Some movie experiences can be summed up in a few lines. Others can take longer. This one would be hard to define. And to try to slot it or give it shape in any other form but the visual would take some doing.
The witticism, of course, flows. With Farhan Akhtar around, what else can we expect? But the spoken lines (a brilliant fusion of the colloquial and existential) are so doggedly wedded to the visuals that we come away with a complete and satisfying cinematic experience, so replete with life's most luscious home-truths that we want to carry the plot's bumper-sticker wisdom in our hearts forever.
Farhan Akhtar did it ten years ago in Dil Chahta Hai. He got three friends on the threshold of a career on a road-trip and let them come to terms with their own weaknesess and insecurities, even as Farhan, that wily filmmaker, discovered his own strengths as a storyteller.
Now it's Farhan's sister Zoya Akhtar's turn to take that road trip. Some day we need to figure out the Akhtar siblings' affinity to films about three male friends on a journey to self-discovery. Suffice it to say that Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD) takes the theme of male bonding to a more illuminating plane than Dil Chahta Hai.
As the workaholic money-obsessed stock broker (Hrithik Roshan), the happy-go-looking-for-his-dad prankster (Farhan Akhtar) and the about-to-be-married-nice-guy (Abhay Deol) set out on trip through locationally lush Spain (ummm, full marks for seductive eye candy visuals) we follow right behind.
Without trying to set up dramatic road-blocks and U-turns in the road journey, Zoya Akhtar gets us so involved in the drama and adventure of the threesome we gradually forget the actors and see only the characters that they so fluently and robustly play.
Oh yes, the ladies take the backseat. Nonetheless Katrina Kaif's 'Laila', a gorgeous diving instructor who teaches Hrithik to dive into soul, makes such graceful space for herself among the boys that we wonder how she managed to make herself heard in a film that celebrates the spirit of male bonding in all its robust colour splendour and noise.
Oh yes, we forgot! This guys' film is directed by a woman! The feminine touch is nowhere evident in Zoya Akhtar's direction. She leaves you wondering if delicacy femininity and the opposite of a snobbish misogyny that our desi female directors have been seen to follow, vanished while we were not looking.
ZNMD is a coming-of- age film on many levels. It celebrates the sheer beauty and physicality of location and their deep connection to the characters' state of mind, without apology or explanation. Trust me. I looked. I couldn't spot even one unpleasant face or topography in the entire length and breathe of this beautiful film.
Yes, the surface is lovely. But so is the soul. Zoya, God bless her aesthetics, sucks us into the beauty of the moment, not giving us any reason to believe that life's most precious truths are swathed in squalour. ZNMD celebrates splendour. Underwater or up in the air thousands of feet above sea level, the moments of tenderness are not stapled into the climate of camaraderie. They just happen.
The moment when Hrithik discovers love under the stars with Katrina, or when Farhan Akhtar finally meets his biological father (Naseeruddin Shah, in a naturally compelling cameo) or that breathtakingly blistered moment of reckoning when after a bout of male backslapping in the initial episodes, we suddenly realize the cause for friction in the Hrithik-Farhan friendship...These are masterstrokes of muted drama not written in to impress, but simply as an integral part of that journey which we undertake so enthusiastically and willingly with the threesome.
Technically the film wears its art on its sleeve. Carlos Catalan's cinematography captures the pain and the fun in Spain without letting the touristic urge take over. Yeah, the film looks fetching. But not at the cost of the characters' search for bearings in a world that mocks at the beauty of Nature. Editor Anand Subaya doesn't cut the film. He carves the material in shapes that a jeweller would probably like to imitate if he only knew how.
What can we say about the performances without keeling over with gush? Every actor seems to the character born. Hrithik's stuffed-shirt act would have been almost self-parodic were it not so sincere. Abhay Deol is a natural-born reactor. But it's Farhan Akhtar who steals the best role, lines and moments. He is in his element and the character that evolves in the course of the journey. Oh yes, he gets to mouth his father Javed Akhtar's evocative poetry. Genealogical advantage for a character that suffers just the opposite in the film.
Katrina Kaif's Laila is a kind of synthesis of mystique and sincerity that we had seen long ago in Leela Naidu. This film marks the coming-of-age of the Kaif. Kalki in a relatively brief role brings a kind of snide cuteness to the proceedings. Her character is sometimes the brunt of ridicule. She takes it in her stride.
Every major character at some point appears ridiculous. That's the beauty of the askew world that Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's script tries to make sense with doses of humour and warmth.
In one of the many brilliantly-written sequences among the three boys Hrithik says one can't escape one's karma. The feeling we get watching this film is a queer blend of the karmic and the comic. The journey is so vibrant we can't help feeling a sense of belonging with the characters.
ZNMD is an exhilarating journey, an inspiring experience, a thought rather than a plot that glides with stunning smoothness and celerity. It has no real beginning or end. Just a series of handsomely and cleverly packaged episodes that are held together by the wisdom of a story-teller who doesn't try to bully us into being attentive. The sheer inner and outer beauty of the film is enough incentive to keep us engaged till the final marriage before the end-credits.
Now don't ask whose marriage. The film is not THAT unpredictable!!
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