Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara opens with a scene in which a young man is on his knees, proposing to a girl he has known for no more than six months. The film ends with three buddies on the run from the bulls of Pamplona in an affirmation of freedom from all baggage, professional, emotional and social. It can happen only in Spain.
Kabir (Abhay Deol), the young son of a construction tycoon, is engaged to an interior designer, Natasha (Kalki Koechlin). “I construct buildings and you design interiors, we are perfect,” the scion tells his would-be wife. The wedding date is promptly fixed.
To celebrate the impending end of his bachelor status, Kabir and his two best friends, free-spirited advertising copywriter Imran (Farhan Akhtar) and workaholic financial broker Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), embark on an extended road trip through Spain.
It turns out to be an outing of a lifetime as the three men confront the past, negotiate the present and carve out a new future. They are helped along by a lively half-Indian, half-British girl Laila (Katrina Kaif), who they meet on a beach in Costa Brava. She turns out to be their deep sea diving instructor. Laila believes that a man should be in a box only when he is dead.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara has a simple enough narrative core that revolves around the three male protagonists seeking to breakfree from the confines of their respective boxes. Their struggles yield many charming moments although one cannot avoid the sneaking suspicion that this cheerful ode to life, love and friendship is as much about telling a story as about a selling a country to prospective tourists.
Be that as it may, there can be no denying that Spain is a marvellous country and, thanks to Carlos Catalan’s fluid camerawork, it looks absolutely stunning on screen. The beauty of the land disarms you and you cannot but go along with the flow of this rather heady ride despite the occasional bumps on the way.
The screenplay, authored by Reema Kagti and director Zoya Akhtar, manages to stay on course all the way through to the end although narrative pace isn’t what it strives for. Even as the three friends indulge in constant banter – witty one-liners and poker-faced non-sequiturs are liberally tossed around – and play pranks on strangers and on each other, they have serious emotional issues to settle and many ingrained fears and doubts to overcome.
Arjun has a fear of the deep, Imran freezes at the very thought of jumping from an airborne chopper and Kabir has no appetite for being gored by a bull. But they are bound by an agreement sealed between the friends at the very outset of the voyage of discovery. So they are compelled to deal with their phobias and surmount them in acts of inner defiance that alter their lives forever.
The “seize the day” philosophy that underlines the film is old as the hills. Yet Zoya Akhtar, by investing the tale with a delightful lightness of touch and dollops of gentle wit, brings a degree of freshness to bear upon the plot.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara does exude pronounced traces of the spirit of Dil Chahta Hai, but its essential rhythm is its own, stemming from the dynamics of a full-fledged road movie shot through with intelligence, emotion and, above all, humanism.
The adventures that the three men encounter – deep sea diving in Costa Brava, a tomato fight in Bunol, sky diving in Sevilla and, finally, the San Fermin Bull Run in Pamplona – are catalysts that bring out the best in them. As physical metaphors for liberation of the spirit, they are seamlessly integrated into the storyline for the most part.
The understated, youthful ambience of the film allows the actors to be their own selves and they all do it without a hitch. The high points: the infectious Senorita number and the single-scene special appearance by Naseeruddin Shah. As always, he sets the benchmark.