Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara: A Timeless Indulgence
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
I was very young when I watched ZNMD for the first time. I remember being so thrilled and excited to watch a movie so picturesque and theatrical. The movie is so painstakingly beautiful and aspirational that it makes you believe that the world Zoya Akhtar (Director) has created is somehow achievable. As I grew up, my frame of references and interpretations changed. My ideologies shifted and my knowledge broadened. This made me critical and analytical of everything I watch. That meant the joy of childhood favorites being taken away. I recently came across an article which calls the film a 135 min long commercial for Spain and yet another Bollywood movie about the alpha male friendship re-kindled because of an old college pact. It goes on to say that the film is content to play along the age old stereotypes of men complaining about dominating girlfriends and clichés of male friendship which I will not deny or disagree. But here’s the thing, I still wouldn’t mind re-watching it on a lazy afternoon. I wouldn’t mind vicariously experiencing the absolutely scenic Spain and Farhan Akhtar narrating melancholic poetry in his deep husky voice. This 2011 Bollywood film has been one of the most loved pieces of cinema for various reasons.
Carlos Catalan’s stunning cinematography and the organic aesthetic of Spain is so well shot and directed that you almost feel like you are in the streets of the city. It is also what makes the movie significantly more appealing and all the more worth-while. What stands out in all of Zoya’s movies is the rhythm and ease with which the movie flows. At no point you see yourself questioning, “how and where did that come from?” The songs, the dialogues, the fights and even Farhan’s poetry is reasonably well assimilated within the narrative itself.
The character establishment in the beginning of the movie is particularly interesting to me because a menial thing like packing for a road trip has been used as a tool to tell you about the traits and patterns of the protagonists. While Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) packs and rolls all his shirts, ties and pants with care, precision and detail, on the other hand we see Imran (Farhan Akhtar) being carefree and reckless to an extent of forgetting his passport. This goes on to tell you that Arjun likes his routines and discipline whereas Imran just doesn't take life seriously. Arjun is shown to be this money minting uptight financial broker whose life revolves around diligently working for them pay-cheques. He is a stone-cold man with a peculiar air of arrogance and a troubled past. Imran is the funny guy of the group who shields his sadness and problems behind the armour of humour and poetry. A pretty common Bollywood trope I say. Kabir (Abhay Deol) is a super rich guy who is getting married to Natasha (Kalki) and has decided to take two of his childhood best-friends aka Arjun and Imran for a road-trip to Spain as his bachelor party. That is pretty much the premise of the movie. The movie unpacks a lot of themes as it progresses though.
The tension and conflict of the bond between Imran and Arjun is addressed and established from the time they meet but Zoya takes her own sweet time through the course of the movie to resolve it. Laila (Katrina Kaif) is the diving instructor they meet on their trip and she is shown to be this savant on how life should be lived. She believes in living life one day at a time and guilt trips Arjun for being money-oriented and boring. While I do see the sensibility and immediate comfort in the ideology of “Carpe Diem”, I find it a little overrated, redundant and exhausting.
The sheer banality of this theme and it being used time and again to reiterate that money cannot buy happiness is something that does not sit right with me; especially when they are discussing it in a lavish mansion after scuba diving in the waters of Spain. Interestingly, all the characters have come to this trip with some emotional baggage of their own. Imran is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his real father had rejected and abandoned him even before he was born and this newfound truth had rattled him. He constantly feared confronting his father but also had this painful urge to find answers to his questions. Opportunity presents itself when one night, the drunk and agitated trio gets into a fight at a local bar and end up behind the bars and their last resort to bail them out is Salman Habib (Imran’s father), an artist residing in Spain. The confrontation scene between Imran and Salman is one of the most beautiful yet heart-breaking scene of the movie. You see the rather funny and pompous Imran break down, asking Salman what he did to not deserve the love and acceptance of his own father. He sheds tears as he asks Salman how he could be that indifferent knowing that he has a son in the other part of the world but never once visiting him. In Salman's replies to Imran you realise the frivolity of youth and the aftermath of reckless decisions made at the time which some people simply cannot endure. When the realization hits that his real father in fact does not care enough, Imran becomes the most vulnerable you've seen him be in the whole movie and that arc is what makes the story a little rooted in reality.
The movie opens with Kabir proposing Natasha and we see in the last act that the proposal had come out of a place of confusion and chaos. Kabir is shown to contemplate his choice of marrying Natasha from the beginning of the trip and that confusion transcends into convincing us that Natasha is the classic rich and possessive girlfriend who does not believe in the concept of giving personal space. I did not mind this portrayal of Natasha as much because it is not untrue and women like her do exist in our own spheres of reality but in different magnitudes. Contrary to a popular belief, I actually appreciated the inhibitions of Natasha and her courage to be honest about her expectations. Kabir could not handle the thought of his autonomy being robbed off. He keeps this to himself until confronted. The fragility of the institution of marriage, even if it is with a person you have loved and admired and how it brings out the best and worst in people is what never ceases to amaze me.
The movie is a concoction of a lot of things, but at the core of it, it is about unrealized emotions and a very humane effort to understand the complexity of it. And of course, what is a Zoya Akhtar movie without its magnanimous locations, lavish and sumptuous apartments, affluent families and their lush parties, costumes that scream elegance and class and the impeccable production design that elevates the whole film. Zoya’s language of story-telling entails of everything, from the sets that she creates to the shirts and dresses that the characters wear. I am a strong believer of the fact that good cinema is when each and every aspect of your film acts as a tool to help with the story-telling. This movie has had its fair share of criticisms and dislikes from a number of people but I would recommend you watching it (if you haven’t already) for Abhay Deol’s childish playfulness, Javed Akhtar’s soulful poetry, Farhan’s usual charm and humor, Hrithik Roshan’s obvious good looks and the tranquil background score of this cinematic road movie which has stayed in the hearts of so many Indians for a decade now.