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"dilon mein tum apni betaabiyaan leke chal rahe ho, to zinda ho" 
17th-Jul-2011 05:23 am
Film: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Release: 15 July 2011
Actors: Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol, Katrina Kaif, Kalki Koechlin
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Producer: Ritesh Sidhwani, Farhan Akhtar
Story: Reema Kagti, Zoya Akhtar
Dialogue: Farhan Akhtar
Lyricist: Javed Akhtar
Cinematography: Carlos Catalan

Sometimes you suspect that the characters of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara are superficial people leading empty lives of luxury but where Luck By Chance (2009), Zoya’s last movie, would have taken the time to deconstruct this candidly, this movie opts instead for a more feel-good and warm-hearted approach to storytelling. Not that there's anything wrong with that. As it happens ZNMD is a perfectly enjoyable entertainer with masti and banter aplenty, a refreshing lack of melodrama, and an endearing trio of friends. With the release of the movie speculation of ZNMD being similar to The Hangover (2009) can finally be laid to rest - the two couldn't be more dissimilar. Comparisons with Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai (2001) are inevitable but aside from the theme of friendship, the socio-economic status of the characters, who are of the affluent or upwardly mobile variety, and certain character dynamics, there is little there to make this film feel derivative of its predecessor.

In Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara we find ourselves on a roadtrip through the stunning locales of Spain (lovingly captured by cinematographer Carlos Catalan) with the flirty and facetious Imran (Farhan Akhtar), the workaholic, initially irritable Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) and the sometimes prankster, sometimes serious-minded Kabir (Abhay Deol). Kabir's impending marriage gives the three old friends the chance to re-connect on a bachelor's trip and fulfil a pact they made with each other years ago - that they would each pick an adventure sport of their choice and the other two would have to participate with them. All three also happen to be hiding something that is troubling them though, and along the way they get the chance to "let it go" and move on. Joining the boys at various points in the trip are Natasha (Kalki Koelchin), Kabir's fiancée, Laila (Katrina Kaif) who is a diving instructor and Nuria (Ariadna Cabrol), Laila's friend.

Most of the reviews I've read for ZNMD revel in the brilliance of Farhan Akhtar's comic timing and mention him as the highlight of the movie. His witty one-liners and goofy persona were certainly entertaining - without Imran around to be cheerily and cheekily outrageous or fail miserably (and repeatedly) at keeping a straight face, the movie would be a much duller affair. Abhay Deol as Kabir is the "solid guy", the anchor of the group. He often ends up being the mediator between Arjun and Imran and you may think he is the mature, sorted one but in reality he's the most confused of all. Admittedly though, his philosophising on human nature and psychoanalytic games were much more interesting than the actual gyaan that the movie was trying to share with us (more on that later).

However, I found myself so completely mesmerised, bad hair highlights and all, by Hrithik Roshan's initially stand-offish and later vulnerable performance as Arjun that for scenes on end I suspect I missed what Kabir and Imran were getting up to. In scenes with the trio my eyes were often drawn towards Arjun's sad, amused, delighted, or concerned ones. His transformation was probably a bit too quick to be credible yet I found his journey to be the most emotionally engaging one. "Tum mere baare mein kuch nahin jaanti, so don't judge me" Arjun says to Laila one night when they are walking alone, though she was doing nothing of the sort. In fact, he was: prior to that dialogue Arjun had been describing the kind of guy he expects is totally not Laila's type, matlab himself. Hrithik plays Arjun with such a brittle sense of bravado in that scene; it's one of my favourites in the film.

Despite his brief appearance in Luck By Chance, Zaffar Khan counts as one of my favourite Hrithik performances and now second time in a row Zoya has managed to extract a performance from Hrithik that lingers in the memory long after you've left the cinema hall. Arjun appears to be a bit cold in the beginning but really he is the most soft hearted and sensitive of the three. Imran doesn't get Arjun's "jab tak yahaan se na nikle na tab tak" until much later, when he confronts an unresolved dilemma of his own, but you know right then that all Arjun is waiting for from him is a hint of sincerity. Be it Arjun silently crying after his experience underwater or asking Kabir at the dinner table with his eyes whether Natasha was ok or not, be it the way his face lights up when he finds Laila at his door unexpectedly or how he transforms everyone's mood in the jail cell scene with a well-timed comic quip, be it the way he feels so surprised when Nuria allows Imran to enter the bathroom or how he pulls Natasha into the picture when she moves away - the character is so completely endearing that it is hard to concentrate on anything else ...at least that was the case for me!

While the characterisation of the three male leads is sufficiently nuanced, it is surprising that a movie written by two women (Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar) should feature female characters that appear to be there merely as pretty accessories. In fact the scenes with the 1200 Euro purse will probably engage the audience more than any of the ladies in the movie. Let's start with Kalki Koelchin's character Natasha - she is the stereotypically possessive fiancée that unfortunately deserves the "chudail alert" tag she is assigned by Imran. I was only slightly mollified by a revelation later on that explains her desperate need to cling to Kabir - at least there was a reason, I figured. However, justifying the insecurity wasn't good enough for a movie that's been written and directed by the woman who gave us the wonderfully nuanced Sona from Luck By Chance. I will say though that the Rock Chick In A Hard Rock World sequence, well ...rocked. It gave us a glimpse into the fun loving Natasha Kabir probably fell in love with, though in that sequence he was feeling a bit embarrassed. Katrina Kaif's bohemian character, Laila, was a marked improvement over the controlling Natasha but there was a disappointing lack of further characterisation. Katrina Kaif was very likeable as the warm, friendly, easy going and street smart Laila and you liked her even more for reaching out to Arjun but I kept expecting a back story or some moment that would move her beyond the static Manix Pixie Dream Girl trope. The moment failed to materialise. *sigh* At least she wasn't annoying like MPDGs are though, in fact she was still a wonderful addition to the group of friends.

The theme of the film, reflected in its title, is its weakest aspect. The carpe diem philosophy falls flat and you just can't buy into the idea that this is an eye-opening, life-altering journey of self discovery for the characters. The other road movie released this year, Chalo Dilli, does much better on that front, perhaps because it is unassuming and understated in the way it goes about things compared to ZNMD's unsubtle treatment of the subject. Personally, the three adventure sport sequences and the Tomatina festival felt longer than necessary. It's not that I didn't enjoy the ride - Arjun's sense of wonder underwater, the exhilaration felt by all three during the sky dive, the adrenalin rush when they were running in front of the bulls, the sheer fun everyone was having smashing tomatoes over each other was all captivating in its own way but tighter editing of these scenes would have prevented me from beginning to wonder when they would end. The rather abrupt transitions from one scene to another in some cases could also have been improved. The only time it really worked well was during the ending.

The flaws of the film are easy to forget though, because you spend so much time being charmed by the undeniable camaraderie between the friends. Unki conversations tou fun hain hi (thanks to the multi-talented Farhan Akhtar in his dialogue writing capacity) but even their stupid pranks are amusing because the guys are having way too much fun for you not to be persuaded into grinning. You aren't wondering why these men who have been out of college for 10 years are acting like this, instead you are thinking that this is exactly what would happen if you and your friends were to get together after a really long time apart. Reliving old jokes and relishing nostalgia "is just human nature" and in this case makes for really entertaining viewing. Sequences like the drunken interlude where Arjun keeps repeating "sab likha hai" "LIKHA HAI" over and over will feel familiar because they were probably taken right out of your life. The picturisation of Señorita and Khaabon Ke Parinday in ZNMD couldn't be poles apart - one is silly and fun, while the other is brimful of contentment and comfortable silences, but what you'll find in both is the loudly beating heart of this film, personified in the interactions of the three जिगरी दोस्त.

Other Reviews:

[+] This one by TelegraphIndia is the most amusing:
"The title of the film comes from a line in the title song of Rock On!!, also written by Javed Akhtar. But interestingly 'milegi na' there has been changed to 'Na Milegi' here. After spending two-and-a-half hours with Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), Imran (Farhan Akhtar) and Kabir (Abhay Deol), you may understand the lines a little better and may even have your own little theory as to why those two words were swapped in the phrase. Our theory? Rock On!! was bursting with pain and anger, this one’s wrapped in love."
"But then what do you do when Katrina Kaif wants to hold your hand and show you the true meaning of life? She is Laila the deep sea diving instructor who is ZNMD’s first horcrux (magic object in the world of Harry Potter, silly). The other two are Imran’s father and Kabir’s fiancee. How they all add up to the soul of the film, you have to discover for yourself. A Dumbledorean clue?"
[+] "She puts together a familiar plot, with recurring themes of friendship, love, coming-of-age and travel as its mainstay, but her invigorating characters pump in fresh energy into a film that could have been strictly mediocre." ... "The conversations are laced with real humour, it has a mock-you sense of fun without being derogatory or slight. When they mimic their teacher, hum the Doordarshan tune in drunken abandon or peform the Diamond biscuit parody, they aren't acting -- just going along, being themselves as friends usually do."
[+] "The film isn't as simplistic as it seems and each character has a back story and internal conflicts that surface intermittently between thrill-seeking stunts, sugary love, drunk talking and some seriously childish pranks."
[+] "Imran is battling problems of his own, and his inward journey and subsequent confrontation with the past is beautifully brought out through Javed Akhter’s poetry, read by Farhan himself. Farhan does a marvellous job, balancing the scales between a prankster and a troubled individual."
[+] "It's ironical that it took female minds to come up with, perhaps, what one can call the most authentic film on boy-bonding since Dil Chahta Hai or 3 Idiots . Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's writing is simple, straightforward, well-etched and character-driven."
[+] "Along with Spain, they bring relationships of their protagonists with themselves and each other. Undercurrents unleashed by emotional turmoil, friendship, and finally the unloading of mental baggage, so as to emerge victorious in the truest sense."
NZ | kiwi too
25th-Jul-2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
Your review encompasses everything I felt while watching the film! Plus,
...was all captivating in its own way but tighter editing of these scenes would have prevented me from beginning to wonder when they would end. - My thoughts exactly, specially during the tomato smashing festival.

"It's ironical that it took female minds to come up with, perhaps, what one can call the most authentic film on boy-bonding since Dil Chahta Hai or 3 Idiots. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's writing is simple, straightforward, well-etched and character-driven." - First thought about that when Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and The Sweetest Thing (2002) came out. Why aren't there Bollywood films out there about girl-bonding on a road trip or something? Girls can bond too!
29th-Jul-2011 08:14 am (UTC)
It was just a lovely, light and breezy sort of a movie :) Just needed a bit of ruthless editing is all.

Hmmmm good point - the only BW girls bonding movie I can think of is... Aisha lol. Odd, there really don't appear to be any others that come to mind.
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