Category: Reviews

Revisiting a Great: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Something for Everyone: Success Where Dhoom 3 Failed

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

The moment flows by like molten sapphire
Deep Blue silences
No Earth below
No Sky above
The rustling branches and leaves
Saying that only you are here
Only me
My breath
My heartbeat
Such Depth like this
Such Loneliness like this
And me only me
I now believe I exist

My latest craze might surprise you. It’s a movie, and a dated one at that – Bollywood’s 2011 mega hit: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD). I have watched it four times in the past week. Having been in India at the time of this movie’s release, it is quite peculiar that I did not even see this movie until a few weeks ago. The movie has all the big names – Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Doel, Farhan Akhtar, Katrina Kaif, Zoya Akthar.

However, it also has the Bollywood label. At the time, I had several preconceptions about Bollywood movies. Bollywood movies tend to have a formulism to them. So I expected ZNMD to be more Dhoom 3 than Dil Chahta Hai, with all the trappings of a typical Bollywood film: oversized personalities, familiar plot, typical treatment of women, and general inhabitation of the realm of fantasy more than of reality. While Dhoom 3 was a nice film, it ultimately tried to be everything for everyone: it had the big action scenes, it had the sexy item number, and it had the star-studded cast. But the film lacked soul. Katrina was a completely flat character, a mere sexy thing to be the object of affection. The typical moviegoer can not relate to having a twin brother and life in a foreign country.

ZNMD is diametrically opposed to Dhoom 3. ZNMD has soul. The heart of the movie does not lie within the cast, or the plot, or the scenery – do not get me wrong, all those things are fantastic – but it is in the experience of the movie itself. It is in watching the playful moments of friendship between three buddies. It is in watching the growth of these three men as they are completely changed by a trip. The movie work ‘seriocomedy’ to its most magical effect. The movie conveys serious messages all the while being an absolute pleasure to take in. Every moment is fun, easy-going, and well paced.

And, of course, the movie is something anyone can relate to. Hrithik pinpointed this himself, in an interview with Bolly Spice; “it resonates very well with the professional, aspirational 20 something male and female audience which sometimes a lot of our films overlook.” Even not being a workaholic, there’s a bit of all of us in Arjun’s single-mindedness towards achieving financial security by 40. Even not being abandoned by our father, there’s a bit of all of us in the sadness behind Irmaan’s happy eyes. Even not having committed to an ill-conceived relationship, there’s a bit all of us in Kabir’s steadfastness to stick to a marriage his family has already become involved in.  The growth they undergo is something each of us can empathize with. We all could emerge changed individuals from a road trip with buddies, and the movie does a fantastic job of conveying the titular message: that we must seize the day.

Part of the movie’s magic is due, indeed, to the acting of those very real situations. One of the great feats of the movie is to get us to believe in Hrithik’s transformation from Arjun, a career-obsessed prick, to Arjun, a free-wheeling fiancé of Laila. For this Hrithik, really ought to be commended. Neither the Arjun at the beginning nor the end of the film seems fake. Abhay and Farhan also magnificently play funny guys with deep sadness’s hiding behind their smirks. Katrina does one of her best jobs ever as well, this being one of the first movies most audiences walk away really happy with her character. She is perfect for the role of Laila: funny but not over the top, beautiful but perhaps not completely out of reach. Even Kalki does a good job as the completely unlikable Laila.

The acting is further enhanced by the other things “the movie people do.” The directing by Zoya is exquisite, freshly combining Javed Akther’s poetry with a movie. The cinematography is also breathtaking. Spain is a truly gorgeous setting for a movie, and the filmmakers do a wonderful job highlighting the most exciting aspects of its culture: from the Running of the Bulls to the Tomatina festival to a Flamenco show, you get to experience all the iconic aspects of the country. The audiography is similarly spot on, with great songs like Senorita acting as long-lasting memories of the film.

Finally, the scene choice and editing is fantastic. Many of the films greatest scenes actually occur when there is no dialogue. Much of the emotion of the film is conveyed solely through sound and visual. The sky diving scene, for instance. We experience the wonderful thrills and angst of Irmaan as he awaits his turn and eventually asks to be pushed out of the plane, the pure joy of the group as they unite as a circle in the sky, and then the great relief and growth that is landing safely. All of this occurs through action and magnificent camera work. The diving scene is similar; it is within Arjun’s tears upon resurfacing that we see his growth. Similarly, the end of the movie is a model of filmmaking. It is simply their final adventure sport – just them running around – but we know they all have grown forever. Through the plot, through the acting, through the directing, and through the experience of the movie itself, we feel the change.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Dhoom 3. Dhoom 3 was a ‘majadar’ film, one that kept me riotously laughing and also deeply interested. However, the plot was necessarily contrived, necessarily in the world of fantasy. It didn’t touch the heart. It didn’t speak to the soul.

ZNMD speaks to your soul.

The poetry from the beginning of the article in Hindi:
Pighlay neelam sa behta hua yeh samaan
Neeli neeli si khamoshiyaan
Na kahin hai zameen
Na kahin aasmaan
Sarsaraati huyi tehniyaan, pattiyaan
Keh rahi hain ki bas ek tum ho yahaan
Sirf main hoon meri saansein hain aur meri dhadkanein
Aisi gehraiyaan
Aisi tanhaiyaan
Aur main sirf main
Apne honay pe mujhko yaqeen aa gaya