Saturday, July 16, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

[Disclaimer: the film in my cinema broke at what I think was the very end of the story—Farhan voice-over-ing about being alive or living life to the fullest or some such, as the three men re-join the bull run—so I do not know if there was more to it than that and, specifically, whether we see the leads make good on their "if I survive this" vows.]

If you watched much American tv in the late 1990s and early 2000s, you might remember the glut of teen dramasBeverly Hills 90210, Dawson's Creek, Buffy, The OC, etc.—and evocative Mad TV parody of them called Pretty White Kids with Problems.

Once it popped into my head at intermission, PWKWK was all I could think about for the rest of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. None of the lead men could pass as teenagers in a world not filmed by the WB network, but these fellas seemed more entranced by their school days than the recent grads of Dil Chahta Hai. But it was the "problem" aspect that kept me from being very sympathetic—empathetic flew out the floor-to-ceiling window as soon as we saw the stunning house Abhay's character rented in the first leg of their Spanish trip—to these blandly likeable guys. Personal problems are no less real than the societal-level problems addressed in films by Zoya and Farhan's dad and Abhay's uncle in previous decades,* but did the answers have to be quite so obvious to anyone who's seen Dead Poets Society (a golden example of PWKWP if ever there were one, though emphasis on the "kids" part of that, as well as being made over 20 years ago)? Or, for that matter, wrapped in the bustier-sporting form of a manic pixie dream girl?

I don't know. I just didn't care. I didn't hate these people, and I didn't think their problems were uninteresting or silly. Mostly brought on by their own decisions, yes, but they also figured out that they had to make changes to their own lives in order to solve them, so that's okay. And I've got no fundamental issue with the trope of "go to a new place to give yourself a new perspective," though I loathe memoirs by westerners who go anywhere east of Turkey looking for wisdom or enlightenment, and it was interesting to see that idea flipped on its head. I think it was the gloss that got in the way. There was some kind of disconnect between the ease with which these people navigated the world and the sadness or anger or dread they felt inside. I can't figure out why sometimes that kind of dissonance is an intriguing surprise and at others it's an obstacle to engaging with a story. Maybe it's because the contrast wasn't news to me—I already knew that rich/creative/sweet people have problems too.

The fact that the women had their sh*t together while the men floundered around didn't really endear me to this either, especially when one is a magically curative one-night stand and another's fate is left dangling as we realize she faces a really rough time ahead. Kalki's character Natasha also suffered from being really, really irritating without much explanation why. "Jealous nagging fiancée" is more of a straw man than an actual character, especially when we see she has no grounds to act like that. We may know why she's insecure, but it's also her own fault that she's engaged to someone she doesn't seem to entirely trust. I think I expected more developed female characters from Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti. Can't there be room for rich female characters even in a film busy showing three boys growing up? On the other hand, Katrina's character is the most honest, happy, and well-adjusted of anyone in the film without being obnoxious about it, and it was great to see a female lead having a life and attitude everyone else admired. The motorcycle moment was cheesy as heck but I liked it anyway in a snap-snap "you go girl" sort of way.**

What else.... The music was forgettable but worked well enough in context. My favorite musical moment was Natasha's unabashed love of the Avril Lavigne-esque "Rock Chick" song on the radio, which pinpointed how unlike her fiancé she was. The one dance number was a let-down, with Hrithik ballet-pointing his sneakers and poor Abhay struggling to keep up. The film looked gorgeous and showed me parts of Spain I hadn't seen before, and the performances were were convincing, even from Katrina (IKR?). I went in expecting to like Abhay's performance most but I walked out having enjoyed Farhan more than anyone else, although he also had the most varied and, to my mind, sympathetic role despite the character's past mistakes. Abhay gave his character Kabir a sweet earnestness that minimized my urge to dope slap him for his bad life decision, but Kabir simply was not emphasized enough throughout to make much of an impact.

I don't want to leave the impression that I hated Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, but for me it was simply very pretty but with very little to hold on to or think about after the moment finished on the screen. The same is true of the teen soaps I referred to at the beginning of this post. I never miss an episode of Gossip Girl, but based on Honeymoon Travels and Luck by Chance, I had expected, maybe unfairly, something richer and more interesting than that. Shahrukh in the Don 2 trailer got more whistles than anything in ZNMD from the sold-out crowd in my cinema. Even if ZNMD isn't exactly a hoot and holler kind of film, that probably says something, doesn't it?

*Did anyone else find themselves thinking "Wow, Javed Akhtar wrote films in which children have to work in order to support their families because the system is corrupt and horrible, whereas his son and daughter have presented me with a film in which people waste tons of fresh produce in order to embrace their inner free spirits." I've got no issue with Tomatina—it's just an interesting sign of the filmified worlds some heroes live in in 2011.
** Though note she just breezed in and breezed back out, very nicely not complicating Hrithik's life or joining the boys' trip until she was invited by one of them to do so. Was this because she knew it wasn't quite the right time or because the film wanted more screen time for the bromance? Hmmm.

11 comments:

Anarchivist said...

Fresh produce? Did they throw mangos at each other?

Filmi Girl said...

Wow!!! I had a completely different take on this film. I got swept away in the journey and ended up feeling like I really knew and cared about the characters. Sure, their problems weren't Important Problems but I don't think the movie was preaching that they were... the key difference between ZNMD and Pretty People With Problems. ;)

Beth said...

Anarchavist - Tomatoes! This was set in the vest, daaaahling. :)

Filmigirl - Oh I didn't mind that their problems weren't Important - in fact I think personal problems ARE important, especially in a (sub-)culture in which people have the basics of human life squared away and thus have energy to put towards things like "What will it mean to meet my real dad?", itself something that has come up in Hindi films for a long time (even though characters didn't always know they were doing! :D ). I agree that the movie is not at all preachy - and thank Helen for that! It just didn't move me much, though I did tear up at Imran's disappointing meeting with his dad and his subsequent genuine apology to Arjun.

Leena said...

i haven't seen the movie yet, but i'm just kind of over the hipster group bromances about men finding themselves and getting the courage to diss their overbearing or clingy girlfriends or whatever... but i'll probably check it out next week.

Dolce and Namak said...

I have absolutely nothing constructive to say, as I agree with most of the low points you mentioned about the film (even if for me the charm of it all worked enough to get me to ignore those sore points), but I absolutely had to squee about this right here:

"I went in expecting to like Abhay's performance most but I walked out having enjoyed Farhan more than anyone else, although he also had the most varied and, to my mind, sympathetic role despite the character's past mistakes."

Me too!!!! :) He actually seems not only the most fleshed out character, but also the most believable in terms of character development. He doesn't go from one extreme to the other, he just deals with his issues and moves on. How I wish every character in the movie had been written the same... Sigh...

Anyway, for me the 3 boys (and Naseer!!! :D) made the movie and it was pretty much to hell with everything else. It was the easiest way to solve the cognitive dissonance created by my sky-high expectations for a Zoya Akhtar product and the fluff that ZNMD actually turned out to be. Fluff is good too. Fluff is definitely good :)

Cinderella said...

i love the movies and went to see with my friends.excellent and energetic movie.
Bollywood Movies

Aparna said...

Beth, at last a review that matched my opinion about the movie - watchable and utterly forgettable.

I felt that it was a breezy movie, enjoyable in parts and predictable towards the end. That's it! I still don't get how some of my friends are going ga-ga over it as being life changing, and realistic and coming of age, etc. It is just a feel-good movie where once more there is a bitchy-possessive fiancee (whom I quite liked), a rich character sort of agreeing that money does not make him happy (don't we all love characters like that who are guilty of being richer than us and so serves-him-right that he should be looking for love and happiness?) and an ideal girlfriend who gives her man the space he needs to be with his friends.

Sometimes, it felt like a movie about how grown up men were happy to be irresponsible guys in a foreign country.
And yeah, warmed up to Farhan's character, he had the most well defined one. Hrithik just doesn't seem to get comfortable in his character, or maybe he was not told what he should be - a disgruntled friend, or a poor-rich-guy, or a sensitive soul... Abhay had the simplest character, probably a 'nice' guy who cannot hurt people, but I didn't udnerstand how that translated to his extremely gay mannerisms in the beginning.

The female characters were one dimensional, though they all had potential. Kalki rocked an unsympathetic character, which could have very much gone over the top in the hands of someone else. I loved her sing-along in the car.

Aparna said...

Btw, Katrina's character seemed like a made-to-order character by the 3 guys - someone who nudged them to dream through her own decisions and gave them space when they needed, was beautiful and sexy (hey, that never hurts with guys, does it?) and was tomboyish enough to be 'one of the guys'.
Sorry to sound bitchy...but nowadays most bollywood movies are so much about male bonding that "normal" female characters who are not 'one of the guys' always come off as a weirdo in movies - someone to ridicule, laugh at her back and generally look for a way to break up with. Not fair!

Beth said...

Aparna - I don't get it as being life-changing or meaningful either, nor do I understand how anyone could get really upset at it other than (perhaps unfair) expectations based on Luck by Chance and Honeymoon Travels that were not met. I was just reading a discussion here http://pakhipakhi.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/zindagi-na-milegi-dobara-continues-to-surprise-and-polarize/ and thinking about how many ways there are to react to the idea that a film's major conflicts are not personally relevant to large numbers of audience members.

Your points are really interesting and I would agree that this film is very, very centered on and defined by the three leads - even just Hrithik and Farhan, really, since Abhay's character has so little screen time and does most of his work keeping the other two together. Hero centric - but nothing new there.

Re: Katrina: I was so busy being amazed that I didn't hate her performance that I didn't put much effort into thinking about the character. She was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl type but not as egregious as others I've seen. I love your point about the "one of the guys" factor! Definitely a fallout of the bromance. It reminds me of the final seen of Qurbani - even Zeenat Aman is left out of the emotional climax!

jennyketcham said...

Hey, Beth; I enjoyed your take on ZNMD, even though I liked it much more than you did. I did mentally reflect (or is that mantally?) on the expenditure level by this trio, especially from Farhan's character. How the heck did he handle three literally palatial rooms in Pamplona when he, egad! had to fly in coach on the way there and bring his whole wardrobe for the trip from the box in his closet marked "Godspell Options"???

What I did enjoy was the cameraderie that the three had. They didn't actually need women in their lives (which is pretty typical with a large segment of BW movies, IMO) as long as they had each other. Though I did enjoy Katrina's portrayal, and for the first time, I really liked her in a film. Actually, she got the best acting review in Variety's profile. As to your copy of the film breaking at the end, you only missed the item number over the credits which showed that Kalki's character came to the wedding and was part of the wedding party, yet was there with another cute, upwardly mobile clone of Abhay, that Abhay was a bit surprised by that, and that Hrithik should completely eliminate contrasting vests from his wardrobe. Makes him look short, if that's humanly possible.

Jenny K
Filmigoris.net

shikhar said...

very true!!! didn't like this muv too and yes...too long.