Although quite shallow in its telling, it is hard to look at Manny the character, and not Sushant the actor, and be part of this utterly strange experience
Watching Dil Bechara is an inadvertently surreal experience. How often does fiction become so hyperreal? Actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who died by suicide last month, plays a terminally-ill character in the film, Immanuel Rajkumar Junior or Manny, and we know how this tragedy is going to pan out, in both real life and on-screen, because of the film’s source material, The Fault in Our Stars.
The film — Singh’s only posthumous release — showcases him as an ebullient young boy, who is aware that the end is near but perseveres to live in the moment. He teaches Kizie Basu (Sanjana Sanghi), his girlfriend, who has thyroid cancer, to do the same. In the end, as the narrative pays a teary-eyed tribute to Manny, it is hard to detach the sequence from Singh’s reality, and the co-relation is affecting and absurd, to say the least.
As a film, however, Dil Bechara lacks depth and the feeling of fragility that is at the centre of a story like this. A very truthful Indian adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, Dil Bechara even borrows some dialogues (although translated) from the original, in addition to scenes and character traits.
- Director: Mukesh Chhabra
- Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Sanjana Sanghi, Saif Ali Khan, Saswata Chatterjee, Swastika Mukherjee
- Runtime: 101 minutes
- Storyline: Manny, a cancer patient, helps Kizie, who has thyroid cancer fulfil her dream of going to Paris
But Mukesh Chhabra’s rendition is hurried and doesn’t allow some very fundamental relationships to build, like that of Kizie and her parents, which makes her character very one-dimensional. Saswata Chatterjee and Swastika Mukherjee, who play their parts with conviction, aren’t given much to do as parents of a terminally-ill child.
There’s a certain rush in the narrative, which leaves out crucial moments required to make a film like Dil Bechara pensive, and perhaps, even meditative. For instance, the film seldom addresses the philosophical questions of death, life and destiny, and how to grapple with an inevitable ending that both these characters have been dealing with almost all their lives. Dil Bechara, instead, relies on the age-old tools of sentimental background score to compensate for its inadequacy in characterisation, and the film appears to be a sequence of incidents, rather than a peek into full lives.
Beyond its portrayal of morality, the film is fundamentally a coming-of-age for Kizie, prompted by the presence of Manny. While the character of Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars is irrationally holding onto a novel’s ending for purpose, Kizie is given an album, but the film doesn’t do much with it. Even their trip to Paris is rushed and fairly inconsequential, making the coming-of-age aspect of Dil Bechara its weakest link.
While Manny is supposed to be the one who teaches Kizie to find hope and fulfilment, even if her days are numbered, he comes across as a caricature and isn’t given enough backing to be the way he is. But the film is more than Manny. It’s about Singh and the life he lived.
Even though the film was supposed to release earlier and was delayed due to several reasons including an allegation of sexual harassment against Chhabra, which was later reportedly cleared upon enquiry, there is a melancholic relevance to it. Had it been under different circumstances, the way one would look at this film would have perhaps been much different. But its hard to look at Manny, the character, and not, Sushant, the actor, and be part of this utterly strange experience, where reality is much more moving than fiction.
Dil Bechara is currently streaming for free on Disney+ Hotstar