Sunday, July 17, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara: Spanish Holiday!

“I hate this!”

-Little girl sitting in the row in front of me

I understand why that little girl didn’t enjoy
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, it’s a movie about and for adults at a certain time of life. Much like Rock On, which I also enjoyed, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is about a bunch of guys who have been role playing adulthood and their journey to true self-discovery and self-acceptance. And there is not much in that journey for a 10-year old girl, no matter how much she likes Hrithik Roshan.

Set in glossy, travel brochure Spain,
ZNMD tells the story of Kabir (Abhay Deol), Imran (Farhan Akhtar), and Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), three childhood best friends on one last bachelor trip before Kabir gets married. As they travel through the Spanish countryside in a gorgeous vintage car, we, the audience, are privy to their long-held secrets and resentments, their jokes, their laughter, and their tears. Along the way we also meet Laila (Katrina Kaif), a free-spirited scuba instructor and her feisty friend Nuria (Spanish actress Ariadna Cabrol). Kabir’s fiancée Natasha (Kalki Koechlin) also pops up from time to time… just to check in on the boys.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to like the film as much as I did. Director Zoya Akhtar’s previous work,
Luck By Chance, was nowhere near as good as the buzz surrounding it, songs were awkwardly inserted, debut actor Farhan Akhtar (Zoya’s brother) was unable to master his role, and the story had too much of the stink of Madhur Bhandarkar’s gutter about it. You know what I mean – a story that sensationalizes and hypes the nastiness behind a glamour industry while not allowing any of the characters to be fully people. But in between scenes showing shit on a platter, there were a few genuine moments in Luck By Chance - Hrithik Roshan’s superstar character connecting with some small children chief among them – that were enough to entice me to see what Zoya could do outside of the industry gutter. Would she find her strengths or play to the critics?

Considering the drubbing
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara has gotten from the critics – and how much I enjoyed the film – I think it’s the former.

Let me start with the couple complaints I had and then I’ll move onto the good stuff – which is most of the stuff! Perhaps it is to be expected from a slice-of-life film by the privileged children of Bollywood elite but the one really off-putting strain in the film was an air of entitlement that crept in from time to time… the woes of rich and handsome men aren’t generally a big concern of mine and if the script and actors hadn’t been so great at making the characters feel like real people I could care about, I probably would have checked out of the film pretty early on.

The other thing I didn’t really care for was the opening bit of the film which takes place at the engagement party for Kabir and Natasha. It’s very slow, very dull, and not very revealing. And the cold open of the film – Kabir’s awkward proposal to Natasha - doesn’t quite provide the
in medias res feel that I think Zoya was going for. The party and all that feels really self-indulgent and I think most of that opening could have been chopped off with no damage done to the rest of the film. If I remember when the DVD comes out, I’d love to start the film at the opening song and see if that doesn’t make the rest of the film seem snappier in comparison.

Now, the good stuff.

[The lovely and talented Bagwati!]

For me, the fun in watching
ZNMD was the intimacy of it. Zoya did a wonderful job of making the audience feel like we were part of the gang on the trip. The leisurely pace of the narrative allowed room for things that I really enjoy to see in films – running jokes, friendly teasing, banter… and under it all was this tension. A slice-of-life film should feel like a slice-of-life and just like in life, we none of us go around announcing our problems in ALL CAPS. Most of the time, like the ZNMD boys, we don’t even know what our problems are. It takes time and patience to draw these things out but the payoff is worth it.

Performance wise, this is by far the best I’ve seen from Farhan and Abhay. As Imran, Farhan hits the sweet spot between ‘dick’ and ‘rascal.’ Imran’s emotional journey was handled seamlessly by Farhan and when he does have some emotional scenes later on in the film, I was really quite touched instead of being annoyed. I think what I liked best was that Farhan was able to convey that, at the end, Imran doesn’t feel sorry for himself, he feels
sorry. It’s a really nice contrast to some earlier scenes where he is acting childish and feeling sorry for himself… the Farhan of a few films ago would not have been able to do that.

With Abhay, I had a bit of a different reaction. I think this is the first time I’ve actually liked his character in a film. He’s a talented actor but he always plays these grey roles in sometimes very mediocre films. It was a real pleasure to see him play somebody I could like. And I really liked Kabir. I liked that Kabir was kind of a dork. I liked that Kabir just wanted everybody to love him. And I liked that Kabir never trashed Natasha… even when Imran and Arjun try to bait him into it. Kabir is a just a very decent guy.

Hrithik Roshan was great as Arjun. The man has talent and that talent can do everything from over-the-top
masala to low-key naturalism. I liked his buttoned-up Arjun and one can easily see how a guy who lives with the constant fear of losing his place in life would have trouble opening up to anybody. I also got a kick out of the picturization for “Senorita,” the one dance number in the film, because even when he is trying to be ‘average,’ Hrithik is a fantastic dancer.

The girls were all good, even if their characters weren’t quite fleshed out. Although, I did really appreciate that Natasha wasn’t made into a one-dimensional shrew and her appearance in the end credits was a sweet touch.

Other things to note in the film were the wonderful music from Shakar-Ehsaan-Loy, especially the aforementioned “Senorita” and the gorgeous ballad “Khaabon Ke Parinday” sung by Alyssa Mendoza and Mohit Chauhan. Although the picturizations were mostly montaged, I thought they were fairly effective because they all served a purpose instead of feeling like the songs were shoehorned in to make some producer happy. And I got a little thrill in “Khaabon Ke Parinday” when Hrithik began lipsyncing some of the lyrics… a subtle twist of convention.

And the overall atmosphere… I really, really felt like I was on vacation with three friends – albeit impossibly rich and handsome friends. Zoya really did an amazing job at capturing a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. That ten year old sitting in front of me probably hated all the artsy shots of scenery and clear blue skies but I soaked up every second.

In short,
ZNMD is not a film for everybody – there is no real plot, no important message about saving the world’s poor, no explosions, no explosive diarrhea, no provocative langauage, and no wacky sound effects. The film is a relaxed Spanish vacation from real life, taken with three good and beautiful friends. So, sit back and enjoy the leisurely ride…

I feel more relaxed just remembering it right now. So, excuse me while I tie a fashionable scarf over my hair and jump in the sky blue roadster for a drive through the Spanish countryside...


Bombay Talkies said...

I'm really excited to see ZNMD--though it'll have to wait til it comes out on DVD (Nashville sucks for trying to see Hindi films in theatres). I'm really glad you liked it, I know from reading some of your earlier posts that you weren't much of a fan of Zoya's work.

I loved LBC--in fact I'd say it's in the top five when it comes to all time best movies--for pretty much all the reasons you didn't. The music was phenomenal and the picturizations were natural. I like that Farhan isn't a polished actor. I thought the story was great and their were so many wonderful little moments that make you notice how incredibly talented Zoya is. I thought it was all brilliantly done.

Compare that to what I've seen of ZNMD: I've listened to the soundtrack a dozen or so times and it's not doing it for me yet--I'm hoping seeing the songs in the film will help. I disliked the picturization of Senorita and the previews all sort of underwhelmed me, which is disappointing because I really *want* to like this movie. And I'm sure I will once I see it all put together.

The other thing that concerns me is something you sort of touched on--the "travel brochure" Spain. I've lived in Spain and will be living there again shortly and I adore it, but I'm always bothered when films sanitize it (or any location, to be honest). There's more to it than the normal movie cliches.

Great write up, and I can't wait to see it for myself! :)

(And sorry for the novel lol)

Filmi Girl said...

@bombay talkies I like novels!! :)

Have you read Beth's review? I think she is coming from your perspective... what I liked about ZNMD is that it doesn't have the Trying Too Hard feel that was all over LBC. There were a handful of moments in LBC that I really loved and were enough to convince me to see ZNMD... but, yeah, I didn't much care for the main story of LBC. Basically, everything involving Hrithik or Dimple was gold and the rest was just frustrating.

Bombay Talkies said...

I thought Juhi was a gem in LBC--she and Rishi cracked me up.

Checking out Beth's review now, thanks for the reminder! :)

Moimeme said...

What "drubbing by the critics" are you talking about? Except for Raja Sen (1.5/5) and someone else who gave it 2.5/5, everyone else has been full of praises for ZNMD, and its ratings range from 3.5-4.5/5. Even Rediff had another review (which appeared before Raja Sen's) with a much higher rating.

Filmi Girl said...

@moimeme Really? My impression was that most people were either indifferent or disappointed. Maybe I should have said negative buzz instead of drubbing... and maybe it was just my twitter feed really harping on the Raja Sen review.

Of course, now that I've actually gone and scanned some "professional" reviews, I can see they are mostly 3's. :)

So, it looks like my impression was incorrect. Oops!

never-evil said...

I have to say I wasn't looking forward to ZNMD at all. I was very engaged during LBC but I wouldn't call it a favourite because it felt heartless - the only real heart was in that stellar scene with Zaffar Khan in the car and the kids outside staring at each other. But still I could appreciate LBC.

This on the other hand looked like it would be some -boys will be boys- kind of childish indulgent movie that I would have no interest in. Admittedly I'd only seen one or two trailers and probably judged it too harshly from that. As it turns this was a wonderful, warm, light hearted watch - so unlike Zoya's last movie, less grim and more delightful which made it very enjoyable.

I thought that the opening scene was brilliant only after we got to see the flashback because then I thought to myself -oh, it only *seemed* fairytale perfect-. In the beginning I was kinda confused why everyone was already there when he had just proposed and of course that made sense later also.

I like your points about the intimacy and leisurely pace - that's what made the movie for me.

Farhan and Abhay were great but Hrithik's character captured my imagination so completely when watching the movie. It's all I could go on about in my own review (actually I wish I could go on about it a bit more but I'll have to wait for the dvd and a re-watch). I don't know why everyone seems to be hating on Hrithik for looking too model like or being too unrealistic a fit for this gang - he was so lovely to watch. And a very integral part of the trio.

I'm with you - that moment when he starts singing in Khaabon Ke heart kind of soared and I had goosebumps. It's as though the character just couldn't contain what he was feeling and had to sing out loud. And I liked that really it was still just him singing in his head (since none of the boys took any notice) ...can't say enough times how much I loved that moment.

I think you may enjoy this interview of Katrina's btw:
I love that she loves the whole "story PAUSE *dance* then RESUME" thing. :D

Sal said...

I loved Luck By Chance and I absolutely adored ZNMD. I watched it a few hours ago, and it was extra special because I was watching a Bollywood film at the cinema after seven years. I can see why people might not enjoy the film, since it isn't plot-oriented at all, but being very partial to the sort of movie that is all about experience and conversations and characters, I enjoyed every second of it. It was gorgeously shot, often hysterically funny, and apart from a few missteps in the dialogue, beautifully put together. I loved the chemistry between all the actors. I finally got to watch Hrithik play human, and he did it excellently. I have to give special props to Katrina here; this is the first film that I've liked Katrina in. For the first time ever, she seemed "un-vapid" to me - a real, beautiful woman instead of a mannequin with bad line delivery. I really think Katrina should pick these low-key, charming, natural-seeming roles that allow her to play to her strengths instead of choosing parts that need heavy-duty histrionics that she's not up to.

Filmi Girl said...

@moimeme (Again) This is the kind of thing I was thinking of:’Artagnan.html

They gave three stars but really trashed the film in places.

Arjun’s scenes with Laila are endless and boring. And her ‘return’ is entirely unnecessary; is it really so important that everyone must be coupled in the end? There is honesty when Imran confronts his past, so long hidden from him by his parents, but the absence of drama leaves you somewhat hoodwinked. Anyway, that’s Akhtar’s prerogative - moments to create empathy, yes; melodrama, not so much.

Indian Essay said...

I saw ZNMD and liked it, although Farhan's DCH was better in my opinion. It does tend to drag a little bit, but still, a really nice film!

I've been looking up some cast and crew interviews and Kat's always coming off as fairly patronizing and hoity-toity in almost every interview of hers (not just ZNMD, but on Koffee, Couch with Koel etc). She comes across as smart, but sort of looking down her nose at these interviewers..Not sure if it's just me who feels that way though.

Shantanu said...

Beautiful movie! Loved it! And your write-up pretty much explains why.

I disagree with one point however : the movie did not get a drubbing from critics - only "prominent" critic who gave it a thumbs down was Raja Sen of rediff, but then he does that to most good and bad movies, while liking the horrendous ones, so doesnt make much of a difference. This link lists most prominent reviewer's opinions abt the movie :

maeve66 said...

I saw the movie last night with a friend -- a local straight movieplex has started having one Bollywood movie at a time along with its usual fair -- and liked it much more than I expected to. I like Farhan Akhtar quite well, and Hrithik, too (though once I would never have said that... but his acting and his dancing especially are ace... I wish they had let him dance MORE in this movie). I've never liked any Deol, but you're right, Abhay was quite good in this role. I wasn't into the Spanish-Hindi mashup music, and I didn't like the car ballad montage song either... but the one when Katrina Kaif has returned, and they're all being introspective? That song, I liked. I have to go look up its title. "Der Lagi Lekin", that's it.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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