It has been years since I have watched a hindi movie in the theater, however within this past
week I have gone to see Farhan Akthar and Zoya Akthar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara twice.
The film follows three best friends (Abhay Deol as Kabir, Hrithik Roshan as Arjun, and Farhan Akthar as Imran) on a “bachelor’s roadtrip” on the eve of Kabir’s wedding. But this film was far from Bollywood’s take on The Hangover. Although Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara had many laugh-out-loud moments, hijinks, and hilarity, the majority of it relied less on slapstick humor and more on witty writing and character development to keep the audience’s attention.
I initially went to the theater for a dose of typical Bollywood fare of catchy song/dance numbers, bright colors, and dramatic dialogue (all of which I love), but after the first five minutes I knew this movie was going to be different. More…Hollywood. My thoughts on the film, and if you haven’t watched it yet, beware, because there are major spoilers ahead!
I love Bollywood movies, the cornier the better but on the suspension of disbelief meter, 95% of Bollywood films register off the charts. Zindagi definitely had it’s moments of “wtf…this would never happen” but, overall I was very impressed with how realistic and progressive the film was.. The treatment of the complexities of friendship, love, and the production of the film itself was well crafted. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara also offers quite a bit of food for thought on how Bollywood cinema is evolving.
The friendship between Imran and Arjun is one of the focal points in the movie. They have to overcome their past beef, and Imran has to change the way he treats the world as one big joke. The conflict between them is realistic (he stole Arjun’s girlfriend, Sonali, four years ago) and the resolution is touching. There is no real villain in this conflict, Imran and Arjun are both lovable complex characters that must grow and the film chronicles the very real fact that shit happens even between lifelong best friends, and it wouldn’t be the first time that two guys fought over a girl. I also loved how Kabir (my favorite!) broke up the fight by telling both his friends “Sonali was a bitch.”
You hear “shit” all the time in hindi movies, but this is the first time I heard someone throw “bitch” out there. Nice.
Love: A Feminist Heroine?
A Bollywood movie would be incomplete without a tale of a blossoming romance. Cue beautiful Katrina Kaif (Laila), a half Indian half British larki that the boys just happen to chance upon on a beach in Spain (chyeah right). She also happens to be their Scuba Instructor. There is no song and dance number cluing us in to their feelings for each other, they bond over drinks, a moonlit walk, and sleeping under the stars (still cheesy but in a very low key way).
However there is a very modern twist in this relationship, by both Bolly/Holly standards. Arjun is damaged goods, he is a work obsessed control freak with serious intimacy issues. He doesn’t realize what sort of weird and unfamiliar feelings he’s having when he meets Laila, and doesn’t make a single move. While they talk under the stars, Laila is the one that grabs hold of his hand. When Arjun and the boys leave to drop Natasha (Kabir’s witch-y fiance) at the airport, Laila is the one that hops on a cute little motorbike and follows them so she can make out with Arjun, because as she puts it, she “doesn’t like to have regrets.”
Even at the end of the movie, Laila comes to Arjun once more at the urging of Imran to their last destination in Spain. Arjun is overjoyed of course, and they end up getting married as the credits roll (it kind of reminded me of the end of Bridesmaids). But the point here is, Laila took control of her own love life. She knew what she wanted, and instead of waiting modestly and patiently for Arjun to come to his senses, she made the first move, and the second, and third. Bravo Bollywood, you created a strong and independent female love interest.
The Other Stuff (Production Value, Wardrobe, and Sex)
Production: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a visually stunning movie. The Spanish vistas are breathtaking to look at, and the scenes where the trio go deep sea diving and sky diving are moving to watch (even though they are rather drawn out). One of the most spectacular scenes in the movie however is the Tomatina Festival in Buñol.
While watching the movie I actually thought that they had timed the filming
with the actual annual Tomatina Festival. The thought was farfetched, but so
was the idea of a Bollywood film completely recreating the festival so authentically. I went home and did the research and found that the director
imported 24 tons of tomatoes from Portugal! That is around 60,000 pounds of
tomato, and they actually had to shut Buñol down to shoot scenes in the actual town.
I’m not certain if this figure still holds true but as of two weeks ago, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara grossed more money in India than the latest Harry Potter movie as well. Crazy.
Wardrobe: Western apparel in Bollywood films is often completely ridiculous, with men donning way too tight, or sheer shirts, and women bearing midriffs or jumpsuits in loud, bold colors. Tacky. Think Priyanka Chopra in Krrish. Or the entire cast in the Dhoom movies. The styling in Zindagi is refreshing. The characters dress in outfits you actually might see when you go out, I loved Farhan Akthar in the fedora, and Katrina looked beautiful in flowing skirts and dresses rather than body skimming outfits. One con: Hrithik’s shirts could stand to be a couple of inches longer.
Sex: The evolution of sex in Bollywood has come a long way since the olden days (check out sabadabadoo’s post on the matter). For a period of time I think it went from 0 to 60, from not being addressed at all – to addressing it way too aggressively. Does anybody remember the sex speech from Main Prem Ki Diwaani Hoon? Love divided by sex…wha? I think Zindagi finally reached the happy medium. There was no over the top sexing, although there were scandalous moments, like when Imran went into the shower with Nuria, or basically attacked her with the rose in a later scene. Sex is taken off a pedestal in this movie, which is why I think the allusions to it are much sweeter. Imran opening up to Nuria post-coitus about his father in hindi, knowing she doesn’t understand a thing he’s saying, but rather what he’s feeling is once of my favorite scenes in any Bollywood movie. Arjun lovingly looking back at Laila sleeping in his bed before going to the running of the bulls…adorable.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a layered movie and offers much food for thought that I could wax on about for days, like the relationship between my favorite musketeer, Kabir, and his uppity fiance Natacha. The heart wrenching meeting between Imran and his father that finally caused Imran to grow up and bring about resolution between him and Arjun, and the gratuity that is Hrithik’s body…but instead, I will leave you with this clip: