I put on the Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara soundtrack today to chase away some rainy day blues.
A week ago I wouldn’t have given that CD a second thought.
In all the excited buildup to Zoya Akhtar’s sophomore film I felt like the person who got left behind at the rest stop and didn’t really mind. I was psyched for the trip but the further we got the less enthused I was feeling.
“Zoya! Farhan! Hrithik! Abhay! I’ll pack my stuff!”
“Spain! Hmm…this is starting to look like a tourist brochure…maybe I’ll just come for a few days.”
“Katrina’s coming? Ugh. Fine. Look, I’ll tag along but I’m not going to be nice to her.”
“What the hell is this music we’re listening to? No. No, I’m good. You guys go ahead, I’ll hitch a ride home.”
And then I saw the film. And I fell in love.
Was the film flawed? Yes.
Did I completely forget every criticism I had of the film five minutes after I left the theater?
I hesitate to even continue typing at this point—this is my third attempt to capture a piece of what I felt after viewing ZNMD and I’m finding it impossible. I just erased four thousand words of…of what, exactly? Fawning praise of some camera work and criticisms that don’t need to be explained. We all know the gentle negatives of the film: the intro was too long and fluffy, the characters live in a world of wealth outside the reach of most of those who will see the film, it veered dangerously close at times to being a commercial for the Costa Brava.
So why am I listening to Der Lagi Lekin with tears in my eyes right now?
It’s because regardless of how artificial ZNMD’s world is, I know that the film is right. Those characters are right. They did something we all need to do—they figured out how to let go and live in the moment.
Is that cheesy?
Is it important?
The film centers around Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), Kabir (Abhay Deol), and Imran (Farhan Akhtar), but the main character, without a doubt, is Spain. Director Zoya Akhtar said she initially had Mexico in mind for the location but I think she made the correct choice with Spain. Having had my own Spanish adventures I can say that the transformative effect of that Barcelona air isn’t just movie magic—it’s real. So real that I sometimes remember the smell of a rainy day spent wandering around Parc Güell and it puts me in a good mood for days.
ZNMD was full of little surprises. The first was Katrina Kaif. It’s no secret that I’ll often flat out refuse to see a film if she’s in it, so little do I regard her, erm, “talents,” but she was so natural here that I actually found myself liking her. I’m inclined to think she’s either a director’s actress or that she just isn’t at all suited to the type of acting required in your typical Akshay Kumar film (who I love, bless his heart, but that brand of cheesy film making requires a certain kind of actress and Kat doesn’t have what it takes for them).
The second (major spoiler alert here) is the treatment of Imran’s reunion with his father. It would have been easy (and lazy) to throw together a happy scene where the son embraces his long-lost father and all is well in the world, but Zoya isn’t lazy. Imran (played perfectly by Farhan, who for me had the standout performance of the film) struggles with the idea of meeting his father and when he finally does it isn’t a loving scene. There are no clichés here, just honesty: Salman (Naseeruddin Shah) didn’t want to give up his life to raise a child, so he left, and tells Imran he feels no remorse. It’s this second rejection that provides Imran with the emotional release he needed. Just as Arjun’s life changed when he overcame his fear of the water, so too did Imran’s as he moved past his fear of meeting the man who abandoned him.
And what was Kabir afraid of? Two things, as it turned out. For most of the film we’re led to believe he was afraid of getting married, but things aren’t always as they appear. He isn’t so much afraid of marriage as he’s afraid of not getting married, and the disappointment of his family that would follow. He’s afraid of breaking Natasha’s (Kalki Koechlin) heart. While Arjun’s transformation is more outwardly noticeable (going from uptight, obsessed career man to a dreamy man in love), Kabir is more complex. As he argues with Natasha (first at a distance, then in person as she joins the boys out of jealousy and suspicion) the easy going personality of Kabira (as his friends lovingly call him) is chipped away, revealing a man just as much in need of catharsis as his companions, perhaps even more.
I hesitate to compare Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara to Luck By Chance; where LBC was so plot driven and focused on the complex relationships between characters, ZNMD is more introspective. They're vastly different in their scope, though I will say that as much as I admire Hrithik as an actor, I found him more effective in LBC, where his time on screen was a fraction of what it is in ZNMD. He's so imposing that he almost overshadowed Abhay and Farhan, and while I was interested in Arjun's story line, it was Imran who I wanted more of. Farhan was stellar in his portrayal of a man who jokes his way through life as a cover for pain that he doesn't want to talk about. Abhay was the rock of the film, playing parent to Arjun and Imran and finally coming to terms with the decision he had to make. Hrithik and Katrina had wonderful chemistry, as did Farhan with Ariadna Cabrol, the Spanish actress who plays his love interest. I couldn't have been the only one who wanted their post-love scene Spanish/Hindi conversation to go on forever.
I want to say there aren't enough words to describe how moved I was by Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara but that's not true. I just threw out the three thousand odd that I had left from previous review attempts in favor of these, which are all that are necessary:
It's beautiful. Go see it.