At the very beginning of his career, after having delivered duds like Strangers and Thodi Life Thoda Magic in succession, no one had an inkling that the coming years would see Aanand L Rai as a powerhouse in Bollywood. That Aanand L Rai would weave magic with his talent and films was something that was beyond imagination at the time. The mega success of his three consecutive films – Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhanaa and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, changed the equation and took him to a pedestal where he became the cynosure of all eyes. The rise was both astronomical and phenomenal, and his subsequent foray into the production arena only made him reach dizzying heights. Films like Nil Battey Sannata, Happy Bhag Jayegi, Newton, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Mukkabaaz and Tumbbad, which credited him as producer, made him a force to reckon with.
When Zero was announced, there was very little scepticism involved. All doubts were laid to rest about its ability to succeed as it brought together two industry heavyweights. But it seems like Rai’s signing of superstar Shah Rukh Khan (or maybe the other way round?) for his directorial venture changed many things, just as things changed for directors like Imtiaz Ali, Rahul Dholakia and also to an extent, Gauri Shinde (with whose film Hello Zindagi, I associate superficiality). The launch of the film was announced with much fanfare and full page ads, set images were leaked, a teaser of the song featuring Salman and Shah Rukh gyrating together was launched on the day of Eid and to top it all off, the news of Salman doing a cameo made it to the headlines. In other words, Aanand L Rai who in the past had never resorted to such tactics for his films, must have presumably been forced to resort to said gimmicks. The constant adulation on social media platforms between the director and its crew members too became nauseating after a point of time. The hidden message was loud and clear: Zero is a film that features one of the superstars of the country and thus, everything needs to be in excess. Rai seemed submissive in the entire process.
A viewing of Zero clearly reveals that Rai has compromised his craft to cater to SRK’s sensibility. A director who is much revered for his earthiness and ability to capture the hinterland in all its glory and beauty, has completely faltered and how with Zero. It’s bizarre to notice that none of the sparks that have made Rai the director he is, are visible in his current film. Despite the hard work put in by the film’s leading star, the film seems incoherent, and one sometimes assumes that the script may have lost a few pages in between while the film was being shot. Rai is one of those filmmakers from the industry who is not known to compromise on his craft and thus Zero unsettles you even more.