Zindagi Milegi Dobara – If you can Afford it.

The realization of the self and finding a solution to the whats and whys of life has been a never ending quest of humankind ever since the dawn of time. It hasn’t been easy, since only very few people, like Sri Buddha have transcended to that level of consciousness. From smoke signals to intergalactic UHF radio signals, there are an infinite number of discourses present in every imaginable communicative medium known to mankind on the subject. But now, a semblance of an answer emerges from a not-so-unlikely source: Bollywood, of course.

But we already knew that this is the answer to it all, didn’t we? Nirvana can be achieved in many ways, and taking road trips in exotic European countries is just one of them, it is just a question whether you can afford it. And of course, Bollywood makes movies for it’s own kind. The rest of us impoverished Indians may sit and watch.

Zoya Akthar’s new gen designer movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara builds on the much abused and worn out theme of people hitting the road in open highways through exotic locations and their lives drastically changing as a result, with lots of Zen thrown in. Enjoyable and visually spectacular as the movie is, it also paints a fantasy world, is mildly depressing and is a good tourist advertisement for Spain. But if you think that the movie “speaks” to you about life and such, you are mistaken. It shows, as Shubhra Gupta says,

…there’s the long-finned car driving down gorgeous roads, and there are those loaded guys who travel only first class. …. look all those cool and groovy people doing cool and groovy things.

Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) is a hotshot London based stock broker, a workaholic who has only one aim in life – to make money, and hence has commitment issues. Kabir (Abhay Deol) is running his father’s megabucks construction business and is engaged to Natasha (Kalki Koechlin), an uptight 1000-crore hotel heiress and interior designer, and is confused about his marriage. Imran (Farhan Akthar) is a freelance writer and closet poet who has never met his father and is very well off. The three are friends, in their early thirties probably. They embark on a road-trip across Spain as a bachelor party preceding Kabir’s wedding to Natasha. On the way they meet Laila (Katrina Kaif), a “free-spirited” fashion student working as a deep-sea diving instructor in her free time. We follow their adventures as they make their way across a sunny, open, sanitized, made-to-order Spain.

The movie shows the bonding between the three men, how they overcome their fears, realize their self and purpose in life and so on. It also shows us the stunningly gorgeous Spanish countryside and cities, exquisite 5-star Casas and hotels, Tomantino festivals, Bull chases, breathtaking underwater visuals and breath-stopping skydiving scenes. It is also full of eminently, sharply dressed men worthy of James Bond, not a thread out of place. And streaked hair, rippling muscles, sassy legs, spotless dresses, loaded banquet tables, Blackberrys, Apple iMacs and Land Rovers. It stands out in it’s photographic awesomeness and the chemistry between the lead actors, especially Hrithik and Farhan. The comedy is on the spot, excels in timing and is funny. In all, a Dil Chahta Hai-esque pretty postcard picture movie worth seeing once. A lot of people would also describe it as a happy, feel-good movie that makes us feel elated and worthy. It am not most people and disagree.

ZNMD is a fantasy. Unlike DCH, the movie and it’s people seem distant, unknown, alien to us. It is a different world, a world of people who can afford to take any detour from their daily lives. You get the same feeling watching it when you were watching Avatar. We do not know these people or their problems, they do exist not on the plane me or you live in. This is the world of people who lead designer lives in houses that cost as much as your entire apartment block or more, gift each other handbags as expensive much as a mid-size sedan and go for exotic vacations which cost more than your annual salary. When these people sit around a loaded table in a 5-star getaway in the south of Spain and talk about self discovery and solving problems in life, you start getting that depressing feeling that self-discovery is something you can hardly afford, and that you will end up taking your life problems to your grave. The movie also exhorts us to start “living for the moment” and the entire film industry cheers it on. The sheer pompous, fake, elitist gloating over the movie actually makes me sick.

I feel so sad, looking at them and their problems…

Live for today, Seize the moment, Let your spirit soar, Let your fears go, Discover your true inner self. All these cliches have been so enormously overused by motivational speakers and writers, self-styled life-teaching gurus and the e-mail forwarder mafia, that their mere mention is almost nauseating now. These are all unreal, meaningless idioms that everyday people, around 80% of people in the world and I would bet 99% of people in this country can ill afford to indulge in. In 1943, an American gentleman named Abraham Maslow proposed a theory that talks about needs that human beings have, starting with the most basic needs needed to stay alive at the lowest level to the most complex, personal needs at the top. Most of us are still stuck at the bottom levels of Maslow’s triangle, and will be stuck there all our lives. We can hardly even think about  the luxuries of self-actualization and self-transcendence. Yes, everyone does take vacations abroad. However, 15 days of such bare-bones holidaying can make sure you are stone-broke for the next one year.

Arjun is worried that if the markets keep tanking, he have to downgrade his Ferrari to a Ford Fiesta. (Dude! I can’t afford even that!) But his observation of “Duniya sirf paison se chalta hai” is spot on. Laila is a “free-spirited” girl who lives for today and does what she want while shuttling between Spain, London, New York and Delhi. Yes, you can afford to be “free-spirited” when you have all that backup VISA power. Hell, where do these people earn all their money from to be so “free-spirited”? Far flung from reality, the real intent of the movie seems to be showing us what almost all of us are missing out on life. Sorry, if you can’t afford it, tough luck.

And in the end, the wedding takes place in Morocco. Morocco! I mean, what the hell?

Arjun works his behind off and he has well earned that money he spends. What I am bothered about is the sheer indulgence the movie depicts, which is almost criminal. Maybe it was a well disguised tourism ad, aimed at the very-well to do section in our society. We might already see “ZMND-style package trips for Rs.10 lakh only!” ads soon. Yes, they can afford to find their true self, solve their life’s problems and be happy. Most of us cannot. No, I am not jealous. I am furious at the life that is passing me by. The world is out there, and here we are, with our EMI-dictated lives. When we cannot afford to pause struggling even for a day of our lives, where can we find time to take off on life, the universe and everything, when we have to worry about a thousand other stuff ranging from petrol princes to rent and fees to train tickets booked three months in advance? I wouldn’t want to listen the problems of people who fly to London for shopping as if they were going to Jayanagar 4th Block, and shuttle between continents and being called “free-spirited” only because they are rich enough to jaunt around on daddy’s money without doing any meaningful work their entire life.

Ah the rich and their problems! I wish I had their problems! You have to be lucky to be born such that you can live your life having nothing to worry about. Maybe one day…

Till then, I will take the easy way for self-realization: Travel on the Island Express, and maybe on other trains across India. It is decidedly far less glamorous, but that is all the self-realization I can afford to have. Too bad it is not glitzy enough to make a movie about.

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