(...with brief cameos by DCH and Aranyer Din Ratri)
Zoya Akhtar's Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, on the face of it, trades similarities with her younger brother's debut film Dil Chahta Hai. Both are about three friends finding insights about their life and their dreams. One of the many things that is common to both is the idea of a road-trip; while in DCH, it is just a pleasure trip, a great way to introduce a good song that lays out the attitudes of its characters, in ZNMD, it is the entire film (i.e. "the journey", lit. and fig.)
ZNMD is everything people initially accused of DCH of being. We took offence to DCH's nonchalant in-your-face affluence and its carefully coordinated blue-white hues. But as sense and time have prevailed over strangely moral indignation, we recognised in it something deeper: that life can often be complicated; it's not just the poor that have a monopoly on loss, sadness, and the obligations of relationships; and that poor little salad-eating rich slacker boys are human after all. (And it had *that* misdial scene.)
I doubt sense or time will be that kind to ZNMD.
ZNMD is like watching 3 hurdlers preparing to run a race, jostling for position, unsure of whether their legs would be up for the straddle. And then finding all the hurdles missing and the race reduced to a stroll through a lovely park.
ZNMD is a "for loop" of simple computations; where each character is allowed to iterate through his choice of lit. and fig. adventure, with a 100% guarantee of meaningful insight (or the storyteller will refund the money for the trip). In DCH, everyone loses something in their gain: Akash his pride and self-assurance, Sid his lady love, Sameer (presumably) his less complicated self. In contrast, here things unravel themselves in such technicolor hunky-dory-ness that you think that had they continued in Spain or gone to Greece for another week, the Eurozone debt crisis would have resolved itself with a shower of gold from the heavens.
Great plots demand conflict; they demand that its characters suffer. By all means, fling resolutions at them in the end, but put those hapless story puppets through the wringer. In ZNMD, even the potentially embarassing and revelatory meeting with a lost dad ends up being highly underwhelming. Hearts are purged of fear all too easily, love is discovered and conquered with ease, embarassments dissolve at the first sight of daylight. In short, the day is short and begging to be seized without a fight. So why should that interest me?
ZNMD is a visit to the nearest convenience store, where distress turns out to be the inability to find fresh Shiitake mushrooms, conveniently resolved (or your money back, remember) by finding it in the hands of a pretty girl in the neighbouring aisle, who decides she is willing to walk with you into the sunset (or out to the parking lot) forever.
And there's not even a queue at the payment counter. Cease the day.
Post Script: Earlier the same week, I saw Satyajit Ray's "Aranyer Din Ratri". Strange as it sounds, there are parallels to be drawn between these two films. In both, a set of friends decide to escape into less familiar, more natural environs. There they have experiences that change them fundamentally. Both sets find and lose love, and both are principally character-driven plots.
All images from Wikipedia