Three immature Indian buddies in their 30s finally grow up while traveling through Spain in the uneven bromantic comedy-drama “Zindagi na milegi dobara.” Dogged by clunky humor and too much travelogue in the early running, helmer Zoya Akhtar’s sophomore feature improves markedly halfway through by toning down the tomfoolery and getting to grips with the trio’s emotional frailties. Toplining superstar Hrithik Roshan and sent into battle internationally July 15 against the last “Harry Potter” installment, pic has proved a crowdpleaser with a hefty first-weekend domestic gross of $14 million, and looks likely to become 2011’s biggest Hindi hit offshore.
The simple yarn centers on Kabir (Abhay Deol), the shy son of a wealthy family who’s about to marry prissy g.f. Natasha (Kalki Koechlin). Hoping to take that big road trip he and his best pals promised themselves all those years ago, Kabir calls on Imran (Farhan Akhtar), an advertising copywriter who yearns to be a poet, and Arjun (Roshan), a stressed-out money-market player, to join him for a three-week bachelor party in Spain.
Known as the Three Musketeers among friends and family, the guys act more like the Three Stooges in Barcelona and while skin diving off the Costa Brava. Weighed down by Imran’s extravagant mugging and the attention paid to Arjun’s buff physique, the lackadaisical narrative gets a much needed pick-me-up with the arrival of Laila (Katrina Kaif), a free-spirited Anglo-Indian scuba instructor who gravitates to Arjun after taking the boys to the famous Tomatina (tomato throwing) festival in Bunol.
Though Spanish authorities will be thrilled by the extended coverage of prime tourist attractions (the running of the bulls in Pamplona, a song-and-dance number at a flamenco nightclub in Seville), pic produces little that’s emotionally engaging until after the intermission.
Thereafter, it’s a different story. The trio’s past rivalries and present fears suddenly leap to life. Helmer Akhtar (sister of Farhan Akhtar) comes into her own with her muscular handling of Imran’s trepidation at meeting the father who deserted him as a child and now lives in Spain. Elsewhere, Akhtar ramps up Kabir’s anxiety over whether he’s made the right choice — a feeling exacerbated by jealous Natasha’s unannounced mid-holiday visit.
Playing the least appealing member of the trio, Roshan impressively steers Arjun from self-centered and status-obsessed to a man prepared to take Laila’s advice and live more for the moment. Top thesping honors go to model-actress Kaif, who’s delightful as the sweet-natured girl who inspires everyone to look in the mirror and do something about it.
Filmed on gorgeous locations with thesps dressed in designer duds, lenser Carlos Catalan’s luxurious widescreen imagery makes pic a pleasure to look at. Among many visual highlights is a beautifully conceived and executed sequence in which, without dialogue, these boys become men while skydiving over Seville. All other technical components are first-class.
Title translates roughly as, “Life won’t come twice.”