Film Review: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Directed by: Zoya Akhtar

Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol, Katrina Kaif, Kalki Koechlin

WARNING: Contains spoilers so if you do not wish to know what happens, please revisit my review after viewing the film.

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There are some films which you know are going to be good before you have even seen them. Even though the critics may trash the film and it doesn’t do well at the box office, the quality of the film still shines through and long after its release, it occupies a well deserved spot on one’s DVD/Blu-Ray shelf. When I buy an original DVD, there are a few occasions when I have bought a film without seeing it, confident that it will be good and more often than not, the hunch turns out to be correct (the only time I faltered was with Jhoom Barabar Jhoom which was not to my taste at all and even then, the awesome soundtrack justified the purchase). During one of these sprees, I picked up Luck By Chance directed by Zoya Akhtar and was very impressed with the film, which had some excellent performances from Konkona Sen Sharma and Farhan Akhtar as well as a very well written and directed script.

So it was with a rather cocky outlook that I went to see the first day, first show of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD), knowing that this film was going to be good and was either going to fulfill my expectations or surprise me in a good way. With the Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2  bandwagon in town (which I am delaying seeing until the last minute so that I can appreciate it fully), I figured I would have the cinema to myself but was surprised to see quite a lot of people as well as the same three regulars I always seem to encounter sitting in their usual seats waiting patiently for the film to start. Just as I was thinking about the film, I was thrown off the scent with two trailers for Mausam and Don 2 which sent the audience into a tizz and I even heard someone say they were going to mark the date for the latter in their diary (what an amateur – everyone knows the real superfan knows these dates off by heart!). Still, the trailers proved a worthy distraction as all my thoughts on ZNMD were wiped and I was watching the film with a clean slate of thinking (the best way to watch a film…)

ZNMD revolves around Arjun (Roshan), Kabir (Deol) and Imran (Akhtar), three childhood friends who come together to go on a bachelor’s holiday in Spain to celebrate Kabir’s upcoming marriage to Natasha (Koechlin). As part of the trip, each person chooses an activity  which the trio have to undertake. They meet Laila (Kaif) a beautiful diving instructor who tags along on their journey and as the trip goes on, the trip changes the course of their lives as all three are forced to confront truths about themselves…

I really liked ZNMD. Not only is it well written, well directed and well acted but what I really liked about the film is the sensibility it possesses – a hybrid of bohemian, urban, smart, carefree and engaging. ZNMD positively encourages the viewer to buy into the vibe of the film and ride the wave along with the characters to wonderful effect. First off though, let’s get the whole Dil Chahta Hai comparison out of the way – yes, the two films do share some similarities in that both are based on a male trio, there is a road trip, a kick ass soundtrack and the most obvious common link, the director of DCH stars in ZNMD. But it has to be said that the common ground the films share is superficial rather than deep – DCH and ZNMD are two different animals rather than separate parts of the same being. Whilst DCH remains one of the best Hindi films of the millenium so far, ZNMD has many different concerns and is dealing with an audience that was educated by DCH. Thankfully, ZNMD meets this challenge head on and succeeds.

The script is sharply written and the film is well edited, moving at a brisk pace. I loved the underwater sequences which put Blue to shame as in this film, the underwater sequences were neatly interwoven into the story as was the sky diving and bull chase sequences which were all loaded with emotional, symbolic and aesthetic value. The cinematography and the background score are fantastic and at times, I was so lost and involved with the characters that I forgot where I was which is perhaps the highest praise one can give a film. I also loved the poetry which punctuated the character’s emotional high points and gave the film its distinctive classy and intelligent persona. I only had two slight grumbles which would have made the film absolutely perfect for me – one was the post interval scene with Arjun and Laila after Imran shacks up with the Spanish girl – for me, the conversation about money is the only false note the film strikes and I worried the film was about to suffer the curse of the second half but luckily, ZNMD quickly takes a hasty u-turn away from cliche ville and straight back into a more challenging climate. Secondly, I really wished Kalki Koechlin had had more screen time – I felt her character had a lot to be explored and personally, I wouldn’t have minded Arjun’s back story being cut down to accomodate more of Kalki.

Styling wise, as soon as I saw a thank you being given to Hermes in the opening credits, I knew we were in for some serious styling. and was not disappointed. Each character had clearly defined looks – Arjun is tailored, Kabir is preppy, Imran is bohemian, Natasha is high fashion whilst Laila is also boho chic but with a girly twist. I loved Hrithik’s denim shirt teamed with chinos and the fact that he didn’t wear socks with loafers. I also liked Abhay’s polo t-shirts and relaxed style. Katrina looks amazing in maxi dresses, peasant tops and my favourite look  which was the biker chick which saw a red leather corset over a black vest and green trousers. I loved Kalki’s high fashion looks, with gorgeous embellished dresses, that Hermes bag (aka Bagawati) and the long bob/helmet hair which looked fantastic on her.

Performance wise, as one would have hoped, there is no weak link. It was interesting to see Hrithik play an arrogant and selfish character like Arjun and I think he did enough to make the character convincing and even without the short back story of failed relationships and his father leaving the family in debt, the highly strung executive versus the too shy to make the first move romantic worked well. I also thought Hrithik worked well in the ensemble as he could have easily have overshadowed everyone but keeps his star power in check and commits to the role which works in the movie’s favour. Farhan Akhtar was very good, playing against type by going as a comic and though he sometimes came off trying too hard, for the most part, I thought his enthusiasm and energy powered his performance quite well. My favourite was Abhay Deol who played his role straight up and totally imbibed Kabir with soul and personality. Furthermore, he quietly demonstrated versatility showing he can do comedy, emotional or supporting all at the same time. I love the chemistry between the three main actors and thought this is a crucial reason why ZNMD is a successful film – the relationship comes across as genuine and warm and involves the viewer as much as the individuals themselves. As for the ladies, I was actually impressed by Katrina Kaif who turned in a rather good performance – though Laila is by no means a challenging role, Katrina works hard to make it her own and she picks up the laidback vibe of the film better than I thought she would. It seems less really is more with Katrina and it works in her favour – a quality role with limited screen time works much better than a brainless full length role with no substance. I really liked Kalki’s performance who plays the rich bitch quite sympathetically but has a lot of fun at the same time. This is not the kind of role that the indie film actress would normally go for but she does well and like Katrina, fits in with the flow of the film quite well and adds to the chemistry of the ensemble rather than detract from it. Finally, Naseerudin Shah is fantastic in his cameo, being suitably self centered as Salman, Imran’s father who breaks his heart when he admits that he would rather his son had not found out about his existence.

There are very few films about male bonding in Hindi cinema and this is a shame as it clearly is a topic that deserves more than just The Hangover style films about drunken escapades (though let’s not forget lots of bromance in real life comes down to, er, drinking) and if anything ZNMD sets up a nice template for other films in this genre. Using schoolboy humour, pulling pranks and nostalgia as tools to get to the heart of the matter strikes a realistic rather than contrived chord and Zoya Akhtar really does write the urban male in a way that is cinematic but relatable at the same time. There were a few moments of the film that reminded me of times in my life when hanging out with the boys and if a film can evoke those memories or any sort of link with its viewer, you know it is a special film and one that does the job well.

I heartily recommend seeing ZNMD and think it definitely deserves a big screen outing to take in the gorgeous cinematography and the relaxed pace of the film (which won’t be to everyone’s taste but shock horror, there are some people with an attention span beyond thirty seconds) as well a repeat viewing on DVD and telecast later on down the line. What is more encouraging is that this film is coming close after the release of Delhi Belly and this kind of cinema is once again not the standard output expected from Hindi cinema but confirms that just as there is an audience wanting to see a complete entertainer like Ready, there is also an audience for quality films that engage the brain and heart at the same time. Here’s hoping the Hindi cinema continues to explore the full spectrum of genres it has at its fingertips and makes films for all types of film lovers everywhere. But I digress – ZNMD is worth a watch and that is a total no-brainer…

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