Why “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” is one of the best Bollywood coming of age films

Bollywood film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a film following an extended bachelors trip for three former college friends as they discover themselves, the meaning and the value of life as they journey through Spain, conquering various danger sports and relationship hurdles. The translation for the film’s title is Life No Get Again, or, You Only Live Once.

Indian drama-comedy at its best

Almost all of Indian cinema, up to 90% of all Indian films produced, contain a mix of three genres: comedy, action, musicals and drama. Always. There are a few films that don’t conform to these four categories, but they’re few and far between. Zindagi is not free of this, and neatly falls into the comedy and drama genres, with a quick dash of action (if you consider extreme sports to be action) and definitely a song that the actors dance and sing along to. 

Often, this leads to a stale, formulaic film with only a bit of wiggle room to deviate in terms of plot or genre, and the less creative film makers, or the less ambitious ones, allow their film to fade into the background of all other Bollywood films. Zindagi, however, is a refreshing breath of air. The comedic timing of the protagonists is on point. If you understand Hindi and its delivery you can attest to the pure wit behind the chemistry of our lead actors. I’ve been critical of Hrithik Roshan in the past, for a more recent venture of his in Indian action movie War. But in this film Roshan’s performance is miles better thanks to a fantastic script, a far more fleshed out and human character for him to play, and a supporting cast that carries him when he lacks. He’s surrounded by acclaimed producer/actor Farhan Akhtar and Abhay Deol. The film is supported by the excellent Kalki Koechlin and meh Katrina Kaif.

Boobies, bass and bollwood. Need I say more? (This song is from the shit film Tees Mar Khan, not Zindagi)

Poor actors, marketable personalities, and perfect characters

Again, the film is actually quite funny, and in a natural way that doesn’t force our characters to turn into caricatures. The jokes are in the form of banter and pranks, thanks to Deol’s ability to act as a sounding board, and Roshan’s stiffness, which is a fitting foil to Akhtar’s insecurity fueled aloofness. The film is genius in its use and leverage of the actors and their abilities. 

Kaif is famously not an Indian, yet spent a good few years dominating Bollywood as a lead actress. Her laughable inability to speak Hindi is actually advantageous, as her in-film character isn’t natively Indian, and as an international traveler, gets to have an Americanized way of speaking and thinking. Roshan is similarly not that great at range, but it’s used to an advantage, as his character is a shallow, money-oriented Wall Street banker sans any passion in life except to make bank and retire early. His inability to act in the same range as Akhtar or Deol is fitting, and jarring only if you let it be.

A story worth telling, a life worth living

The film follows the three men as they choose, encounter and overcome various challenges as part of their bachelor’s trip. Their adventure sports include deep-sea diving, where Roshan is afraid of the water, skydiving, where Akhtar is afraid of heights, and Spanish bull racing. Additionally, they encounter emotional obstacles like, marrying the wrong person, hurting your best friend, or realizing life is more than just money. Each of the main actors gets a sport and an emotional hurdle to overcome, and it’s so genius and satisfying in theory

The first time I watched the film, I felt that it was a cheap attempt at an emotional impact. Roshan, the most marketable and (objectively) most handsome of the trio, gets multiple character growth moments; some of which feel forced, repeated and unearned. He also gets to bed Kaif, the (objectively) most beautiful girl in the film.

Me while I watched the movie

Roshan gets a ton of moments, and it shouldn’t be a problem, except Deol gets maybe two, but really only one, when he realizes he’s marrying too early, but way at the end of the film, without a moment to breath or bask in the impact of this decision. Then even that is completely undone, because as the credits roll, we realize that Deol marries this girl anyways at some point, and all the other characters return to dance in his Christian-style whitewashed wedding. 

This is still a valid criticism, but it actually doesn’t cheapen the rest of the emotional growth sustained by the only other person who matters in this movie, the last male actor in Akhtar, but I won’t spoil everything. Kaif and Koechlin really don’t change, and just act as manic pixie girls or bitchy wives, respectively. Vessels to drive their male counterparts’ growth. There’s even a third, slightly racist, unnamed woman, so that’s fun!

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the film the second, more critical time I watched it. It’s gorgeous, moving, colorful and a pretty good product of Indian cinema, despite its western influences.

6/10.

So Katrina Kaif is super hot, and we share the same birthday, and by deduction, I am super hot. It’s only science, bro.

You can stream Zindagi na Milegi Dobara on Netflix or rent it from AppleTV.

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