Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film, Dil Bechara premiered on Disney + Hotstar. Produced by Fox Star Studios, the film stars Rajput as Immanual Rajkumar Junior or ‘Manny’, and marks the debut for Delhi-based Sanjana Sanghi. Casting Director Mukesh Chabbra’s directorial is spectacular as a first timer, and his storytelling resonates with the viewers even as the tale is foreign and fairly uncommon.
The film stays true to the essence of its original story but gives an Indian touch to the timeless, unique tale.
Sushant’s portrayal of Augustus Waters, or Immanual ‘Manny’Rajkumar Junior is closer to the character, a 23-year old, full-of-life boy who had a charming smile and infectious positivity and humour. It was heart-wrenching to watch Sushant essay Waters, as their personalities had an uncanny resemblance. Sanjana, an alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College of Women, perfectly essayed the quiet, yet firm and direct Hazel Grace whose smile and love-stricken eyes were enough to melt onlookers. She did not smile often, and was at unease with herself, but learnt to live with the positive partnership of Augustus.
The film started with a funeral, where Kizie Basu, essayed by Sanghi attended the burial of someone she wasn’t related to, or barely knew. She liked attending funerals, because when she hugged people who were mourning- she connected to their emotions and found her own.
This silent, introvert girl with a tube around her nose was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and carried an oxygen bag with her which she named ‘Pushpender’. Set in Jamshedpur, Kizie’s Bengali overprotective mother, essayed by Swastika Mukherjee picks her up in a rickshaw, from college or elsewhere.
Kizie had a favourite singer- Abhimanyu Veer, who made a song few years ago but did not complete it. She connected to the pain in the song – Main Tumhara. When compared to the original, the lead, Hazel Grace essayed by Shailene Woodley read a book called An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, which was also left incomplete by the author.
Manny was an MBA dropout who was full of life, and loved South Indian movies. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and loved teasing the introverted and clearly annoyed Kizie. He called himself her boyfriend in front of his mother, much to her comical shock and Kizie’s annoyance.
It was in Kizie’s doctor, Dr Jha’s Cancer Therapy group that she learns Manny is also a cancer survivor, and meets other people like JP, his best friend who wanted to shoot a movie but has eye cancer, and was due to undergo operation.
When Dr Jha asked Manny if he feared anything, he said it was nothing. He wanted to be a hero, like in films; to which the always-silent Kizie interjects, saying that lesser-known people can be heroes too.
This was different from the original, because Hazel and Augustus joined a voluntary cancer group where he was asked what he feared and he replied- Oblivion. To this, Hazel replied that oblivion was inevitable, and everyone irrespective of their accomplishments was bound to be forgotten someday.
JP had a girlfriend, and their sweet nothings were a promise of ‘Hamesha’, a literal translation of ‘Always’ which was used in the original to signify their undying love. But contrasted to the couple kissing against a Church wall in the original, the Indian counterparts shared some juice and giggled flirtatiously.
Slowly, the trio started hanging out together, and created awkward scenarios like shouting during a prayer meeting or throwing eggs at JP’s girlfriend, who broke up with him before his operation. They also started shooting the movie, and Kizie held on to life with a new hope. She went to her college prom with him, and talked for late nights with Manny- she had found her ‘ Hamesha’ in Manny’s Seri, which was ‘Okay’ for Tamil.
When Manny tracked Abhimanyu Veer and got an invitation to visit him in Paris, they were elated but Kizie’s health deteriorated. Upon Manny’s convincing, her father let them plan the trip and visit the musician, against Dr Jha’s medical advice Mrs Basu’s reluctance.
They met Veer essayed by Saif Ali Khan at a coffee house, but like with van Houten, the couple was soon disappointed of his sarcastic answers and rudeness. They left in disgust, but enjoyed their tour of Paris with Mrs Basu taking over the recording of their moments for JP’s film in the foreign land. The couple grew close, and the otherwise Indian protective mother smiled to herself to see their love story bloom.
Their little fairytale awaited an unfair turn. Kizie expected death to strike her first, but Manny’s cancer recurred. Like in the book, his tests left him ‘lit up like a Christmas tree’.
In the end, two days before his death, he called JP and Kizie to a Church, wanting to hear his own obituaries and attend his funeral. JP shared how Manny had become his family, and he was happy to have had his eyes operated as he did not want to see a world without him.
The climax had a gathering with a screening of their film, and they laughed and cried in the moments that immortalised Manny-just as Dil Bechara has immortalised Sushant in our hearts.