Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Sarah-Jane Dias, Manish Choudhary, Raaghav Chanana, Harmehroz Singh, Meghna Malik
Debutant director Mozez Singh’s Zubaan, a movie about a dirt-poor boy in the quest to find success who eventually questions his own choices in this part-time song-and-dance musical was made after Singh waited nine years to make his dream project. He didn’t want to compromise the way he wanted to treat it. And, it shows. Given the resources, Singh’s treatment is very fresh and urban.
Zubaan is a rags to riches story of Dilsher (Vicky Kaushal), a Sikh boy from an impoverished family who gets bullied as a child for his stuttering but has dreams of making it big in life. When he grows up, he leaves for Delhi in search of a ruthless, wealthy tycoon Gurcharan Sikand (Manish Chaudhari) who many moons ago had given the young Dilsher his pen, along with some sound life advice about how the only person he’ll ever be able to rely on is himself.
Gurcharan, a self-made man also known as the ‘Lion of Gurdaspur’ hails from the same hometown as Dilsher and the latter carefully plans and beats up a higher-ranking employee of the security company he works for so that he can be replaced as Sikand’s security personnel instead. He shrewdly intervenes and solves a labor dispute plus lies about his relationship with his uncle (Rajeev Gaur Singh) whom Sikand has a dark past with, and soon finds himself in the good books of Sikand – much to the chagrin of Gurcharan’s son and heir, Surya (theater actor Raaghav Chanana) and his spoiled trophy wife Mandira (Meghna Malik).
Surya is a handsome, well-spoken and enthusiastic businessman who craves for Gurcharan’s fatherly love and affection but only gets stoic silence and insult in return. It becomes clear that Gurcharan prefers the rustic village boy with dreams in his eyes more than his son for reasons one can find out only towards the end of the film. A jealous Surya and an ambitious Dilsher, two diametrically opposite men, vying for the same man’s attention soon enough makes an enemy out of each other – and this ongoing clash leads Dilsher towards a beautiful singer named Amira (Sarah Jane Dias), who has her own family tragedy to deal with. She invites him to a musical/artistic therapeutic memorial desert retreat, where she makes Dilsher realise that he doesn’t stammer while singing and that might just be his true calling.
Masaan star Kaushal definitely carries the entire film ably on his shoulders. The boy has the unique ability of emoting and speaking through his eyes alone. Kaushal, a punjabi himself, has got the Gurdaspur dialect and body language bang on. His stammering is believable and extremely praiseworthy – you end up noticing that Dilsher stammers most while pronouncing the letter ‘g’, Gurdaspur for example. Sarah Jane Dias as the boho chick looks stunning and pleasantly surprises us with her whole hippy vibe. She’s suddenly in experimental mode as an actor after Angry Young Goddesses and Zubaan, and that’s a refreshing to see. There are some sweet moments between the two, like one scene where the village bumpkin Dilsher comes to meet the complete opposite chic Amira with a bunch of bananas and says ‘khali haath thodi ata’ or where they share their first kiss purely because of their shared passion for music. Kaushal particularly stands out in a fight sequence where he mercilessly gets beaten up by hired goons till he finally decides to stagger, slip in his own blood and yet manage to give them back a few punches.
Even though you know Dilsher is a clever and manipulative opportunist, you still you feel like rooting for this small town boy with big-city dreams – until his world comes crashing down realizing he was used as a pawn all along. Kaushal’s nuanced portrayal has been ably supported by Chaudhari as the stern and shrewd industrialist with humble roots, Chanana as the sophisticated and educated rich boy stuck in a royally screwed up family, Malik as the Sikand matriarch and child actor Harmehroz Singh who plays the young Dilsher.
Singh who had previously written and produced the 2004 movie White Noise has done well at the technical level. The music by Ashu Pathak is infectious, very non-Bollywood yet foot tapping, especially Music is my art, Kori Pukaar, Dhoop ki zubaan and Aaj saanu o mileya, but Uma-Gaiti’s choreography is average and some songs look like over stylized pop music videos. Internationally famous choreographers-dancers Les Twins in Kori Pukaar oddly reminiscences you of the two dancers in Oh pardesi from Dev D.
The movie had the potential to be even better, with a more even storyline and better editing but that is more than made up by Swapnil S. Sonawane’s gorgeous cinematography, especially his widescreen compositions. We get to see striking visuals every now and then, especially that one bird’s eye shot of an intoxicated Amira lying down on a bed in the middle of an artificial pool surrounded by tiny lights. Dhoop ki zubaan has sweeping visual moments in the desert that’s a treat for the sore eyes. Khyatee Kanchan’s production design is worth a mention because detailing has been kept in mind while setting up Dilsher’s shanty as a child to his privileged home as an adult and Sikand’s sophisticated, glass-walled, carpeted multinational office space. The movie has been shot all across Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Mumbai, and thumbs up for the strong location work done, especially for the sequences shot in Rajasthan’s Sambar desert.
At 115 minutes duration, this unconventional story is crisp and the first half steals the show. The second half is slow at parts and seems tad rushed towards the end. Singh has the necessary chutzpah and the potential to do bigger and better things – like be a more fluid and polished storyteller. It’s good that there are producers like Guneet Monga who produces high in content movies like The Lunchbox, Masaan and now, Zubaan. In the end, it makes us realise that there’s a Dilsher in all of us and we must get out of your comfort zones to finally search our true calling.