Movie Spotlight: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

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Title(s): Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Country: India
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Actors: Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol, Katrina Kaif
Plot: Friends Kabir, Imran and Arjun take a vacation in Spain before Kabir’s marriage. The trip turns into an opportunity to mend fences, heal wounds, fall in love with life and combat their worst fears.
Release Date: July 15, 2011

One of our all-time favourite movies is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which in English means something like “you won’t get a second life” or “you only live once.” It is the story of three friends, Kabir, Imran, and Arjun, who are embarking on a bachelor trip to Spain, just right before Kabir gets married. In this trip, each of them gets to choose a [daring] adventure sport for all three of them to do together. Not all is sunshine, however, and they soon discover a lot that they never knew about each other, they learn how to resolve problems that they are currently facing, and heal hurts that have been buried too deep for too long.

Kabir

Kabir is an easygoing, fun-loving guy. We catch glimpses of this as the movie progresses — he is the one that initiates several pranks on random strangers, the one who starts channeling a college professor and putting on accents for fun, the one who jokingly says that someone should throw Arjun’s mobile phone out the window when Arjun keeps getting too much business calls on their “vacation.

And yet we learn that, underneath the easygoing, warm exterior, Kabir is terrified inside. We do not see it at first, until bit by bit, we (along with Arjun and Imran) begin to realize that Kabir has a problem with his engagement and upcoming marriage to Natasha, who does not understand why Kabir wants to go all the way to Spain just to hang out with his best buddies. “She was an independent interior designer before,” he tells his friends, “but now she’s getting possessive.” The conflict escalates when Natasha and Kabir are having a video chat after their first adventure and Natasha sees Laila, the scuba driving instructor Kabir hired. Natasha becomes angry with Kabir, all but accusing him of being unfaithful to her (he is not, by the way). These video chats they have throughout the trip often end with them quarreling or disagreeing. In fact, at one point, Natasha tells Kabir that all their quarrels wouldn’t be happening if Kabir had just stayed home instead of insisting on going on the Spain adventure with his friends.

It finally reaches the boiling point when the three friends (with Laila and her friend Nuria) are just coming home from the La Tomatina Festival, pranking each other the whole time. Laila throws one last tomato at Kabir while they are approaching the house where they are staying, and Kabir, in a pretended fit of rage, picks her up and carries her into the house, only to find Natasha waiting for him there. Natasha is quick to accuse Kabir of being interested in Laila, which he promptly denies, claiming that she is just a friend. Natasha refuses to listen to him and challenges half of what he says and ignores the rest. Later that night, when all six of them go out to dinner, she pretends to be all sweet to Arjun, Imran, and the two other girls, while spiting Kabir the whole time. Arjun senses something wrong, but Kabir shakes his head quickly.

The next day, when the three friends drop Natasha off at the airport, Arjun asks Imran if he has noticed something different about Kabir. And Imran, who has been keeping his thoughts to himself finally admits that Kabir is not himself when Natasha is around. After evading his friends’ prodding, Kabir finally admits that he doesn’t want to get married to Natasha, and that he didn’t even propose to her in the first place. He had shown Natasha a ring he was going to give to his mom as a birthday present, and she had assumed that he was asking her to marry him. Even if Arjun and Imran tell him to break off the engagement, Kabir insists that there is nothing that can be done. Both their families are involved in this. “In fact, the wedding invitations are already going to be printed,” he says.

Arjun

One word describes him: workaholic. One word motivates him: money.

We first meet Arjun in the noise of people trading online. He is a busybody with strict guidelines for himself. He doesn’t like disrupted schedules (unless it will help him make more money), people who don’t care for the things he does (which is money), and people who are childish and immature (which means Imran).

When Kabir calls Arjun to remind him of their bachelor trip, Arjun almost cancels, saying that he is too busy, but Kabir begs him to. “For my sake,” he says. And so Arjun goes, packing up his belongings, along with a laptop and a few formal wear. When he arrives at their rendezvous, he is greeted by his friends, who invite him to explore some art galleries with them, but he refuses, saying that he has to make some calls for work. Later, when the friends swap stories during dinner time, Imran tells Arjun that he missed their culture exploration. “I made 4,000 (dollars) today,” Arjun says coldly, “so forgive me if I don’t complain.”

Yes, Arjun is cold. His eyes are cold, he rarely smiles, and he treats Imran like dirt. Hints that are dropped along the way tell us that Arjun was once perhaps the most mischievous of the three friends, but he cares for nothing now but his business. During the trip, while Imran and Kabir are having the time of their lives enjoying Spain and each other’s company, Arjun is busy working, busy trying to gain more money. He has to call a time-out several times during the trip, much to the chagrin of his friends. “I thought this was a vacation,” mutters Imran to Kabir. To them it is, to the workaholic, money-making Arjun, it is not, and he does not appreciate his friends making jabs about his work habits. At one point, Kabir gets frustrated when Arjun has to take another call. “Will someone please throw his phone out the window!” he explains. And Imran — to the surprise of everyone, including himself — complies.

Cold, white rage. That is the only way to explain how Arjun feels as he stalks out the car in an attempt to retrieve his cellphone. It is too late, though, and they cannot find it. “What’s with you?” he shouts at Imran, who attempts to explain by saying, “Kabir told me to throw it out.” Both Kabir and Imran do their best to hide their smiles, but Arjun is not amused. “Everything game for you,” he says to Imran. “Even Sonali.” At that moment, we learn why Arjun is so angry towards Imran, why he always says aloud how much he has earned and what material wealth he has. It all boils down to Sonali, Arjun’s ex-girlfriend who left him for Imran. “I already apologized,” Imran tells Arjun. “How many more times do I have to say sorry for you to forgive me?” “Not until it comes from here,” Arjun tells Imran, touching his heart.

Imran

Imran is the mischievous, carefree person in the group. He writes commercial songs for a living, and doesn’t really care much about appearances. In a scene where the three friends are packing for the trip, he is shown in contrast to Arjun, who is a man after my own heart when it comes to neatness. All his clothes are taken from their hangers in the wardrobe and placed into the suitcases with precise movements. Imran rummages around piles of clothes and dumps whatever he can find in his duffel bag. He is the clown of the group, the one who starts the jokes and the pranks if Kabir doesn’t start them first. Imran is also rash, impulsive. He acts without thinking at times, and has to pay for his mistakes later.

Though his relationship with Arjun is rocky at best, Imran always tries to reach out to his friend. He buys Arjun a phone after he threw Arjun’s other phone out, but cannot resist making a joke out of it, getting him a pink, girly phone.

But Imran is not always so cheerful and mischievous. Nuria, the girl he meets in Spain, tells him, “you laugh a lot but your eyes are sad.” Early on, there is a scene where Imran is talking to his ammi (mother) who is asking why he wants to go to Spain. She questions his motives — “is it really because of your friends, or because you want to meet Salman Habib?” The latter is revealed to us later as a painter and the real father of Imran.

Throughout the journey, Imran battles with the desire to meet his father and the uncertainty about what his father will say. Several times, he attempts to establish contact, only to chicken out and drive away. Finally, after an accident that lands the three friends in jail, Imran contacts Salman. “It’s me, Imran. Your son.” Salman comes for them and drives them to his home and Imran gets to have the conversation he has always longed to have with his biological father. It is not what he expects, though. Imran learns the painful truth that Salman has often been to India for a visit, but he never once sought for and visited Imran and his mother. “Why?” Imran asks. Salman shrugs. “It’s better this way.” The answer, though the truth, is a very painful one — one that Imran might have known, but hoped against. In hurt, he leaves Salman. “What do you want me to say?” Salman calls after him. “That I’m sorry?” Imran whirls around, anger in his face, and touches his heart. “Not until it comes from here.”

On Facing Fears

We love how these three friends are round characters. They don’t just stay where they are by the end of the movie. They don’t remain content with whatever they state they are in, no matter how uncomfortable they are. They grow, they learn, they mature. The learn to face their personal challenges and overcome them, and in the process, their friendship strengthens. Aside from facing the fears that they encounter in the extreme sports they chose (water, heights, and death), they learn to face the fears they have in life.

In a flashback scene, we are given a glimpse of Arjun’s life just as he was becoming a workaholic. We learn that his father had left him and his mother in great debt. It became his obsessive life goal to pay all those debts and be the man completely opposite from his father. Later, just as he is become quite successful in his career, we see his girlfriend begging him to come with her on a trip, but he refuses, saying that the has a meeting. “It’s for our future,” he assures her. “But what about now?” his girlfriend asks. Arjun is torn, but he makes the decision that ultimately shapes him into the person we see at the start of the film. The trip changes Arjun a lot. It changes his perspective on money, on work, and on life. He lets go of his goal to make as much money as he can so he could retire at 40. He realizes that there are more important things than earning money and making oneself financially secure. In the end, just as the three friends are about to run away from some angry bulls, as part of their sports challenge, he says, “If I live, I’ll got to Morocco with Laila. The worse thing that could happen is I’ll get fired. But who cares! I’ll live.”

Imran learns the important lesson of forgiveness. After they depart from Salman Habib’s house, Imran spends a lot of time reflecting. This is perhaps the only time he understands what it feels like to be in Arjun’s shoes — to be betrayed and hurt by the person you thought cared a great deal about you. When the sun rises the next day, Arjun goes to where Imran is sitting on a sand dune. Imran turns to him and says the words, “I’m sorry,” and this time, it’s from his heart. Towards the end, it is Imran who is encouraging his friends to make decisions that could change their life. Along with Arjun, he convinces Kabir to break up with Natasha. He remains the hilarious, mischievous Imran we see from the beginning, but with a touch of maturity.

Kabir faces the fear of what his parents and Natasha might say. He does not want to break off the engagement, but he knows that he was foolish enough to “play” engagement with Natasha when he never really proposed in the first place. He struggles at first, but Arjun’s and Imran’s advice and reasoning make him realize that he will be making both his and Natasha’s lives miserable if they proceed with the wedding. Just as the bulls charge, he promises to return to London and break off his engagement with Natasha.

Lessons to Learn

Without a doubt, there are many great themes and lessons we can learn from — family, friendship, life, love.

Kabir’s reluctance to disappoint his family by breaking off his engagement with Natasha is touching (even more so in spite of how she has been treating him). Proposing to Natasha to spare her from the embarrassment of mistaking Kabir’s intention when he showed her the ring is equally notable. You’ll just love how he is always looking out for his friends, making sure they are comfortable and that they are enjoying. Many times, we see Kabir step between Arjun and Imran to keep up the peace between them.

At one point, Natasha tells Kabir that she misses him and wishes that he could be back “here with your family, with your friends.” “My friends are with me,” he tells her. You’ve got to admire how the friendship between these three musketeers has withstood the test of time and all other challenges, including the many years of awkward “estrangement” between Arjun and Imran. It tugs at your heart—how they learn to move on, away from all the anger and hurt, how they learn to forgive and ask for forgiveness.

One of my best parts in the movie is when the three friends are about to face their last — and most dangerous — challenge yet. In this scene, the point of the movie is captured and This time, instead of battling with fears like water and heights, they have to battle their fear of death. It is the Festival of San Fermin, where willing participants line up in front of charging, angry bulls. The goal is to stay alive or keep from being gored by an enraged bull. Arjun and Kabir threaten Imran (who chose the sport) that if they die, their ghosts will come back to haunt him for making them do something as dangerous as that. Imran laughs and shakes his head and tells them they should be making promises about what they will do if they live instead of if they die. And that is perhaps the defining moment for each of them, when they realize that there are greater things to be pursuing than materials things like money or temporary, shallow self-fulfillment, that there are better things to live for, and that living itself is a wonderful reality. Imran puts it best when he challenges his friends, “Why focus on death? Focus on life!”

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Movie Review of the Indian Film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

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