I’ll lay my cards out on the table; I am a sucker for Excel Entertainments cinematic sensibilities (production team of Farhan Akthar and longtime collaborator Ritesh Sidwani). Pretty much every movie they have had their hand in has worked for me (except Karthik calling Karthik) and although I don’t run always run out to the theater to catch them at the day of release, whenever I do discover them, they truly are small gems to me. Zoya Akhtar‘s previous directorial venture “Luck By Chance” was a behind the scene glimpse in the world of the Hindi Film Industry, that sensitively portrayed the challenges of struggling to make your mark in life as in Bollywood and had tons of heart.
Although it didn’t light the box office on fire, it was one of my favorite movies of 2009. A much retweeted pun by comedian Mihir Fadnavis calling Zindagi Na Milegi Dobar, Chutiya nahi banega dobara (in the grand tradition of spoofing Bollywood names. There are quite a few good ones out there especially one for K3KG which I won’t be repeating here, google it) illustrates how the cinematic landscape in the Hindi Film cinema has changed since Excel’s maiden venture “Dil Chahta Hai“, a movie that has been named in the same breath as ZNMD (as well as Hangover and Bucket List) both comparisons that don’t really hold up in anyway. The hindi film geek/cinephile is alive and very vocal, he has seen movies of the past 2 decades and can use copy/paste functions to post the wittiest comments from the message boards of Reddif or the now defunct bastion of hindi film snarkiness Passion For Cinema.
On the one hand Hindi film cinema needs and wants to evolve, but on the other hands gets beaten down at every effort it tries to do so. Recent release Delhi Belly’s was a good example of this even though the movie was hugely successful, it was derided by traditionalists for its obscene use of language and potty humor and simultaneously mocked by film geeks for its inspiration and influence from British gangster flicks.
Like Dil Chahta hai, ZNMD does live within the yuppie world with slim ties and designer thick rimmed glasses (I am wearing mine whilst typing up this review). A perfect example of the new golden, shining India. A world I imagine the Akhtars feel at home. A world where everyone is an architects, poet, artist or financial brokers and lives in sleek monochrome apartments carrying rustic notepads if ever the moleskine stock has run out. Throughout the movie there are poems serving as serving as a leitmotif written by Farhan Akthar himself, if you feel you cannot connect with his poetry, I would suggest you walk out of the theater immediately as you will not connect with the message the filmmakers are trying to convey and you will leave theaters sorely disappointed.
ZNMD is a beautifully composed film that starts off in a fairy tale setting where we see slim tie, thick rimmed glasses wearing architect Kabir (Abhay Deol) proposing to his interior designer girlfriend of 6 months Natasha (Kalki). But before his wedding, he and his bwaoys – Imran (copywriter/poet played by producer, dialogue writer and brother of the director Farhan Akthar) and Arjun (broker, workaholic played by Hrithik Roshan stepping out of a GQ shoot) have to take a Mcguffin of a sport adventure road trip through Spain that will give them life lessons as well as some unbelievably scenic backdrop.
The movie focuses as much as possible on the growth and relationship of these boys becoming men. I have to admit I felt the cast was a bit old too still be unable to figure out simple life lessons which is surprising as the cast of Dil Chahta hai was probably older but I didn’t feel that way. From the offset we see the seeds being sown of the underlying tension between the wise cracking Imran who has some daddy issues and Arjun who only seems to be interested in making a future and not living in the now. Every character is finely sketched and given enough emotional background with the aid of some well-placed flashback sequences. (Hritiks flashback even gets a colored filter)
Surprisingly knowing that the movie is written by women (Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti) the female characters get the short shrift, not that women writers should be forced to write only fully developed female characters just because they are women. And even though the ladies in ZNMD are less well sketched out they still have their moments to shine. A good example of this is Kalki’s charater that was it not for the charming sing along in the car ride to the airport would pretty much be a one note jealous “chuddail”(witch) but the actress is so charming in her role that she brings more depth to the performance than is actually written in the screenplay. Katrina Kaif‘s Laila is basically playing the desi version of the manic pixie dream girl who serves to give guidance, life lessons and serve as the romantic counterpoint Arjun but you never quite understand where her cavalier attitude to life comes from or what her background actually is.
Except for the male bonding the true heart of ZNMD for me is the resuscitation of Arjun life and his return to humanity by deep sea diving instructor Laila.
I want to take some time to rave about Katrina Kaif, so you may skip this paragraph if this will annoy you or if you feel that the actress is just a pretty face that still needs to prove her acting prowess although she has done this many time already in my book. Dear God the lady just sparkles on screen. Our friend Filmigirl always speaks about the physicality that Katrina brings to her every role and I strongly believe that no one else could have pulled off the role of a diving instructor as Katrina has. She seems completely at ease underwater and there is no moment you don’t believe she hasn’t been diving, speaking Spanish or riding on Royal Enfields (my all time favorite bike) for years. Her cute accent works perfectly imparting wisdom and some clichéd Carpe Diem moments as well as just riffing and being one of the boys. Every shot she is in, she brings more light to the screen that then Spanish son and the moment she leaves, you can’t wait for her to come back. (Which she does eventually but in a weirdly edited finale)
Beside that together with Hrithik Roshan they probably are the best looking people in India at the moment.
Both actors have a very similar meticulousness to their performance which works really well and I hope we get to see these two teamed up together soon. He definitely seems to share more chemistry than with Priyanka in Krrissh but knowing Bollywood producers he probably will be teamed up with Priyanka or Deepika sooner that Katrina which is a shame. The whole deep sea dive sequence and quiet walk through the street of Spain sequence are perfectly played and quite touching.
Abhay deol playing the straight man is probably the opposite of these 2 performers and together with Farhan they have a cool, laid back demeanor and approach to acting. Each plays their part excellently although one wonder how much “acting” there is involved for them. And I understand Abhay hesitance to step into mainstream hindi films as he would need to work quite a bit on his singing and dancing, but I guess standing next to Hritik doesn’t do you any favors, but then I think of that scene in Wanted where Salman Khan danced next to Govinda and Prabu Deva… some people are actors and some are stars, but I don’t think Abhay wants to be a star in the conventional sense of the word so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Farhan is pretty much hilarious and had me laughing out loud throughout. But the moment he does need to deliver emotionally he does so with aplomb, like the touching scene with his Spanish Flame where they both communicate without speaking a common language is beautifully touching. He gets to play the clown with the sad eyes and he does so faultlessly.
The soundtrack of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is amazing and seeing it in the grandeur of the cinematography of in theaters just makes it perfect, actually I would say that this is a movie that will have a bigger impact on you if you watch it in theaters not only the visuals but also your emotional connection with the movie as you can’t get engaged if you are tweeting at the same time or getting drinks out of the fridge. Both “Senorita” and “Paint It Red” are so much fun to watch and especially as the entire cast seem to be having a blast. Many times you forget if they are actually being choreographed and filmed or just having fun.
All oft eh adventures sports are so exhilarating to watch. The deep sea dive is actually much better than anything shot in Anthony D’Souza’s “Blue” especially as there is emotional pay off that follows. The same goes for the sky jump and the run with the bulls of San Fermin.
All in all there wasn’t a scene in “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” that didn’t work for me, and I genuinely cracked up where needed and even got a lump in my throat a few times. I truly loved this movie and cant wait for what Zoya Akhtar will cook up next.
I have some more thoughts for the spoiler section but I am glad there is a place created for movies like ZNMD and it might not be “paisa vasool”/popcorn entertainment but we have enough of those coming soon. It definitely is a high quality cinema and that’s something we should all applaud.
I loved how Farhan underplayed the scene confronting his long lost dad, Naseeruddin Shah (who else could it have been?). It’s not easy playing off such a talented artist but I felt that the moment felt real.
The final shot of the Running with Bulls is perfect end to the movie especially the slow motion finals shots, I was hoping the movie would end even if I knew there were a few unresolved threads. Although some people in the theater seemed quite disappointed. (Don’t you just hate those people that shoot off a condescending comment just at the final shot and take away your chance to feel what you want to feel- unless it’s you that s making the comment, and then it’s hilarious and quite witty). But if you haven’t bought into the movie until then, I can understand you haven’t just be quiet and let others enjoy what they say. I think my tip works, if you haven’t connected with Imran poetic interludes, walk away immediately.
The reappearance of Katrina Kaif seemed a bit random and also anachronistic with the editing but her every scene is so sparkling and it leads to an extra shirtless shot of Hritik so I guess neither man or women should complaining.
The Wedding post credit sequence clearly inspired from a very well known Youtube video was although fun to watch was a bit unnecessary. It doesn’t make sense that all these people are still friends and especially it’s supposed to explain what happened to Kalki and Abhay’s track which is left open but you need you need to watch the end credits with a magnifying glass to figure out what happened. ( Is Natasha going out with one of the dudes from the start of the movie? I didn’t catch that part). I understand director decision to end the movie where she did by focusing on the boys and not the individual relationship, a choice not everyone might agree with. And we got to see Katrina Kaif dance in a white dress which was great. Have you figured out we like her quite a bit?
Here’s the trailer and my favorite track from the OST.
let us know what you thought of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara on the comment section below!
- ZNMD team reaches Udaipur (katrinahot.wordpress.com)