Debutant director Mozez Singh’s coming-of-age musical drama tracks Dilsher’s journey from a small home in Gurdaspur to entry into an industrialist’s mansion in Delhi to self-discovery.
We first see a young Dilsher singing kirtans with his father. We learn that tragedy has befallen his family, because of which the boy has developed a stutter. This speech impediment leads to taunting and beatings by the other boys in the village. Dilsher finds a mentor in ambitious brick kiln owner Gurucharan Sikand (Manish Chaudhari) who teaches him his greatest lesson in life – write your own destiny.
The flashbacks are shot in grainy slow motion with a wistful quality. In the present, Dilsher (Vicky Kaushal) is a young man with single-minded purpose: to meet the now highly successful Gurcharan (Manish Chaudhari). Dilsher methodically and with cutthroat determination inveigles his way into Sikand’s office and then home, creating greater friction in an already fractured family set-up. Sikand’s son Surya (Raaghav Chanana) is unable to comprehend his father’s repulsion towards him and becomes increasingly envious of Dilsher’s proximity to his father.
While Sikand integrates Dilsher into the family, the hatred of Sikand’s wife (Meghna Malik) and son towards Dilsher grows. Chanana conveys the jealous and wounded scion with exactitude, and is a fine counterfoil to Kaushal’s scheming yet underprepared Dilsher. In the meantime, there is also a love story developing between Dilsher and singer Amira (Sarah Jane-Dias), who is nursing her own hurt.
The first half of Zubaan plays out like with a soap opera, with heightened performances and extreme situations. It isn’t until much later that the protagonist’s modus operandi is established.
The narrative moves with greater energy and conviction in the post-interval portions. Zubaan is about aspiration, ambition and the dark direction life can take. It’s also about self-confidence, taking chances and swimming against the tide. Many of the tropes of the coming of age saga are intact in the story by Mozez Singh, Thani and Sumit Roy, but the screenplay needed greater work and rounding out. Ashutosh Phatak’s soundtrack and score, Swapnil Sonawane’s camerawork, and Khyatee Kanchan’s production design add layers and atmosphere.
Some fine moments of conflict are offset by glaringly discordant scenes, such as Amira’s music show audition (composed by Ishq Bector) and Sikand’s hard-nosed trophy wife tearing into a lobster with delight. There is also a Burning Man-style trippy scene in a desert with a gratuitous plot line of Amira’s dead brother. The purpose of this sequence seems to be to get Dilsher high enough to unlock his suppressed singing talent. The far more effective moment is when he does indeed find his voice and joins Amira in an emotional duet.
Singh crafts some potent scenes and seems to be most in command during the songs. Dias and Chaudhari give solid support to Kaushal, who continues to display the talent seen in Masaan. He owns the adrift Dilsher who has internalised his confusion while chasing mislaid ambition.