Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara continues to surprise and polarize

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What started out looking like a Spain tourism ad to some, a Dil Chahta Hai redux from the promos to others, was described by the maker as NOT that as most of the film is spent driving in a car, was slated to tank badly at the box office, have a short life span and be yet another yuppie wannabe film, has now taken on some legs at the ticket windows and continues to delight many viewers into its third week.  The usual gang of reviewers ranged from panning it solidly to loving it unabashedly.  Then we had this salvo fired by none other than Baradwaj Rangan:

I did not review Zoya Akhtar’s multiplex hit Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara for this paper – and I didn’t have to. I’d already reviewed Wake Up Sid in 2009, where I wrote, “It has all the weight of a television commercial showing sad people transforming into happy people in the course of thirty seconds, which is to say that nothing ever seems to be at stake… Everything is frustratingly preordained.” And, “But these bits of growing up are tucked away into inconsequential corners of the film, in song montages and the like, so we’re mainly left with the incessantly happy-cheery story of a boy and a girl getting together after a series of extremely minor hiccups. That’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, sure, but how you wish a few dashes of reality had been allowed to temper this unrelentingly feel-good fantasy.” The heft of a television commercial. The minor hiccups. The feel-good fantasy. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara has it all.

Mr. Rangan went on to mock the audience favorite Rock On! (though I must admit that I too found it underwhelming):

As did Rock On, in 2008, of which I wrote, “It’s really one of those white-collar wish-fulfillment fantasies like Shall We Dance, which equates happiness with putting home and career on hold while you go out and follow your heart and your passion.” It’s “a repackaging of a beloved Hollywood formula, and it needs [its] self-indulgent fictions in order to build to its patented uplifting ending.” And, “at least, if the film dealt honestly with the implications of these contrivances, we might have had something – but [the] direction takes its cues from the Farhan Akhtar School of Arty Disaffection, where being subtle appears to be the same as being scared to disrupt the clean composition of a scene with messy emotion. At times, this results in frames so lifeless, so juiceless, you’re not sure if you’re watching direction or art direction – a series of still lifes…”

His incessant fanboyism came to the fore when he described HIS favorite coming of age film:

The point in recalling these older reviews is that with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara we’re recalling these older films – and the film that birthed it all, Dil Chahta Hai, which, ten years later, is still the most affecting, most bracing, most honest coming-of-age film from modern-day Bollywood.

Three things come to mind when one compares DCH dispassionately to Rock On!, Wake Up Sid, and ZNMD.  First is that as India ages and the middle class gets more affluent the problems of this class get more remote and less agonizing to the real world.  I mean “the lower middle class” when I say real – and there are even more to whom these problems are not even remotely relevant, these souls are more worried about the next meal and not the next movie they will watch.  The second is that the problems are taken to the road or growing up is done by older and older men as the affluent take longer and longer to face up to the reality of their situation.  The college going kids are now looking-for-jobs young adults, or corporate types who never stopped to think along the way.  The third thing is that the affluence of middle class society drives where they seek out their pleasures.  What was Goa 10 years ago is now Spain!  The rest of Mr. Rangan’s argument is smoke and mirrors.  The problems of the DCH trio were never very relevant to the same people who today would fail to see the relevance of the problems faced by the ZNMD trio!  Zipping off to Goa for a holiday or starting to work in Australia are as unreal to most of India as zipping off to Spain or being a high powered London Stockbroker are.  The boys in DCH talk it all out so the emotions are laid out bare.  In ZNMD the men are more mature and stoic and only occasionally do their facades crack.  Those occasions when they do are all the more affecting for that reason.

The other details of the film are well dissected by Milliblog:

These would make me cringe, usually, but in a melting pot like Hindi cinema, that would…or, should entirely depend on the overall package. Here, the package was a winner – yes, they are caricatures; but the situations they are going through has happened to me too (may be to you too) at some point in life and I may not have behaved in the way they do…caricatur’ishly. Does it make them less interesting? Not at all – which is also why when Amitabh hit back at the port henchman in Deewar, we all celebrated it.

– Every little thing that Farhan does, all across the film – no spoilers here from me. It looks like the sis has given the best of the 3 roles to her bro, hands down! This includes that superb Hindi-Spanish conversation between him and his new Spanish girlfriend after they make love in Buñol.

– The 3 adventure sport choice-wala crux of the pact between the friends and how it covers the film’s theme so well. Yeah, I know, at points, it starts to look contrived…like the sky-diving thing was so obviously derided by Farhan as something Hrithik chose to annoy him. But, the other 2 were very well integrated into the kind of problems each was going through, with or without realizing it; the 3rd one, in particular.

Of course there is a disconnect in the ZNMD issues and means to solutions with the billions of Indians!  But let us not claim that we have actually seen such issues discussed with any honesty in mainstream Indian cinema.  To think that would be to delude ourselves even more than we have seen Farhan Akhtar deluded as he claims that ANYONE can go to Spain for a holiday:

But not everyone can afford to take a trip to Spain and expect to solve the problems of their lives in the process…
Well if you are saying that all the characters in the film are filthy rich, that isn’t true. My character comes from a middle-class background and anyone from a lower-middle class background can afford a trip to Spain.

Wow. And here I thought Goa was their best bet. Also wasn’t everyone pretty and perfect in the film unlike DCH. Don’t you think it’s our flaws that define us too?
People have connected with the characters in ZNMD. Nobody is perfect and everybody has issues. The only people who can help you deal with it are you, yourself and your friends. As far as good-looking goes, I think Aamir and everyone in DCH were quite good looking. So you can’t say that.

As escapist movies go, ZNMD afforded a pleasant escape that was worth the price of the ticket, if nothing else then for showing us Spain highlights, and a decent performance from Farhan Akhtar and Katrina Kaif!

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4 Responses

  1. Actually no one has a problem now with the escapism or flaws in DCH, if you scrutinize, you sure can find flaws. But since its now considered as the “holy grail” of urban hindi films, it’s a sin to even make a similar film.

    As far as ZNMD is concerned, in all honesty, I found it to be more realistic and “closer-to-life” than DCH despite all the accusations. There are many subtle details and references- something which I sorely missed in DCH. That said, I’m not necessarily saying that ZNMD is superior to DCH.

    Nice one Pakhi 🙂

  2. HI Pakhi ,

    How are you. It has been long time.
    where are Kunal and Neo?

    • Hi Rudresh: Long time since I saw you here! Kunal is too busy to come chat with friends, but Neo can be found on Filmy Shilmy.

  3. Ok.

    Yup i was also bit busy and then lost your blog address also.

    Today I got it from ritz on NG.

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