Bullet-point Report: “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”

Posted on July 16, 2011


  • The road in the road movie is already a metaphor – the road of life, journeying through which you become a changed person, so and so forth – and on top of this, Zoya Akhtar lays on with a trowel we never suspected she owned (and how could we, given that her earlier film was the delicately detailed Luck By Chance?) further metaphors about facing your worst fears, living life with less baggage, seizing the day, smelling the roses… By the end, I felt like yelling back to the director the film’s title, that I have but one life to live, and can I please not be made to endure more life-changing movies like this one.
  • I guess that sounded a little harsher than I intended, for this isn’t a terrible film – merely an often-frustrating one. When we were kids, the typically insensitive kind who’d lose no opportunity to make fun of others, we used the term LLTT for the squint-eyed, “Looking London Talking Tokyo.” My frustration with this film is primarily that it is LHHE, “Listening Hindi, Hearing English.” It becomes a huge problem when people are shown to be from a background where weddings involve three-tier cakes, bachelor parties, toasts by the best man, and yet they refer to the cost of a handbag as “baarah hazaar euro” as opposed to “twelve grand.” It sounds absurd. And later, “Meri girlfriend ke saath involve hona was not funny.” No, that is funny. Even worse: “It’s like Holi, par wahan tomatoes ke saath khelte hain.”
  • Had ZMND (even that title is so ungainly) been in English, I suspect it would have been the film Zoya Akhtar wanted to make, combining the casual everydayness of a road trip with the epiphanies of life-altering revelations. As such, there are several beautiful moments, but they just don’t add up to a singularly beautiful movie.
  • After Abhay proposes to Kalki, her father announces that he’s not losing a daughter but gaining a son, and someone says he’s being “so filmi.” A joke, yes. But underneath it all, I can’t help wondering if there’s a bit of derision at the emotions you’d normally associate with the Hindi cinema of a particular period. And if that’s the case, why make a movie that walks and talks and emotes like an English movie and retrofit the whole thing into a Hindi film? Why not just make something like Delhi Belly, where no one is particularly interested in being a “Hindi-cinema character”?
  • But the proposal scene itself is beautifully done (the cuts between the various toasts and speeches are terrific), and the director’s decision to wait until much later to show us the events that led to this proposal is a dash of brilliance. But a young man showing his girlfriend a box with a ring and expecting her to understand it’s for someone else… Really?
  • Zoya Akhtar stages several scenes wonderfully – like the above-mentioned post-proposal stretch, like Katrina racing after Hrithik and planting a kiss, like the wordless scene of Hrithik being overwhelmed after his deep-sea diving experience. Why, then, does she spoil the latter by having Hrithik articulate his emotions (“it was magical”) to Katrina later, as he’s making paella? The magic was in the camera’s wordless caress of Hrithik’s naked emotions. Why speak and ruin that memory? What is this, show and (then) tell?
  • A lot of times, I feel this film needed a younger cast. That game about pretending to know someone’s secret and watching that someone spill all, that game of word association, that game of screaming at people and scaring them — it all looked odd in the context of this trio. Then again, maybe it was that whole LHHE thing.
  • Speaking of trios, Dil Chahta Hai, which came out ten years ago, was far braver in its handling of relationships, especially Dimple-Akshaye and Aamir-Akshaye. And you can’t help being reminded of DCH because, apart from the trio factor, there’s a peacemaker (Saif, Abhay), two friends with problems (Aamir-Akshaye, Farhan-Hrithik), an annoying character who’s certain to be dumped by a dithering girlfriend/boyfriend (Ayub Khan, Kalki)…
  • Kalki thinks Abhay is fooling around in Spain. She lands up in his hotel room and they fight. But when Farhan walks in, she welcomes him and acts like the perfect girlfriend and later tells Abhay that she doesn’t want others to think she’s a bitch. (She says “chudail,” but of course she was really saying “bitch.”) That’s good insight into a certain kind of woman, the kind who smiles at the world and saves her fury for her man. But a similar insight is missing into a certain kind of man, the man whose girlfriend has been stolen by his best friend. There’s just no way he’s going to agree to a vacation that includes this best friend. That plot point needed further detailing, and here it’s just tossed off.
  • But it was nice how, the first time Hrithik and Farhan met, we’re made to feel that the fault is Hrithik’s, that he’s the one who casually responded to Abbu’s death by means of a mere email, that Farhan holds the upper hand. And even later, when Hrithik’s made that 2000-pounds commission, he looks pointedly at Farhan, and we get the feeling that Hrithik’s looking down on a friend from a more modest background.
  • With Hrithik being afraid of water (which is not just water but also his fear of a moneyless existence) and with Farhan being afraid of heights (in other words, the air, which is not just air but also his fear of facing his father), I was afraid that when it was Abhay’s turn, it would be another element, fire (which would not just be fire, but also his fear of an impending marriage where he’ll circumnavigate the flames). Luckily, it didn’t quite go that far. There was just a bit of bull at the end.
  • That Doordarshan music bit and the Saare jahan se achcha-via-Berlin (in a Top Gun wink-nod) bit were very funny.
  • We knew Farhan is a good comedian (his fixation with the bag is hilarious, as is his reaction to the sari-clad aunty singing Wind Beneath my Wings), but from the scene with Naseeruddin Shah (who’s excellent, and what a great idea to have him roll his own cigarettes), he’s also shaping up to be a good dramatic actor. Maybe he can play only a particular type, but that particular type he plays very, very well. The scene where he apologises “from the heart” to Hrithik is another very good piece of acting.
  • And his best scene is the one with the Spanish woman he sleeps with. It begins hilariously, with Farhan hamming it up like a toreador from a really bad production of Carmen, and then the post-coital portion turns wonderfully bittersweet, funny because of the crossed connections in language, and affecting because of what he feels and the fact that she can still feel it despite not understanding what it is.
  • But that whole poetry recitation was a huge turnoff. It was so not these people. Am I saying that dudes don’t have a thing for Hindi poetry? Not at all. But with these dudes, I couldn’t buy this conceit. I just couldn’t.
  • It’s one thing to show Hrithik evolving from a meticulous packer (he even rolls his ties into a tight bundle) and Fortune reader to someone who wiggles his bare toes on the dashboard of a car. (In other words, he managed to dislodge that stick from his posterior.) But that shot of galloping horses? Seriously?
  • There was something very banal about the flashback of Hrithik breaking up with his girlfriend, the feeling that you’d seen this scene a thousand times in a thousand movies. Even worse was the return to the present, where he gets a call from “Joe (Work)” – thankfully, it wasn’t “My CEO” – and decides not to take it. And then, when Abhay lifts Katrina, was there anyone in the theatre who didn’t know Kalki would be waiting inside? Didn’t you get the feeling from LBC that Zoya was a far subtler filmmaker? Or did the failure of that film necessitate these sledgehammer banalities?
  • But the scene with Farhan and his father doesn’t contain a single banality. It’s the truth, and one of the most mature relationship-moments I’ve seen in Hindi cinema. It shows you why Zoya Akhtar is the real deal, a real writer-director (and not just someone who stages scenes written by somebody else), but perhaps she should make her next film in English. After all, that is our language too.

Copyright ©2011 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.