Mayank Shekhar's review: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

By Hindustan Times

Director: Zoya Akhtar
Actors: Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol
Rating: ****

"Hi. It's me," says the voice over the phone. You know right away, only a typical girlfriend, Kabir's (Abhay Deol's), in this case (yours or mine, otherwise) could refer to herself in that presumptuous 'me'! The only me, I know, is Me.

For Kabir, it's the girl (Kalki) who he recently got engaged to. He's on a bachelors' trip. Before he gets married in a couple of months. She's insecure. As all girlfriends (why, even boyfriends) eventually become: possession, being the flip side of any kind of love. She hops on to a flight, actually joins her fiancé's friends on their stag party across the breathtakingly, bravely picturised (Carlos Catalan), intensely scenic Spain. What a bummer, right? Right. But this female intrusion's brief. The fiancée leaves soon enough.

The three men, best friends, carry on. They have a bet to honour, an old promise to keep. Which is to perform three scary stunts, suggested by each, on a holiday together. "Together, 'til death do us part?" Well…? Sort of. The film is a hard-core male-bonding 'bromance' all right. Though in a consistently comical way, as against something expressly melodramatic or corny. Their dares probably have more to do with overcoming their own personal, pet fears, or phobias, if you like.

Of the two other friends, one (Hrithik Roshan) is, as the film puts it, a corporate "slave" (forever stuck to his job), or "whore" (works for money alone). A beautiful girl (Katrina Kaif) he befriends on the trip exposes him to a wonderful world beyond, which he may be missing out on. He wishes to pile up all the wealth and retire by 40 (the ultimate urban mirage). "What if you don't live until 40," the girl asks him. True that.

The other buddy (Farhan Akhtar) is a closeted poet, and an advertising copywriter by day – "creative type", as it were. He's in his early 30s – like his best friends. Between these "three musketeers" plays out a picture that instantly takes you back to the said lead actor's own stunning directorial debut. Comparisons, even allusions to a possible sequel, are inevitable.

It's been exactly ten years since fall, 2001, when Farhan's Dil Chahta Hai, a game-changer for Hindi films, brought to us the rich, carefree, well-kept metro-sexual man of the urban Indian multiplex. The film also coincided with ten years of an open economy that, among other things, eventually split India's cinema audiences into (metropolitan, mall-rat) "classes", and (unwashed, single-screen) "masses". Dil Chahta Hai, in trade journalese, debatable as these terms may be, was a film for the "classes". Probably, so is this.

Character traits of three thick friends there, could be somewhat swapped with the smartly cast actors here too. Well, more or less. There's the intense guy (Hrithik, for Akshaye Khanna's role); the goofy, hen-pecked one (Abhay, for Saif Ali Khan's character); and the compulsively flirtatious (Farhan, for Aamir Khan's part). What's important is that you love this film for about the same reasons you adored the light, breezy Dil Chahta Hai. It shares with it that wicked, wry sense of humour that, say, made the line, "Cake khaane ke liye toh hum kahin bhi jaa sakte hai", iconic, immortal. Farhan's character is the repository of those subtle, self-mocking repartees in this film. They should equally survive the test of time.

In fact, judging by his outstandingly timed performance, it'd be fair to suggest the actor, who's since proven himself as rock-star, dancer, stand-up comedian, TV show host (possibly the most multi-faceted Indian talent -- film-wise, or otherwise) should have played hero in his first film as director-producer as well.

While entertaining her audiences throughout, the writer-director (Zoya Akhtar, Luck By Chance), with a firm voice of her own, still manages to keep things artistic, without its pretensions; a lot of times, even poetic, literally, with profound poetry on love and life that you wish to hear again: "Aankhon mein hairaaniyan lekar chal rahe ho? Toh zinda ho. (You still walk with amazement in your eyes? You're alive)." This is rare.

Some may find the film "slow". It's not. No film is (they all move at 24 frames per second). It's the pacing, or rhythm, that's an issue: too much, by way of plot, is packed into the first half; too many minutes get spent in tying up various loose ends in the second. When the movie does break into a song, you can tell, the soundtrack's relatively second-rate (save for the striking ‘Senorita').

None of which eventually matters. What you take home are memorable, amusing moments of three truly adventurous amigos we've all grown up with. And will continue to. Facebook can't change that. You figure how your best friendships (especially those from college or school) remain frozen in fountain of youth. We never age in relation to the other. Mine date back to 1995. We're 16 still, ever-ready for that kill. Thank god. Inspired, I'll take up these boys' awesome holiday plan. Soon. You should check out their movie, for sure.

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