Happy Birthday Naseeruddin Shah! That Time You Made in Impression in One Scene, Zindagi Na Milagi Dobara

All around good performances in this movie, especially Hrithik. But Naseeruddin is something special, giving us a whole character in just a few minutes of screentime.

Hrithik is brilliant in this movie. Every moment, every line delivery, every reaction shot, is perfectly in character. Farhan and Abhay are good, but Hrithik isn’t even acting, he just exists as his character. And because he just IS the character, his is the performance where the lesson of the film is present through out, not just at the end.

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The idea of this film is that men suffer because they don’t know how to open up and be honest about what hurts them. Each of our central three represents a different version of how masculinity is supposed to be. Abhay is “solid”, responsible, reliable. Farhan is a cocky fun flirt. And Hrithik makes a lot of money and works all the time. They have learned to perform these roles, to put on the mask of masculinity to hide what they feel inside. That’s not a bad thing, everyone needs masks. But for these three, they have deep hurts and those masks mean no one can see and help them.

Specifically, no woman can see and help them. This is a male bonding movie that is about how strong male bonds allow men to reach out to women. Farhan and his mother Deepti Naval, Hrithik and his new love Katrina, and Abhay and his fiancee Kalki all need to reach out and open up to each other. But the men are afraid of being hurt, so they shut down, put on their masks, and can’t heal their hurts. They have to be with fellow men, ones who understand those masks, and ones who knew them as children before they had those masks, and that will make them free.

Farhan’s hurt has been there for a year. Abhay’s has been there for 4 months. But Hrithik’s hurt has been there almost his whole life. His character is so damaged that he believes that “mask” he wears is all he is, all he has. And he is terrified of the pain of having it ripped off, that is what is constantly there in his performance. While Farhan and Abhay wear their masks lightly, natural extensions of their personality, Hrithik is drowning in his. Little tics, little gestures of stress, the way he holds himself as though constantly braced for a blow and pretending he isn’t, it’s there in every moment he is onscreen. His performance is actually painful to watch, even in the early scenes of the film there is an instinct to wince away from what he is feeling.

Hrithik’s story is the focus of the first 2/3rds of the film. And then it is resolved and the film moves on to Farhan and Abhay, seemingly. But on this watch, I stayed focused on Hrithik, and it truly is his film. The point of Abhay and Farhan is to see how Hrithik, now finally freed of his burdens, is able to help them. From someone terrified of connections, bad at being there for even his oldest friends, he becomes the most sensitive and supportive and understanding one. This is what happens when men are freed from their fears, from their posturing. There is this great depth of love and empathy and understanding that can spring loose. Hrithik, by some miracle, is freed. And he is able to free his friends in turn.

If Hrithik is the hero of the film, then the catalyst of the film isn’t the three friends reuniting, but rather Katrina. That’s something else I noticed on this watch. All three men are drowning and flailing around, not knowing how to save themselves. Katrina is the one who saves Hrithik. And because of that connection, he can show his two friends how to reach out to the women near them and save themselves. It isn’t a movie about men being together and the importance of their bond, it is about how men need to learn to reach out and be honest to the women in their lives, male bonding can’t solve everything.

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The surface version of this plot is really stupid and a little bit misogynist, which I think is why it is so easy to write this movie off. Abhay Deol is trapped in an engagement he doesn’t really want to spoiled rich girl Kalki Koechlin, he goes on a three week bachelor trip with his oldest friends Hrithik and Farhan. Farhan has daddy issues, his father just died and he learned his biological father is an artist in Spain. Hrithik is a workaholic who can’t keep a girlfriend. On the trip, Hrithik falls in love with the beautiful free spirit diving instructor. Farhan meets his biological father. And Abhay (with the encouragement of his friends) breaks up with Kalki.

There’s also a surface version of these characters. Their obnoxious little practical jokes on strangers, the obsession with “adventure sports”, it’s all deeply unpleasant. But if you keep watching the film, you will notice that by the end of the movie all of that has stripped away. They’ve left behind their childish version of manhood and found something better.

(By the end of the movie, their tricks on strangers have changed to be a joyous celebration of reaching out to strangers across gender and culture)

The real story is that all three men are broken, and the surface “solutions” to their problems are just the start. Farhan’s story is simplest (and really interesting to me considering that Farhan himself and Zoya who wrote/directed have two mothers). He thinks it is about finding his “real” father that his mother has kept from him, discovering his artistic roots. But it’s really about grieving his father. His father died, and soon after he learned for the first time that he has another biological father out there. He focused on that, on being angry with his mother for separating them, on having this fantasy of a “perfect” Dad out there somewhere, because he was afraid of facing the reality of his grief for his father. He acts at his worst on this trip because he is running from his feelings, running towards this idea of himself as a wild artist just like his “real” father instead of as a responsible loving man like the father who raised him. And then he meets his “real” father and realizes he is an empty man, not capable of love, lost in his ego and artistic vision. It shocks Farhan out of denial, he is finally able to reach out to his mother and share their grief, and admit to his friends that he is only human and feels things too.

Abhay’s story could be easy, tricked into an engagement with a terrible spoiled woman, blah blah. But that’s not the story at all. She didn’t trick him, it was a mutual accident. If anything, he trapped her. In fact, the film is very clear that his engagement is far worse for her than for him, and he has to rescue both of them. That is the story that unfolds, not Abhay realizing he hates her and doesn’t want to get married, but Abhay realizing that the “her” that he loved is being killed by this engagement, and that is why he doesn’t want to get married. It’s not actually a story of men being trapped into marriage, but rather how marriage kills and transforms women. What I especially noticed this time is that the end credits song subtly suggests a continuing story. Abhay and Kalki are both good people, who sincerely like each other. But once marriage entered the picture, they became trapped into the worst versions of themselves. In the end credits, with Abhay and Kalki broken up and both guests at Hrithik and Kat’s wedding (another sign that Kalki is more than just the “evil fiancee”, that she is joyfully welcome and happy at their wedding), we see Kalki possibly with a new boyfriend and Abhay sadly watching. There’s something more there, a year down the line they could be engaged again, when they are both ready and truly want it.

And then there’s Hrithik. Workaholic who learns to enjoy life thanks to free spirited young woman, BORING. But no. Right from the start, the audience can see there is more to him than just “workaholic”. If that’s all he was, he wouldn’t even be on this trip. Instead, we see a man who uses work to hide from a constant sense of misery. Whenever his friends start to get to close, he tosses off a joke and says he has a “work call”. When we learn, long into the film, that he works because his father died when he was 8 leaving them massively in debt, it all falls into place. A little boy who is still trying to gain that security he lost at 8 years old, who thinks somehow if he works hard enough and makes enough money, he can make his world right again. Farhan has to work out his grief over his father’s death, Abhay has to figure out how to save himself and Kalki, but Hrithik doesn’t even know how to live, hasn’t been alive really since he was 8 years old.

His friends can’t help with that. We see them trying to deal with the surface part of it. They tease him, try to get him to stop working. But they can’t deal with the crushing misery and hopelessness at the heart of it. They are very good friends, but even the best friendship can’t give Hrithik everything he needs. That’s what the “Farhan slept with his girlfriend” backstory is about. We don’t get a flashback to that moment (as we do to other painful moments in Hrithik’s life), and Abhay dismisses the girlfriend herself as to blame for the whole thing (Abhay being the kindest most objective character, so probably telling the truth). The reality of Hrithik having a girlfriend at some point who played the two friends against each other is painful, but not the kind of painful that is unforgivable or tragic. That’s the point, this ISN’T really an end of the world kind of sin. That’s why Farhan can’t understand why Hrithik is still upset, and Abhay thinks Hrithik can/should still go on this trip with them, and Hrithik himself feels like he isn’t justified in cutting Farhan out of his life totally. If we were just talking about friendship, it would be no big deal. But Hrithik is dealing with things that are far more than friendship. He needs to trust, he needs to feel loved, he needs to feel like he has value in the world beyond the money he can make. That is why what Farhan did hurt him beyond all logic or reason. Farhan realizes that, in the end, that it isn’t about what he did but about understanding the effect his actions had on others (just as his biological father can casually explain his decisions without considering how those decisions hurt other people, that is what Farhan was doing). That is Farhan’s journey, a journey of friendship. Hrithik’s journey though, that is far beyond Farhan’s sin or his apology. He needs to find a way to heal the hurt inside that made Farhan’s actions so painful for him.

Enter Katrina! God, this love story is so beautiful. It’s love at first sight, in the real world. Katrina is beautiful of course, but that’s not why Hrithik falls for her. She is just a woman in a flowered dress on a beach. No glamour shot, no make-up, no perfect lighting, none of those moments that in film language tell us she is a shockingly beautiful woman that anyone would love. Hrithik sees her and something happens that he can’t explain. And then the same thing happens with Katrina. He says “I’m Arjun” and shakes her hand and she smiles, and then his other friends talk to her while he stands back, and she keeps glancing at him, shifting her body in his direction. They have dinner that night, are talking about other things, Hrithik is silent, and Katrina suddenly bursts out “do you have a girlfriend?” like she knows it is a strange question but she can’t live any more not knowing.

There love story isn’t about this magical woman breaking down Hrithik’s boundaries, it’s mutual. For both of them, there is something there that they can’t resist. The way it is played, it feels like if Hrithik hadn’t decided to throw away his workaholic life in London, Kat probably would have given up her free-spirited life and come to him. That’s already what she is doing, drawn into his orbit over and over again. Hrithik doesn’t actually pursue her, Kat is the one who suddenly shows up for dinner, invites them to join her on her road trip, chases him in the car to kiss him, Hrithik is working on her just as she is working on him. But in the real world. There is that weird spark between them from the start, but they still have to talk, to get to know each other, to get comfortable with each other. The first kiss isn’t at the first meeting, it is a week later. The first night together is just talking, trading histories. Everything they say isn’t brilliant and witty, they don’t agree on everything, but they are really really interested in each other. And there is nothing the other person can say that will make them NOT be interested in each other any more.

Ultimately, that’s what Hrithik needs. He needs someone who will love him and want him no matter what. Even if he doesn’t have money, even if he lets her down sometimes, she will still love him. Katrina coming to him is a miracle, that there is someone out there who will love and want him immediately and forever. What the film leaves open is that Hrithik is a miracle for Kat too. It isn’t her movie, we don’t get her flashbacks, but we know that she lives a traveling existence, she doesn’t like anything to tie her back. She resists Hrithik, resists acknowledging this bond, until she can’t any more. There could be another movie made about her, about a young woman with mixed race parents, from London and Delhi, who took a long time to find herself and finally has a life she enjoys and is trying to make it last as long as possible and resist change. And who suddenly meets a man who forces her to change everything about her thoughts and feelings.

This brings me back to the starting point. This is a movie about men, who need to learn how to reach out to women. The women in this film aren’t magical creatures who will “save” them, but fellow human beings that they need to learn to see as fellow human beings and stop expecting them to be perfect. Again, Farhan’s story is simplest. He is angry with his mother because she wasn’t perfect, but then he meets his biological father and suddenly is able to see things from his mother’s side, a young woman left alone and pregnant and desperate. The scene is perfectly written and acted, Naseeruddin’s speech so focused on himself and yet still giving just enough hints for us to see with Farhan what he is revealing about Deepti Naval’s situation (“I was 25, she was a few years younger” and so on). And with Farhan’s face slowly falling as we see that he is not hearing this story as a great story of a rebellious artist and true love, but instead a pitiful story of a young woman abandoned. Farhan had to meet his “father” in order to fully find and understand his mother. Abhay had to see Kalki on the road with them, to understand the desperation that brought her to the point of joining on this trip, and to remember that she is a person herself, before he could understand that his resistance to marriage isn’t a selfish impulse but rather a sign of love for Kalki who has gone from this interesting funny independent woman to someone who is so insecure she can’t be away from him. And Hrithik to really see a woman, and listen to her, and understand that someone who is so different from himself can still love him and he love her.

And then we end with Hrithik and Katrina’s wedding, a perfect joining of male and female. On my first watch, I found that an odd tag on ending. But it’s important. Especially the final shot, the friends taking a photo together and Hrithik dragging Kalki in to join them. It’s a story that started with men trying to break off and be alone, and it ends with them trying to bring people in, healing wounds and rifts, showing that being open to love is the most manly, and human, thing you can do.

(final question for those who have watched it recently, do you vote for “Abhay and Kalki will get back together eventually” or “this will be a little bittersweet memory that will make them better partners in their next relationship”? I am firmly on the side of the first one myself)

7 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Naseeruddin Shah! That Time You Made in Impression in One Scene, Zindagi Na Milagi Dobara

  1. I watched this film and definitely fell for the surface version that you described. Your in depth description was so poignant though and touched on things that I never thought of.
    These lines in particular stand out: “But Hrithik is dealing with things that are far more than friendship. He needs to trust, he needs to feel loved, he needs to feel like he has value in the world beyond the money he can make.”

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  2. I loved this film the first time I saw it, even without consciously noticing anything but the surface version of both plot and characters. But then your analysis makes sense, so I guess the deeper meaning was thee all along – and no less powerful for being subconscious.

    As for Abhay and Kalki, I’d say their experience will definitely make them better partners in their next relationship – so much so that having that next relationship with the same partner becomes a possibility again.

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  3. Coincidentally just re-watched this one this weekend with my mom. Maybe the fact that this was the movie that started me watching Indian films, and Naseeruddin is brilliant in his small role, is behind why I like him so much. I like his eyes, and the way he can use them to look sly, or soulful, or malicious, or stricken, for all his different characters, yet always looking like no one but himself. Here he starts out projecting wise artist, then he drops that rejection of Farhan so heartlessly, barely shifting expressions. It’s unexpected and it wounds.

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    • Yes! Another actor would feel the need to hit the hurtful lines harder, to make sure the audience got it. Naseerji plays it the way this kind of person actually would be, he is so unaware that he doesn’t see he is doing anything wrong, doesn’t realise what he is saying, so of course it is just part of the conversation, no different than anything else he says.

      On Tue, Jul 21, 2020 at 12:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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