It’s a shame Zero comes undone, because the ambition and the effort is visible. Shah Rukh Khan is especially entertaining in the first half while the script stays on track. But in the end it feels as if the makers threw everything at the wall and decided to see what sticks. Unfortunately, very little does. It’s easy to see what the makers of Zero might have been going for – a story of three ‘damaged’ individuals, and how they end up healing each other. But that idea is buried under the weight of an overwrought screenplay that packs in much more than your patience can handle. By the time the second half kicks in, Zero feels like an entirely different film from the one we were promised.Where’s the small-town, real world charm that has been the strong suit of this writer-director pair since Tanu Weds Manu? How did we land up at a space research facility in America? Why is this film competing with Om Shanti Om to set a record for maximum cameos? These and a dozen other questions were swimming in my head as the film hobbled towards its climax, clocking in at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes. The problem isn’t just that the film is too long. It’s that there are so many scenes that are completely incoherent.
Outlandish in more ways than it can possibly orchestrate without going into frequent tailspins, Aanand L Rai's Zero, a superstar vehicle with wildly wobbly wheels, is a monumental mess. The film possesses a certain scale for sure, the visual effects create the desired illusions and an energetic Shah Rukh Khan lends the vertically challenged male lead a degree of charm and chutzpah but it is let down by a hopelessly muddled screenplay.
Directed by Aanand L Rai, Zero is made for those who don’t fit in. It is a strange film, one that lets Shah Rukh Khan do what he does best — by way of swooning overture — but also a film that takes him where we wouldn’t expect. Zero becomes odder and odder as it goes along, and while the end is impossible to take seriously, the entire film is meant to be a fable. Even in the movies, it takes a misfit to stand out. The first half of Zero is flat-out fantastic, an unabashed charm-offensive from Rai, Khan and the film’s writer Himanshu Sharma. The dialogues crackle with spontaneity and inventiveness. It is as the film continues, and gets more fanciful, that the seams start to show. Rai is aiming high with this fable, but the director’s usual issues show up. The film threatens to become yet another romanticisation of an obsessive hero who refuses to go away and to take no for an answer. Yet there is something fascinating going on here: a woman, tired of a man, literally imposes space on him.
Zero is a fantasy ride that ends up nowhere. From writing to direction and editing, everything has failed the project. If given a chance between Jab Harry Met Sejal and Zero, I would probably go for the former. Yes, it’s that uninspiring. Then there is a talk about normal people, how they feel and how incomplete the characters of Zero are. Nobody seems to realise that the whole conflict of Zero was about feeling ‘normal’ and not differentiate on the basis of physical differences. But that’s Zero’s least of the problems. Things escalate real quick—actually that’s the hallmark of Zero. Anything can happen anytime. In one moment, you’ll see a crowd of Bollywood actresses, including Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and Sridevi, making fun of Bauaa at a party, and in the other, Salman Khan dancing with him on the stage. These 20 minutes kept especially aside for an Om Shanti Om style Bollywood parade, has no contribution whatsoever in the film. It’s probably an afterthought to add more luster. By then, the audience already gives up on any new development.
Zero fails spectacularly at giving us anything we can believe in, and we go from start to finish, with disbelief growing with each passing frame. The trouble with Zero is not just that the mini-me SRK is just SRK minus the inches. Every twitch is familiar: the tousled hair, commonplace air, the regular joe who wears ‘kachcha-banian’. We saw this SRK last in Fan. In that one, we bought him. In Zero, we don’t, because Bauua is always the Hero. The bigger trouble is that the film doesn’t quite know what to do with its characters once it has them. The writing is all over the place, and everything is so choppy, that the characters all appear to float in their own bubbles, without any palpable connection with each other: they talk at each other, not to each other.
I never thought I’d say this, but here goes: Katrina Kaif is the best thing about Zero. If not for her love affair with Jesus Christ, she might have been the best thing about the god-awful Jab Tak Hai Jaan, too – the last movie starring this doomed trio. Kaif has the most able part in a film that thinks disability is merely an accessory designed to enable an actor’s stature. This isn’t all that surprising in an industry where ambition is measured by the pectoral scale of six-pack abs and protein shakes. Bauua Singh is a gimmick, as is (a horribly performed) Afia. Khan tries, but he has clocked way too many years as a witty conversationalist and dream interviewee to reconnect with the craft that put him in those seats.
A Bizarre Story That Leaves You Stumped, And Eventually, Sad. The truth is that I’m still trying to understand Zero. The story begins in Meerut and somehow moves to Mars. It’s so bizarre and implausible and incoherent that I kept wondering if pages in the script went missing or too many scenes were slashed or if I’m just missing the point. There are so many ferociously talented people both in front of the camera and behind it, starting with director Aanand L. Rai, writer Himanshu Sharma and of course superstar Shah Rukh Khan. But I walked out, feeling like Dhritarashtra from the climax of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. I could only ask: yeh sab kya ho raha hai?