the beginning of the film, you expect to see a story (in the flashbacks) of great love that indeed transcends everything. However, we never really feel the depth of their love.

Now there are certainly well-conceived (love) moments in the film. When Veer rescues Zaara, he accompanies her for a day on her mission to scatter the ashes of her recently deceased foster mother in India, where she was born. Especially this specific moment, where they both hold the urn, is very effective. It creates a bond (both friendly and romantic) between the two, and the segment by the river, where she has to ask the Sikhs’ permission, is also religiously fraternizing. Zaara is a Muslim (but her foster mother Sikh), and it remains to be seen whether the Sikhs grant her wish.

This scattering scene is beautiful and clearly lays a romantic foundation for the rest of their (eventual) relationship. Unfortunately, there are relatively few such moments in the film. Too much time is spent on cute songs instead of clearly developing their love.

Only when Zaara is back home (in Pakistan) to marry her assigned husband, does she suddenly devote herself to (the memories of) Veer. Especially because Veer had said just before they said goodbye that he would give his life for her. However, is that enough motivation to give your life for him too? While this turnaround and dedication is a bit sudden, it’s not the film’s main problem. We can still somewhat imagine that they are really both madly in love, as their actions suggest later in the film. No, what’s most annoying about the movie is the fact that the inspiring theme of the movie is so explicitly presented, and hammered into the viewer in such a way, that he tends to scream: OK, we get it !. The moment at the river was still acceptable. The point has been made: India and Pakistan need to fraternize, as do different religions. However, these points come up again and again. Especially the end, which takes place in court, takes the cake. Grand speeches about fraternization, A judge who apologizes, the prosecutor who suddenly sees the light of fraternity between nations, and respect for women (in this case a female lawyer). He promptly quits his work as a lawyer. This ending is really devastating. Incidentally, the theme of equality for women had already been discussed in an absurd way at Veer’s home. His foster father shows his school project to Zaara, when he remarks (very boldly) that there are only high schools for men, while the women are kept stupid. The foster father takes it wonderfully. That same evening, he even laid the foundation stone for a girls’ school. Please say. And on his farewell he pays a compliment to her parents and upbringing, so that he could now see the light.

It is also disturbing that a large number of emotional moments are emphasized by very prominent music or sound cues. Sometimes it just gets laughable when there is an intense look accompanied by an orchestral thump or violent violin playing.

It is certainly not the case that the film has become rubbish. The above objections may not be equally important for everyone. Those who are less distracted by these aspects will enjoy a beautiful and compelling romantic (melo) drama. The musical interludes are generally enjoyable. For example, Zaara’s first dance number (I am how I am) is wonderfully cheerful, and the song at the time of the two’s first reunion, at Zaara’s wedding, is a beautiful piece of drama, with expressive rain and dynamic camerawork.

The actors are also doing well. Preity Zinta is radiant as Zaara, although she is a bit popped and has not much range. Shah Rukh Khan is competent and clearly an experienced player. A beautiful scene (both in terms of dialogue and acting), is the one in which he promises Zaara’s mother not to take her against her (mother’s) will (because the life and honor of her father are at stake). This whole element, in which Zaara also makes concessions to her father, is a well-handled dramatic fact. However, it is mainly the supporting actors who make an impression, also because of the nice dialogue they have to engage in. Zaara’s mother and sister are very entertaining and dramatically effective as (over) concerned family members. Zaara’s father shows to be a strict, yet likeable man, who clearly loves his daughter. He simply cannot get around his traditions that easily. Veer’s foster parents are also a joy to watch. Especially the foster father (played by the respected and experienced actor Amitabh Batchan) is a “scene stealer”. His passing remarks and the teasing between him and his wife give the film some needed spontaneity. Rani Mukherjee gives a very good and nuanced interpretation of the role of the lawyer who must exonerate Veer. It is a pity that an actress of her caliber does not get more to do. A starring role for her next time?