The much hyped, so called sci-fi romantic drama, Zero actually fails to ‘zero in’ on anything as the viewer is unable to understand what the movie actually is all about. It fails to impress the audience as a love story, neither can we call it science fiction nor does it succeed to give any social message. Everything seems to be half-cooked and half-baked.

It is commendable that a much awaited and a positive new trend has percolated in Indian cinema in portrayal of characters from all sections of society leaving no one behind.

At the superficial level and as shown in the teasers, it may appear that the movie deals with disability. The story line definitely weaves around characters with disabilities but in no way it deals with the real issues of disability. As the title suggests, disability here is taken as ‘deficit’ or shortcoming. With the same undercurrent it continues to perpetuate the age old stereotypes relating to disability.

Intention here was to portray incompleteness. And nothing could be more outrageous than to use disability synonymous with incompleteness!

Though Shah Rukh Khan as a person with dwarfism and Anushka Sharma as a wheelchair user with spasticity, have tried to justify their respective roles, the scriptwriter could have done their homework well before writing the dialogues as language matters while describing disability. It becomes the prime responsibility of the scriptwriter to be careful as the message sent out by popular cinema trickles down the psyche of common people.  

When rebuked by his father for his short stature, Bauaa Singh (Shah Rukh Khan) frantically replies, “Maine patwaari se keh ke chhoti karwa li apni height?” (Have I got my height reduced from a govt official?) He goes to the extent of blaming his father for his dwarfism, “Sperms chhote pad gaye tumhare” (Your sperms had been short). Persons with dwarfism face bullying all through their lives. The indignities they and their families endure are too many to enlist. There is no doubt that such dialogues attract common people as they are laden with comedy, but in reality they can adversely impact those who face the real situation.

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Each one of us is a unique individual and it is deplorable for anybody to make comments on each other’s physical condition snatching away their dignity.

When Aafia (Anushka Sharma) who has a locomotor disability and is shown to have spasticity and tremors, is introduced in the movie, she is introduced as “Khubsurat hai, padhi likhi, achhe khandan se hai, itni badi naukri hai iski bas ek mechanical problem hai….technical dissonance…” (The girl is beautiful, educated, from a good family and has a good job but has some mechanical problem..some technical dissonance). I don’t know how the audience would digest this complete lack of sensitivity while describing an individual.  

And then with the same undertone of objectifying disability, Bauaa Singh is made aware of his deficit by the manager of marriage bureau when he says, “Aap kaun se hoor ke pare hain, inki tange kursi se zameen tak to pahunchti nahi…” (You are also not someone out of the world. Your legs don’t even touch the floor while you sit on a chair”)

Bauua Singh’s best friend Guddu Singh (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub) has night blindness which is again depicted in a comic banter.

At the time of his first encounter with Aafia, Bauaa Singh is heard talking to himself, “Aye tumhara bhala ho, photo me to wheelchair dikhi nahi”, (May God be kind, wheelchair wasn’t visible in the photo) as if a wheelchair is something to run away from.

Also read: Hichki Film Review: Rejecting Toxic Standards Of Normalcy

Both Aafia and Bauaa Singh are shown to make fun of each other’s disability. Aafia says to Bauaa Singh, “Tumhari akal tumhari height se bhi chhoti hai…” (Your brain is smaller than your height). At one point Bauaa Singh says, “Chhote Chhote se sahi haath paun kaam to karte hain hamare. inse hilne ke alawa hota kya hai.” (I have short stature but my hands and legs work. She can’t do anything except shivering). The director and the story writer do this in the pretext it is okay for two persons with disabilities if they make fun of each other’s physical condition. Each one of us is a unique individual and it is deplorable for anybody to make comments on each other’s physical condition snatching away their dignity.

Bauaa’s father is shown to be completely filled with apathy for his son’s dwarfism. When Aafia comes to their home, the father is seen telling his son, “Kismat wala hai, ladki mil rahi hai tujhe shadi ke liye..tujh jaise ko to launda na mile..” (You are lucky to get a girl for marriage otherwise you won’t even get a boy). Here, homosexuality is attacked and made fun of!!

Aafia convinces Bauaa to marry by saying that they both were equal because of their respective disabilities. This again establishes the stereotype that a disabled person should marry only a disabled person.

There is no doubt that such dialogues attract common man as they are laden with comedy, but in reality they can adversely impact those who face the real situation.

Babita Kumari (Katrina), an alcoholic heartbroken film star, ditched by her boyfriend, kisses Bauaa out of frustration and is heard saying, “Go back to your pathetic life…”. Doesn’t all this dehumanise persons with dwarfism?

There are sporadic moments in the movie that are praiseworthy. The emotional conflicts in the minds of both the protagonists regarding love and marriage are quite real. Aafia is shown to bear a baby, shattering the myth that a woman with disability can’t be a mother. Likewise towards the climax she speeds in her wheelchair to see Bauaa before he goes to Mars, showing her independence in decision making.

With Rs 200 crore of budget the plot, theme, storyline and presentation of Zero could have been handled in a much better way. Hindi cinema has always fallen short in dealing with disability in a rational and positive way and Zero is in no way better than the earlier movies.

Also read: Why Do We Treat Women With Dwarfism As Lesser Than Us?

Featured Image Source: News 18

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