Director: Zoya Akhtar
First the good news. “Zindagi…” is one of the most nuanced, evenly paced and well executed films in commercial Indian cinema. This cross between “Dil Chahta Hai” and “Sideways” is funny and honest, but it is marred by one fundamental flaw – it has nothing important to say. Yes, to a select few, neo-rich one percent of its audience who find nirvana swimming under Spanish seas or for whom freedom is feeling the wind in your hand from a high speed car, the message is loud and clear – you only live once so live it full.
But one has to wonder, should a commercial film be made keeping just one percent of the audience in mind? Yes, it is a message that everyone else needs as well, but should that message ride on a pleasure trip through Spanish landscape where there is beauty but no ‘zindagi’ or should it have been closer home, in the squalor and madness and ‘life’ of this nation. Three old friends – Arjun (Hritik Roshan), Imran (Farhan Akthar) and Kabir (Abhay Deol) – go on a three-week bachelor’s road trip through Spain before Kabir’s marriage, only to come face to face with their own fears and insecurities.
Globally there are too many road-trip films for Zoya Akhtar to bring anything new to the cinematic table. What she could have done was to have enough emotional pull for the viewer to empathise with the characters. But would you empathise with the fatherly, marriage-related and heartbreak problems of three rich men who really have everything going for them? Besides its one percent audience, the rest would find the existential angst of these three men, a creation of their own vanity.
Yet, besides its many flaws, dishonesty is not one of them. It’s an honest film about the type of people the filmmaker interacts with daily. Sadly, that is perhaps the only cross section of society that Zoya Akhtar has known in her urban living. The problem with the film is thus the problem in the worldview of its maker, which is extremely limited in scope. And that is a shame because Zoya is a nuanced and refined filmmaker. She could do wonders with a story that is real and about real men and women. “Zindagi…” thus actually ends up being like a big-budget film with the heart and audience of a small-budget indie. And that mismatch will perhaps do the film in at the box office.
Cinematically though, Zoya does try desperately to transcend the obvious, to mean the message rather than say it, like say a “Sideways” or “Lost in Translation” does. And though she knocks on the door of this transcendence, she is unable to pass through. Commercial filmmakers in the past, either came from the grassroots like a Mehboob or Guru Dutt, or were concerned about it like Raj Kapoor. Their films hence reflected – sometimes directly – and often in the films written by Zoya’s father Javed Akthar, allegorically, the angst, pain and the struggle for survival of the nation’s teeming masses. Sadly, as their world ended up becoming cocooned from life around, the connection their kids had with reality, became limited. The result are some really well made films, but ones with ‘zindagi’ only in their titles, not in their guts. – Santabanta