According to scientists, black holes can slow down the progress of time. A similar effect can be felt by viewers of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a staggeringly inept coming-of-middle-age story as it drones on from one lame overly lit set-up to the next.
So what’s wrong? The plot itself is hackneyed, the tone is inconsistent, and what aspires to be funny leaves us just embarrassed. What’s more, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara does feel like a stale rehash of Dil Chahta Hai - take away the ‘Dil’ and you get this dismal, lumbering mess. The trio of Arjun (Hrithik), Imraan (Farhan) and Kabir (Abhay) are almost apologetic-looking, as they tread gingerly through the wreckage of the script. While trying so hard to have such a good time, they simply forget to be funny, and begin to grate before the body even cools. The plotting is far from watertight, and the curiously unlikable characters fail entirely to cover up this film's flimsy underpinnings.
The stench of desperation wafts from the screen, as writers Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti randomly grasp at one clichéd device after another. Yes, the Spanish locales are gorgeous to behold, and we have seldom seen imagery as pretty as this in Indian films. But watching it feels like walking into a fancy restaurant and being served a dead mouse. Abhay’s stilted dialogue delivery is itself sufficient to discolor the entire experience.
Zoya Akhtar goes for Hollywood-style physicality, marching her players around a country in which a scantily clad diving instructor (Katrina Kaif) and ‘fear’ plays a big part. As interesting as self-obsession can be when handled properly, it's unbearable when the writers and actors can't nail that tenuous tone between empathy and absurdity. There are splendid shots of parajumping, underwater exploration, tomato-bathing, bull-running – these are the moments when Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara spins, whirls, sputters and wheezes, but never at exactly the right moments. It seems almost as if the Akhtar clan thought it was stimulating enough for the film that they create these jerks. As opposed to better road trip films like The Motorcycle Diaries where the location, the experience and the characters' insecurities feed the story, Hrithik’s Arjun sheds a tear as Imraan delivers dull poetry throughout.
The story often goes in circles when it could be advancing things. For instance, we see Arjun’s back-story involving his ex girlfriend, but nothing ever comes of it. There's also a big to-do about the fact that Kabir doesn’t really want to marry his fiancé (Kalki) but is too afraid to say it, obviously setting us up for a moment where he finds his voice. But by the time we get there (nearly three hours), the plot vehicle winds up being rather tedious and the whole point is lost. Meanwhile, the subplot about Imraan’s estranged father kills the levity even further injecting a completely superfluous detour that much like everything else seems more dull than intriguing.
If anyone behind the scenes of ZNMD deserves praise without reservation, it is cinematographer Carlos Catalan. Besides Hrithik (whose plainness here will make him unrecognizable to those who swooned over his ‘Kites’ persona), ZNMD wastes the always-likable Farhan whose frequent outbursts of juvenile antics and wisecracks are made to pose as comic gems.
If you thought the supply of the Akhtar factory’s talent was unlimited, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is surprisingly convincing evidence to the contrary.
(First published in MumbaiBoss)