x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

This Bollywood film is reminiscent of The Hangover and is one of the best feel-good movies of the year.

Director: Zoya Akhtar
Starring: Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin and Hrithik Roshan
**** 

It seems that in Bollywood, as it is on Sesame Street, three is the magic number. Hot on the heels of last year's blockbuster hit Three Idiots, Bollywood has attempted (not always successfully, as anyone who has seen Delhi Belly will attest) to cash in on tales of three guys getting up to strange and bizarre antics.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara translates to "you won't get a second life", and the call to seize the day is a mantra that repeats in this hugely enjoyable and amusing romp that sees three best school friends fulfil a long-made promise to go on the longest stag party in history - in Spain.

The three friends - the recently engaged mild-mannered construction family heir Kabir (Deol), the light-hearted advertising jingle writer Imran (Akhtar) and the deadpan London-based City trader Arjun (Roshan) - have also each agreed to plan one sports event for all the lads to partake in.

Sounding like a curried version of The Hangover Part 2, the conventional plot also has each of the men needing to overcome a dark cloud that hangs over his life. Throwing together road trip, romcom and buddy-buddy action in a single picture may sound like an ill-conceived masala mash-up, but like any good dish, the ingredients are blended together with affection to create one of the best feel-good movies of the year. The key success of the film is the introduction of a female interest into the equation without compromising the camaraderie and competitiveness between the men. Imran and Arjun are constantly at each other's throats over their different philosophies towards life and their frayed friendship is destined to come to a head when they meet the alluring diving instructor, Laila (Katrina Kaif), on the beach.

The opening gambit "My name is Imran, but my friends call me Romeo," is one of many choice phrases punched out by the wannabe Lothario. In contrast, Arjun throws his steely, moody eyes in her direction without saying a word while Kabir looks on, bemused at the whole affair. Laila is more than a match for these stooges, as she proves when she takes them out to sea on a diving expedition. It is the first of many instances where the gender clichés and genres of romcoms are turned on their head, with the lady rather than the male taking the lead: Hollywood could learn some lessons.

Perhaps, it's no coincidence that women have directed the two best romantic comedies of the summer (Bridesmaids being the other). Refusing to veer from one action sequence or one joke to another, the pauses give time for the characters to develop and affection to grow for them. The excellent twist that sees Kabir cuckolded by his fiancée Natasha (Kalki Koechlin) and the refusal to give a simple, happy resolution to Imran's personal demon ramp up the tension as the trip moves on from The Costa Brava to Seville on to the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona and then La Tomatina festival in Buñol. If only all Spanish Tourist Board videos were this good!