The film starts with friends and family celebrating Kabir (Abhay) and Natasha’s (Kalki Koechlin) engagement. It’s straight out of a Hollywood rom-com where everyone gives a toast to the couple. It could have been sweet it the scene were brief. During this occasion we meet Buddy 2—Imran (Farhan Akhtar)—a happy-go-lucky funny guy with a secretive other side. The “third musketeer” Arjun (Hrithik) is missing. He’s too busy working; ambitious as he is to make wealth and retire at 40.
The three are to meet in Spain for a bachelor party before Kabir’s wedding. But the trip turns out to be more than just fun, with each going on the trip for a deeper reason. Through the journey, we see the buddies bond, sing-and-dance, romance, and fight. Something changes within each of them. Yes, comparisons with Hangover and Dil Chahta Hai are unavoidable. And there are some similarities (3 friends bonding, road-trip, over-bearing girlfriend, life-changing journey and so on); but that’s where the likeness ends.
Arjun meets Laila (Katrina) a gypsy-at-heart who loves sleeping under the stars, and preaches living in the present. Naturally she is not ambitious—because as the film’s sometimes simplistic characterization goes--the characters can only be either/or. Laila sweeps in like a pleasant breeze in Arjun’s life, but will he do anything about it? Meanwhile Kabir is full of anxiety over the impending marriage and Imran discovers a family secret that throws him off-course.
Zindagi… is a film exploring male-bonding. But these men are a treat for the women! Offered to the viewer are three well-bred boys, shirtless for a major part of the film, whose worked-out physiques are as much on display as their sense of humour.
Also, it’s interesting to observe how different a `guy’ turns out when directed by a woman. Writer-director Zoya Akhtar, who made the superb Luck By Chance, is in no hurry to make a “madcap comedy”. She revels in each scene, gives it the time and space to affect the viewer. The underwater diving scene is shot in a slow, meditative style, almost as if there was nothing more to say in the film but this. This style is also a metaphor for Katrina’s life philosophy of living in the moment. It’s just beautiful.
Or the sky-diving scene, where another director might have focussed on the thrill of the sport. Zoya, instead, chooses to show it’s deeper significance—the bonding, the weightlessness (as if the trip had made them so), and the spirituality of the sport.
The dialogue, while flowing with wit and intelligence, sounds affected in Hindi. These characters wouldn’t speak Hindi or use words like afsos (regret) and paintra (trick). The film doesn’t even allow the innocuous `So’, that many start a sentence with, directly translating it in Hindi as --`To…’. Consider this example – the guy asks the girl out for a drink. She says, “Mujhe subah jaldi uthna hai.” Nope, I don’t buy that her character would react like that. But a film has to be made in Hindi, so….
The film falters in its unstable characterization. Arjun’s transformation is too quick to be credible. Laila’s role just appears to be a catalyst in Arjun’s life and has no background, solid arc of her own. Again, Natasha’s character is puzzling – Kabir talks of the change in her after the engagement but we have no idea how/ why she changes so drastically.
You’ll be quick to forget these points, as there are many plusses. The film is technically marvelous – you soak in the expertness of the underwater photography and the director’s prowess in executing a mind-blowing finale around Spain’s bull-run festival.
The performances are one of the best in recent times. Hrithik Roshan gives the role his all. It’s just great to see him on screen after long. Farhan Akhtar is all set to become this generation’s pin-up. As his twitter handle goes (FarOut Akhtar), Farhan’s performance is indeed far out! Abhay is dependably superlative. Katrina is remarkable restrained and pitches in a commendable performance. Kalki enacts her bitter-sweet character with remarkable dexterity.
Finally, Zoya Akhtar ought to take a bow. In the age of jump cuts and quick transitions, she dares to make a film that’s not afraid of celebrating a scene thoroughly, unhurriedly. Those who get restless easily may want to carry along a dollop of patience. The film’s measured pace is, interestingly, both its strength and weakness.
Even if not entirely persuasive, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is enormously entertaining. Can’t miss!
Verdict: Three and a half stars