ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA. Director: Zoya Akhtar. Players: Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol, Farham Akhtar, Katrina Kaif, Kalki Koechlin, Music: Shankar Ehsaan Loy. Theatrical release (Excel).

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For modern Hindi films, Yash Chopra’s success at setting popular romances Silsila and Chandni in Europe paved the way for Hindi film makers to make a beeline for its snow-peaked countries. Recently, after the limited success of such Euro-centric films as London Dreams and Jhootha Hi Sahi, Europe as a backdrop appeared to have all but lost her screen charm. Not so! WithZindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the producer-director brother-sister team of Farhan and Zoya Akhtar have one more sensational Eurozone card deck to unroll. By setting the beautifully filmed and very welcome peak-summer comedy-adventure-bromance Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in Spain, the Akhtars rescue the summer Hindi film circuit with a light-hearted, fun filled romp that is the best popular Hindi movie of 2011 so far.

Three Gen-X men agree to take a trip together to see the sights and, begrudgingly in the case of one of them, re-connect with each other. The ringleader is Kabir (Deol), an architect who has already proposed to Natasha (Koechlin). To fight pre-wedding jitters and also to reunite his two quarrelling buddies, Kabir arranges a 3-week long European road trip.

Kabir’s friends are Arjun (Roshan), an over-reaching London-based broker and Imraan (F. Akhtar), a copy writer in India.  Their tour gets a jumpstart when, at their very first stop, they run into the comely diving instructor Laila (Kaif), who both Arjun and Imraan, who are already at odds, take a shine to.

While the stated destination is Europe, the actual destination is a journey of discovery and re-discovery. Big kudos to Zoya Akhtar for validating such a graceful, playful portrait of how some males bond. Z. Akhtar’s keen hand gets a very nice boost from cinematographer Carlos Catalan’s camera work that never misses at zooming in on bold strokes of local Spanish color; there are visually striking moments galore!

Roshan, Deol, and Kaif are aptly utilized and lend credibility to their roles. The heaviest burden is shouldered by Farhan Akhtar’s Imraan, a somewhat wayward soul looking to come out from the shadow of his long-lost biological father. The brilliant Deepti Naval provides great support as Imran’s silently suffering, widowed mother back home.  Imraan’s search for a way home is the emotional core of the movie.

Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s score squeezes juicy Hindi-and-flamenco infusion numbers that are situation specific. On “Senorita,” Maria Del Mar Fernandez’s torchy opening to the Andalusian flamenco dance number also ropes in Roshan, F. Akhtar, and Deol, who all get in on the singing. For the record, all three manage to hold a note or two! Musically, what is most striking is Neil Mukherjee’s flamenco guitar that simply rocks. Like a light Mediterranean Chablis—which, incidentally, flows with a bottomless earnestness through what could also be a guided tour of Spanish bars—the soundtrack goes down easy.

Even though framed as a Roshan-Kaif vehicle, ZNMD’s true “star”—if it has one—is Spain.

Spain as a destination for Hindi movies is a relatively new concept. Spain’s Mediterranean coast is not unlike the American West—sporadically “civilized” at its urban outposts yet rugged, wild, and mountainous to the extreme elsewhere. The Spanish charm comes at you with a seductive come-here-who-me innocence tinged with sangria and citrus. It might just make you sit up and seriously consider a Spanish vacation to follow in the footsteps of Arjun, Kabir, Imraan, and Laila! The discoveries are heartfelt and genuine while the stunts are breathtaking. Adventurous, funny, well-made, and pleasantly resonant, ZNMD is a picture-perfect Hindi movie stamp on a picture-perfect postcard from Spain.

EQ: A

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