In Zoya Akhtar’s new film, “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”, Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif engage in a serious lip lock. In fact, she borrows her friend’s bike and rides through picturesque Spanish countryside for what looks like many kilometres only to kiss Roshan. And if we are to glean anything from the peek-a-boo appearance of Roshan’s tongue in that kissing scene, then it is that he appreciates the effort and is more than willing to show enthusiasm on his own part. The Kaif-Roshan kiss has been talked about a fair bit, particularly because of the tongue-spotting. Three women squealed to me on SMS right after seeing it when they saw “Zindagi…” and the hall that I saw the movie in collectively cheered when the kiss happened. I don’t really get this excitement. Kissing has been in the Bollywood lexicon for decades, despite all the dahli-bobbing. Devika Rani did it, Vinod Khanna did it, Dharmendra did it, Anil Kapoor did it, Emraan Hashmi did it, Hrithik Roshan did it; dammit, even Sonu Sood has a never-ending smooch to his name. I’m not certain about this but I think at one point of time, Aamir Khan had a clause put in his heroines’ contracts that if they weren’t ok with kissing him they couldn’t be in the movie. So why we get so excited when there’s a kiss in a film is beyond me. Maybe it’s because only few of these gentlemen exhibit any prowess at kissing. Frequently, a Bollywood kiss is a slobber or a strangely lustless smashing of lips. “No proper lip movement,” as my Swiss Bolly-holic friend told me after watching Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai in “Dhoom 2”. Well, Hobbie, Roshan has certainly upped his ante in the properly improper lip movement department in “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”. Much like most of the film, I thought the kiss was eminently enjoyable. For me and those doing the kissing.
“Zindagi…” has got some love from reviewers but those who disliked it seriously disliked it. It’s been described as a 135-minute infomercial for Spain’s tourism department, which it is. Not that this is a problem. Everyone agrees that Spain is a beautiful setting and that the cinematography makes you want to get on a plane and go there NOW. Plus, unlike the piercing embarrassment we Indians felt after Govinda and other Bollywood heroes danced around Leicester Square, Farhan Akhtar and the boys and girls of “Zindagi…” make us look alright. The opinion on the story, however, is less unanimous. It’s a bromance in which three guys, each of whom has one emotional knot to untangle, go on a road trip that reminds them of what is important in life. One critic described the experience of seeing “Zindagi…” like entering a fancy restaurant and then being served a dead rat. Another wrote that the film was about audience bondage, not male bonding. I must admit, I enjoyed it. There’s nothing startlingly new in the film but it was fun. Perfect date night movie. Either that or I’m totally losing all critical perspective, but that’s the subject of another post that I’m trying not to write.
“Zindagi…” is a simple film about friendship that seems to have been made so that director Zoya Akhtar could spend a few months in Spain. Unsurprisingly, her cast looks like it’s having a great time. Pre-intermission, the film is cheerful, funny and perfectly entertaining. Post-intermission, it drags a little and the attempts to pull at the heartstrings — by bringing disparate creatures like Naseeruddin Shah and rampaging bulls into the story — feel contrived but what the heck? Two hours spent in a gorgeous country, watching beautiful people. What’s not to like? Cinematographer Carlos Catalan can’t do much about Roshan’s weird highlighted hair but he manages to make the ridiculously beefy and chiselled actor look normal and human, so much so that there were moments when I thought he looked almost attractive. That’s a HUGE considering how the sight of Roshan’s rippling muscles and flaring nostrils usually makes me nauseous.
There isn’t much of a story to “Zindagi…”. Kabir (Abhay Deol), Imraan (Farhan Akhtar) and Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) are childhood buddies who have been planning a road trip for ages. When Kabir gets engaged to Natasha (Kalki Koechlin), they decide to go to Spain. During this trip, Imraan meets his biological father who abandoned his mother when she got pregnant. Kabir gets cold feet about marrying Natasha (considering how she behaves, I’m surprised he didn’t break up over Skype). Arjun, a workaholic, discovers there is more to life than investment banking or whatever it is that he does wearing waistcoats and wielding a BlackBerry. (The fascination that Farhan Akhtar and gang have for the world of financial services is fascinating. They look at banking with precisely the same kind of awe and slightly-horrified admiration that I’ve seen on the faces of desi bankers when they hear the word Bollywood.)
Someone I met today complained that the problem with “Zindagi…” is that it’s impossible for most of India to relate to. “Who are these men who can just swan off to Spain?” she said somewhat indignantly. “It’s ridiculous. I mean, how can you expect an average Indian to relate to that? It’s so totally unreal.” Yeah, because Indian audiences watch Bollywood for the reality checks. Because when Shah Rukh Khan leapt off a helicopter and ran into Blenheim Palace, everyone watching “Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham” thought, “That looks just like home!” I’d argue that a road trip to Spain is probably far more likely for a wide section of young working professionals. Save up and you could go on something like the trip Zoya Akhtar’s showing you. The chances of a home that looks like Blenheim Palace, on the other hand, are less than zero.
Other than the weird dupattas Farhan Akhtar wraps around his head and Roshan’s button-deprived shirts, if there is something that seems somewhat disjoint about “Zindagi…” then it is the fact that the story is about men but told from a very girly perspective. Ironically, the women in “Zindagi…” are either bland (Kaif) or deeply annoying (Koechlin). As in Akhtar’s first film, “Lucky by Chance”, the guys are manly in a way that women conceive masculinity and the issues and justifications are quite definitely the concoctions of a feminine mind. For example, I can’t see any man getting engaged for the reasons Kabir does in “Zindgai…” but I know quite a few women who have got into sticky situations because of the expectations of family and friends. Also, shocking as it might seem, there are some men who work round the clock because they enjoy work; not because of a Freudian childhood connection. Most men don’t go around explaining the psychology of their behaviour to anyone. Generally, women conjure a novel of explanations out of gestures and slips of tongues. Men, I’m told, just reach for the alcohol while the women tell them why they did what they did.
If “Zindagi…” had been about three girls on a road trip, it would have been a seamless fit. One has been pressured into a marriage. Another is a workaholic. The third is confused. They go on a road trip, drink wine, sing songs, pour their hearts out to one another and end up glowing and happy. Sounds great. You wouldn’t have to change a thing in the movie. Other than the gender of the love interests perhaps. The same things being done by and to three men seems somewhat…naff. The central point of “Zindagi…” is to get Kabir, Arjun and Imraan to reveal their emotional selves to one another. As a friend of mine said to me, “That’s just not a guy thing.” Someone else told me, “Men don’t drink to get drunk and talk about their problems. In fact, they get drunk to avoid precisely that sort of soul-baring talk.” Since both these chaps are men, I’ll take their word for it. There’s no doubt that when the boys were poking fun at each other and studiously avoiding any serious conversation about their emotions, “Zindagi…” felt way more fun. Even for the girls in the audience.