Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, was definitely an enjoyable movie. It had its funny moments, mostly supplied by Farhan Akhtar in a 'new' kind of role and it had brief interludes of emotional depth. The comparisions to Dil Chahta Hai are inevitable, as you would have already heard. DCH had three characters too, each with his own little complexities in life. ZNMD has a similar setting, and the relatively poorer guy has enough money to chase the runaway dad in faraway Spain, which is broadly where similarity to DCH ends.
The context of the movie is very simple. An old pact to travel far and court adventure brings together three friends drifting away slowly from each other - one, on account of impending marriage, another immersed in career ambitions and the third, a drifter. There is awkwardness between the drifter and the workhorse because of an old betrayal in love, the nice guy groom-to-be being the adhesive to keep the group together. During the journey, each faces his worst fear unwittingly, and for a private moment each, transcends beyond the web of complexities built around himself. The moments are liberating enough for all the three to correct course and re-bond. Katrina Kaif joins the trio en route, largely to fill the gaps in storytelling, but seems to fit well into the limited potential of her character. Kalki Koechlin plays the unidimensional character of Abhay Deol's possessive fiancée. I always found Kalki well short of adjectives like 'pretty' and 'talented' that get attributed to her. The movie too doesn't make any pretensions in that direction, so it seemed to be a good fit after all.
There isn't much story, if you want it that way. But as 'growing up' movies go, there is a lot of fun and winding down before the moment of reckoning hits. I have an observation here. Overcoming fear of heights or water or death (seriously!) doesn't by itself transform the characters.When a philanderer meets his match in the father who abandoned him as a child or when career obsession gives way to softer emotions, the moments were more profound. That is what supplies fodder to the real 'growing up' of characters. The moviemaker does highlight these instances, but reserves her best narrative talents to metaphoric acts such as deep water walks and skydiving. Running-with-the-bulls scenes were too filmy, and seemed like a filler to close the narrator's arguments.
The contemplative pauses and the poetry in the background used to underscore the transcending moments define this movie. And standalone, these are among the best cinematic interludes in mainstream bollywood. Only, they are used to support rather linear emotional journeys of the characters. If Zoya meant it all as metaphor (overcoming fear of water as 'moment of reckoning'), may be it was a stroke of genius that went unnoticed. I'm somehow not convinced that it was intentional. Somewhere else in the same movie, she creates complex emotional manoeuvres and the explosive potential of such moments is followed up down rather tamely with a wisecrack by Farhaan (mostly).
Carlos Catalan's cinematography not only serves as the greatest advertisement for Spain in India, it also enhances the narrative of the movie exponentially. Background score and music were good in general, but remain unremarkable except in parts. Hrithik Roshan excels in his role, and was pleasantly restrained in both his acting and dancing. Farhan Akhtar was a good fit in his character and I found his comic timing to be as good as Saif's. However, the character seems to be packed with both the best comic lines and profound ones. It seemed a bit unreal, someone as shallow as that writing poetry of such depth. Abhay Deol makes his mark, but remains in the background.
Baradwaj Rangan from The Hindu has an interesting take on the movie, which made me think. Though he is overly critical in parts, he has a very solid point. Here's the link to his article (as he says it himself, it isn't a 'review') - http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article2305050.ece