Review: Veer-Zara (2004)

Veer-Zara (2004)

Directed by: 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-Zara basically has a good starting point and a lot of (dramatic) potential, but is unfortunately disappointingly developed. With a more carefully constructed, and above all more subtle script, this could have become a minor genre classic. As it stands, it’s just a fairly competent film, with plenty of pros, but also some disturbing cons, which hinder the film’s (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 22 years for Zaara. 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 all. However, we never really feel the depth of their love.

There are certainly well-captured (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 particular moment, where they both hold the urn, is very effective. It creates a bond (both friendly and romantic) between the two, and the river segment, where she has to ask permission from the Sikhs, is also religiously fraternizing. Zaara is a Muslim (but her foster mother is Sikh), and it remains to be seen whether the Sikhs grant her wish.

This scatter scene is beautiful and clearly lays a romantic foundation for the rest of their (if any) relationship. Unfortunately, there are relatively few such moments in the film. Too much time is spent on cute songs rather than on an obvious development of their love.

Only when Zaara is back at home (in Pakistan) to marry her assigned husband, does she suddenly throw herself fully into (the memories of) Veer. Especially because Veer had said just before their goodbyes 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 biggest problem. We can still somewhat imagine that they are both madly in love, as their actions later in the film suggest. No, what’s most annoying about the film is the fact that the inspirational theme of the film is brought out so explicitly, and so hammered into the viewer, that he tends to yell out, OK, we get it. !. The moment at the river was still acceptable. The point is made: India and Pakistan should fraternize, just like different religions. However, these points come up again and again. Especially the ending, which takes place in court, takes the cake. Grand speeches about fraternization, A judge who apologizes, the prosecutor who suddenly sees the light about fraternization between peoples, and respect for women (in this case a female lawyer). He promptly quits his work as a lawyer. This ending is truly terrifying. Incidentally, the theme of equality for women had already been discussed absurdly at Veer’s home. His foster father shows his school project to Zaara, when the latter (very cheekily) remarks that there are only high schools for men, while the women are kept stupid. The foster father takes it wonderfully well. That same evening he even lays the foundation stone for a girls’ school. Please say. And when he says goodbye, he gives a compliment to her parents and upbringing, so that he could now see the light.

Furthermore, it is disturbing that quite a few emotional moments are emphasized by very prominent music or sound cues. Sometimes it just becomes laughable when another intense look is accompanied by an orchestral thump or heavy violin playing.

It is certainly not the case that the film has become a sham. The above objections may not weigh equally heavily for everyone. Those who are less distracted by these aspects will be able to enjoy a beautiful and compelling romantic (melo)drama. The musical intermezzos 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 pair’s first reunion, at Zaara’s wedding, is a beautiful piece of drama, with expressive rain and dynamic camera work.

The actors are also doing well. Preity Zinta is radiant like Zaara, although she is a bit poppy and doesn’t really have much reach. Shah Rukh Khan is competent and clearly an experienced player. A beautiful scene (both in dialogue and acting), is the one in which he promises Zaara’s mother not to take her against her (mothers) (her father’s life and honor 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 impress, also because of the nice dialogue they get to use. Zaara’s mother and sister are very entertaining and dramatically effective as (over)anxious relatives. Zaara’s father shows that he is a strict, yet sympathetic man, who clearly loves his daughter. He just can’t get around his traditions that easily. Veer’s foster parents are also a joy to watch. The foster father (played by the respected and experienced actor Amitabh Batchan) in particular is a “scene-stealer”. His passing comments 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 has to exonerate Veer. It’s a shame that an actress of her caliber doesn’t get more to do. A starring role for her, next time?

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