There’s a moment in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara when Arjun, the character played by Hrithik Roshan, sits on a boat with tears in his eyes. It becomes clear that in a strange way, Arjun has been set free by a deep-sea diving experience. The realization hits him that life is beautiful but you can only savour it when you live it by your own rules, not by what is expected of you.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara takes the light-hearted tone of a fun, all-boys road trip through Spain to give you a deep and heartfelt message on why we should live life by seizing the moment and following our hearts. Director Zoya Akhtar, who proved with her wonderful debut Luck By Chance that she has a perceptive eye for relationships and an assured storytelling style, uses the same tools to tell a new story.
Three lifelong friends in their thirties decide to take the three-week road trip they always planned when Kabir (played by Abhay Deol) gets engaged to Natasha (played by Kalki Koechlin). Kabir is the binding force between his polar-opposite friends: the free-spirited advertising copywriter Imran (played by Farhan Akhtar), and the uptight Arjun, strait-jacketed by his career. To add excitement, the only rule on this road trip is that all three friends must try out an adventure sport chosen by each of them.
Boys will be boys and this film catches that note beautifully. You can be in your thirties, but a few minutes with your childhood friends takes you right back to being a teenager, playing the same old pranks, and imitating your college professor’s weird accent. You have to love the natural way in which a simmering undercurrent between Arjun and Imran erupts over a silly, childish fight and how they scuffle about as if they were in a schoolyard. Arjun is aggravated by Imran’s annoying, not-serious-for-a-moment attitude, but underneath his flip manner, Imran is struggling with a secret of his own. The adventure gets complicated with love when diving instructor Laila (played by Katrina Kaif) enters the equation – she’s a young Paulo Coelho in her own sexy way, showing Arjun how to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. A jealous, possessive Natasha also stirs up the pot when she lands up unannounced on the group. She’s the worst kind of gatecrasher – a fianceé on a bachelor trip.
There are several scenes in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara that make you want to pack your bags and gather your pals. Each adventure sport is shot so thrillingly that you feel alive and in-the-moment, even though you’re actually watching it all sitting in a dark theatre. Watch that hair-raising skydiving scene – it’s such an unusual salute to friendship. A real tone is maintained through the dialogues written by Farhan Akhtar; they have that a casual slice-of-life flavor, and the jokes here are genuinely funny.
What makes Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara that much more enjoyable are the performances. Katrina Kaif is content to play off the three male leads, yet she brings a charming, lovely touch to her role. Kalki Koechlin, playing what is essentially a caricature, keeps her character grounded in the real; so while you may not particularly like her in the end, you can see why she acts that way.
The three male stars have that believable vibe of a long friendship. Abhay Deol brings an effortless, comfortable energy to Kabir, while Farhan Akhtar is a revelation. He’s so goofy that you burst out laughing several times, yet he shows vulnerability just as easily. Hrithik Roshan once again brings real depth to his character with a spectacular performance. He’s shy and restrained, then lets go with such fantastic intensity that you make the inward journey with his character.
But a quibble I have with this film is that it takes too long to reach its destination and gets sidetracked by a couple of sentimental detours. It lingers too long in certain scenarios, and this sucks some of the fun out of the ride. Yet, I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It proves that Zoya Akhtar has a unique, compelling voice and unlike many of her contemporaries, she actually respects that a cinema audience can be both intelligent and mature.
Make sure you take this trip!