2020 film review by Laxmi Parmeswar MA MS LPC
(A woman, daughter, sister, US immigrant, wife, mother, and licensed family therapist)
There seems to be a lot of buzz in India and in International Markets about "Dear Zindagi". I just wanted to pen my critique as a moviegoer, wearing the hat of a licensed family therapist practicing in the US for 25+ years. My impressions are also influenced by my clinical/therapeutic work in India (Mumbai, Bangalore and Baroda) for 7 years (2007 to 2014).
The movie begins with some promise, addressing the stigmatization of seeking treatment for emotional problems but quickly becomes Bollywood's version of glamorizing the field of mental health, especially therapy!!
Alia's incapacity to form and sustain meaningful relationships is handled poorly and in a unidimensional way. There was a missed opportunity to tell a tale of childhood abandonment in a nuanced way focusing on contemporary families struggling with the competing goals of economic advancement and family harmony. The sibling connection/contrast was jarringly flawed and inauthentic.
While the portrayal of Sharukh's therapeutic style as unusual was refreshing, his self-disclosure in the therapeutic setting was inappropriate, bordering on violating professional boundaries. The most impressive aspect of the movie was the handling of transference and counter transference. Alia's attraction to her therapist was handled well and Shahrukh's countertransference was especially addressed with subtlety and grace in the last scene between them.
While the decision to terminate treatment typically rests with the client, his "abandoning/terminating" with her, given her history of abandonment, symbolizes a weak script, despite redeeming performances by Alia and Shahrukh. Of particular significance is the "awkward chemistry" between the two characters and both actors did well in their respective roles.
And finally, it was gratifying to watch "storytelling" as a powerful tool in the therapeutic process. It is my hope that the field of mental health in India will train its young professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, etc) to use metaphors and stories to break barriers in client resistance and provide effective "insight-oriented" treatment, IN ADDITION to REBT and cognitive behavioral approaches. The Indian culture, like most eastern cultures is rooted in small communities and neighborhoods thriving on metaphors and storytelling and we need to claim it in our treatment interventions.
Not a 'must-see movie' but one that helps start an important and much-needed conversation ....,