Zoya Akhtar seems to have a thing for holidays. At least the life changing or life affirming ones anyway. It’s a cruise now along Turkey and Greece to celebrate the most expensive wedding anniversary party that has followed the most expensive bachelor party around Spain in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. And like the last film this too is all harmlessly enjoyable on the outside but problematic on the inside (to use one of those phrases the spiritual types often use). But it appears that Akhtar too looks at these things as her vacations and just coasts along. Disappointing considering she had one of the most phenomenal debuts in recent times (Luck By Chance) and the rootedness of that film, the honesty in the script of that film as of now remains a distant dream.
Here we are in what is possibly the middle of the Aegean Sea with The Mehras – captained by Kamal Mehra (a reasonably florid Anil Kapoor), his wife Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah) and their offspring Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) and Kabir (Ranveer Singh). In a movie of better caliber, one may even go into Greek mythology to talk about Aegeus who drowns himself in the sea (and thus the name Aegean Sea) when he thinks he’s lost his son Theseus. There is even evidence for it but Akhtar seems to be on auto-pilot that you need a little more convincing. We do have such father-son issues along with husband and wife issues and a son and his calling in life issues. Literally and metaphorically, everyone is at sea. Each one of them is capable of jumping off the cruise.
Zoya Akhtar does have some great ideas brewing in the film. The most interesting subplot and the one that really works is that of Ayesha. She is the one who’s really self-made but stuck in a bad marriage. And her husband Manav (Rahul Bose) is the most real character in the film probably because we see so many of his ilk everyday. He is the khadoos, proper, outwardly open minded appearing man who in reality is trying toe every line ever set and can accept new ideas only in his terms. One of the best scenes in the film involves him and Sunny (Farhan Akhtar). Like Sunny there is another interesting but underused character – that little girl with nerdy looks who seems to represent the laity holding an outsider’s gaze over this bunch of high society people. Thanks to this character there is a sense of parody or that collective refrain of “oh you people are so vain!” throughout that was missing from Akhtar’s previous film. When the girl’s mom suddenly realizes the setting and admonishes her, “tu bar mein kya kar rahi hai?”, she wastes no time in shooting back – “aap ka gaana sunne ke baad main aur kahan jaun!” It seems like a corrective measure added in by Akhtar and I was waiting for this girl and Sunny to be used in more interesting ways. Akhtar dangles the carrot but it soon degenerates into a needless song and dance. But at least she gets to save Aegeus once. Poor Anushka Sharma as Farah doesn’t even get a closure and remains collateral damage in the awakening of The Mehras. Her romance with Kabir starts off great and Ranveer is wonderful both when courting Farah and when he drops those acerbic truth bombs on his own family.
For all its issues, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is at least a ton of fun. We don’t find any character here matching the class of an Imraan – played by Farhan Akhtar who is here too playing the same grounded person – to breathe life into a scene. There is lot of dead air of the kind you find in a rich man’s funeral. Everyone is a little too well dressed, a little too quiet and a little too well behaved. Nobody bawls. Nobody laments. Nobody shows an emotional attachment to suggest that the place has suffered a huge loss. A story about a dysfunctional family is all fine. But The Mehras are simply not dysfunctional enough.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)