Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara- Movie Review

And it’s fair to say this will go down, for me, as the best film of 2011. Because it ranks right up there with the likes of Rang de Basanti and Swades as among the best Bollywood movies ever made. And that says a lot.

It is almost insulting that in the build-up leading to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’s release, the film was mindlessly compared to Hollywood products like ‘The Hangover’ and also the half-good ‘Wild Hogs’.

For the record, it is not only Americans who have the divine right to organize road trips and the concept of making a film based on a road trip is as old as yore. The only difference is that this concept is hitherto infant to Bollywood, which has a habit of either churning ultra-rich niche NRI family sagas or pure desi style bashing movies, both which are pretty disconnected with the grassroots.

Coming in the era where high-end and half-decent Bollywood movies are not meeting box office returns and Salman Khan is busy reversing the maturity clock by raking the moolah through convenient remake of South Indian masalas, it’s fair to say originality has been running thin in Bollywood.

ZNMD might not seem to be very original in nature but the fact remains that the writing and presentation of the film simply makes it the freshest all-rounder Bollywood film in recent memory (I’m excluding Delhi Belly due to its nature of catering to select audiences). And it’s fair to say this will go down, for me, as the best film of 2011. Because it ranks right up there with the likes of Rang de Basanti and Swades as among the best Bollywood movies ever made. And that says a lot.

In tandem with previous Akhtar productions such as ‘Dil Chahtha Hai’ and ‘Rock On!’, the film has multiple characters and is a moving, subtle, coming-of-age story with everyday characters that laugh, cry, love just like the regular decent men you meet in streets.

The film begins with Kabir (Abhay Deol)- whose family runs a construction business- proposing, somewhat unconvincingly, to Natasha (Kalki Koechlin of Dev D fame). With the marriage finalized, Kabir and his two best friends from school- Imraan (Farhan Akhtar)- an advertising copyrighter who constantly presents himself as the funny man of the lot, and Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), a money-minded stockbroker who intends to work mad until he is 40 and then retire into a lifetime of comfort- decide to finally embark on their long overdue road trip to Spain- a pact they had back from school.

The pact is simple; each of the three will choose a destination and a sport that the other two must follow. But as they travel through the interiors of Spain, their road trip takes a life of its own and begins changing the direction of their gusty, pre-conceived notions of how life should be like.

A story about three people who live in a box, one way or another, and how all of them break free to become free spirits, the film resembles what is wrong and what is lacking in the life of many young adults today- a willingness to take risks, a lack of concern for money, and the ability to push their own boundaries.

You’d be forgiven if you had thought, based on his shirtless perfect-body depiction during the film’s promos, that Hrithik is the star of the show. But the fact remains that the man who is the brains behind the film itself- Farhan Akhtar steals the show.

He takes the cake by clearly giving the film its best laughs, its best tear-jerking moments, and its best moments of depicting cowardice, uncertainty and even insecurity. And not to forget the stupidity of throwing a Blackberry out of a traveling car- he reminds you of someone you’d definitely know from your school days- the joker with a tinge of sadness in his eyes. You simply have to love him, and with this, Farhan proves that he can stand tall along with a Bollywood hunk and still come up trumps. The debate can now be put to rest- Farhan is an amazing actor.

Hrithik comes in a close second- he starts out pretty plain, and his scenes with Katrina do not bring any added spark to the story, but he comes up trumps with the way he underplayed his transformation from a money-minded broker to a man freely consumed by love and lots of laughter. Proving his pedigree in doing different films, Hrithik’s stock can only continue to rise if he continues to do films that feed his passion rather that films that will help girls reach their ‘climaxes’.

But then again, there are slots where he was able to tear off his short, engage in a passionate liplock, sing in his husky voice, and also groove with his exquisite dancing movements (topless of course). That should keep the fans happy.

Abhay Deol, though in good form, can do better than being the ‘other’ actor in a film like this. Known for his uniqueness and his normal tendency to do roles that are contrary to the regular ‘hero’ image etched in Bollywood, it is somewhat fresh to see him as a plain ‘good guy’. He doesn’t flirt, cracks jokes at the right places, palates to the desires to make the trip a memorable one for his family, and dresses less fancy compared to the other two. And he seems to be the only one of the three who had a clear idea of what he wants in life. Somewhat serene.

Katrina Kaif is good, but honestly there could be better choices. The characterization means that she doesn’t have to try too hard to hide her slang, but still she tries to be elegant and mysterious but fails, especially in being mysterious. A choice along the lines of Priyanka Chopra or another proven actress would have added the sensuousness to the character, or at least wouldn’t have looked very much out-of-place while trotting down a Harley-like ride down a Spanish road.

Kalki Koechlin is decent, and if she was meant to be the pricking fiancée, she was successful in bringing out the annoying shades of her character.

On the technical departments, what stand outs most is the fine parts of writing. Though the story is not exactly novel, the screenplay, written by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, is dished out with a flavor of poetry, and mixed with great cinematography that captured natural beauty without fail, the film could be used as a great tourism advert for Spain, if at all the country needs any. The ending of the film is great and resonates the tone and tempo that has preceded it all along.

The dialogues, written by Farhan, are top-notch, and in fact there are many tidbits you can actually note down and re-post in your Twitters or Facebooks. Javed Akhtar’s poetry for Farhan’s reciting scenes are magical, deep, and very meaningful.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy come up trumps once again with their music for an Akhtar production. Every song fits the situation. ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ sets the tempo for the film while ‘Paint it Red’ and ‘Khaboon Ke Parindaay’ are both composed with the right about of tartness to fit the serene feeling they were trying to create.

‘Senorita’, though good, seems a little forced, while ‘Der Legi Lekin’ and ‘Sooraj Ki Bahoon Mein’ are average.

I personally would have preferred an ending without the regular ‘what happens after’ end-credits song, which, in this case, is ‘Sooraj Ki Bahoon Mein’, but I won’t speaking for everyone when I say a more hanging ending would have done the film great poetic justice.

Zoya Akhtar excels in her second directorial venture. She doesn’t attempt to change the film’s pace anywhere, which is almost Swades-like. Some might not like it, but the cinematic experience that comes with such pacing is unrivalled.

There isn’t too much to credit her for as all other technical parts are executed brilliantly and the film is filled with such capabilities. Perhaps her achievement is that she allows everyone to just put their heart and soul in the work, and this works wonders for the film.

Congratulations Zoya, for even if ZNMD doesn’t succeed at the box-office, it will join the likes of Swades and other films in becoming a Bollywood cult film- this I’m sure of.

I say ‘Dil Dhadakne Do!’

Top 10 Bollywood films in the last decade- Part 1

As 2010 reaches a crescendo, I am doing this compilation:

10. Taare Zameen Par (Stars on earth)- 2007

Cast: Aamir Khan, Darsheel Safary

Writer: Amole Gupte

Director: Aamir Khan

Brief synopsis:

Ishaan is the 8-year-old son of a regular, excellence-chasing middle-class urban family in Mumbai. Often overshadowed by his elder brother who excels in his studies, Ishaan struggles to reach similar academic heights but instead indulges himself in his own world of imagination. He paints, he creates scrapbooks, and he has fondness for small creatures.

Disillusioned by what they perceive to be Ishaan’s lack of discipline, the parents send him off to a boarding school, where a newly instated art teacher Ram recognizes that Ishaan suffers from dyslexia.

The subsequent story centers on how Ram tries to help cure Ishaan and at the same time raise awareness among his ever-demanding parents and teachers.

This film was definitely the flavor of the year as it was sent as India’s official entry for the Academy Awards. Backed by Amole Gupte’s taut script and Aamir’s assured commandeering in what was the popular actor’s directorial debut, the film works mainly because of child artist Darsheel’s excellent performance and also Aamir’s willingness to take a back seat while allowing Darsheel’s character remain the focus.

Great lyrics and also a very good score by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy back up the film, where most of the songs manage to heighten the emotional experience of watching the film.

The film gives the viewer a fulfilling cinematic experience, and was also the first film in Bollywood to touch upon the topic of dyslexia. The film also explores another important element, which is the demanding nature of the current Indian education system, and how art is being ignored and often considered to be not important.

IMDb rating: 8.3/10 (after 10,000 odd votes)

9. Dev D (2009)

Cast: Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin, Mahi Gill

Director: Anurag Kashyap

Writer: Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay (the author of Devdas, upon which the film was based on)

Brief synopsis:

The film is a modern day adaptation of Sharat Chandra’s famous 1917 Bengali novel Devdas.

Dev is the spoilt son of rich man from Punjab. He has a childhood sweetheart named Paro, whom he uses at his own will. He flirts with other girls, and yet chides her hesitancy to engage in sexual activities with him.

When Dev hears rumors about Paro two-timing him, he believes them and ditches Paro within the blink of an eye. Enraged, Paro opts to marry an elderly man chosen by her family. It begins to dawn on Dev that the rumors are false, and it turns him into an alcoholic while trying to live with the fact that she is now married.

At the same time he runs into Chanda, who is a young prostitute who ended up in the profession after a MMS scandal with her boyfriend drove her to the cities.

The story centers on how Dev attempts to curb his alcoholism and also his drug addictiveness, and at the same time tries to make amends with Paro.

The film stands out because, just like above, it is an attempt never heard of in Indian cinema prior to that. Director Anurag Kashyap, already known for his outspoken and bold nature, takes his boldness to a new level by narrating the story of the Generation X and how a story like Devdas would be if it takes place in the present society.

Anurag dwells on prostitution, MMS scandals, school-time sex, lust desires, drugs and alcoholism in the current day society, all without compromising.

Abhay Deol looks the part as a lost, rich brat, as so do all the other characters. Dev D is the story of real characters that exist in our everyday life- real characters that we distance ourselves from, characters that are far from good.

Dev D is the story of people we love to hate.

Amit Trivedi’s 18 tracks and the catchy ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ remains a cult song to date.

IMDb rating: 8/10 (after 5,000 votes)

8. Chak De India (Buck up India)- 2007

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Vidya Malvade

Writer: Jaideep Sahni

Director: Shimit Amin

Brief synopsis:

Kabir Khan is a former Indian men’s hockey team captain. After missing a penalty stroke in the dying moments, allowing arch-rivals Pakistan to win a tournament back in his playing days, he retired from the sport and went back to his ancestral homeland.

Realizing that the Indian women’s hockey team is in a mess, Kabir senses the opportunity to redeem himself, by offering his services to coach the women’s team ahead of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.

The film centers on Kabir’s struggles as he tries to find the right players and breed the right attitude among them.

The film was inspired by the true events in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, when the Indian women’s hockey team claimed gold medal against the odds.

The film’s strength is that it doesn’t stop at being a sports film and a film about national spirit. But instead, the film explores other issues such as religious bigotry, prejudice and most importantly sexist, chauvinistic mentalities in the country.

Jaideep Sahni’s script is almost immaculate, and the man Shah Rukh Khan himself proves his caliber as an actor with an excellent performance while carrying the film almost entirely on his shoulders, sans any of his renowned romancing or duets.

Shimit Amin directs without compromising nor exaggerating any of the film’s finer details, as the hockey scenes come across as the most realistic sports scenes ever shot in Indian cinema.

IMDb rating: 8/10 (after 5,000 odd votes)

To be continued in Part 2.