10 years of ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’: Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti on their epic road movie

Was the film starring Abhay Deol, Farhan Akthar and Hrithik Roshan a spiritual sequel to ‘Dil Chahta Hai’? Why was the movie set in Spain? Will we ever know what happened to the characters’ relationships? A decade after its release, we find out

Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD) turns 10 today. The film can be seen as a spiritual successor of her younger sibling Farhan’s Dil Chahta Hai (DCH), which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this August. Both films are about three affluent best friends, their conflicts and their interpersonal relationship. Both feature the pranks of an all-guys trio. But unlike Dil…, ZNMD, starring Abhay Deol, Farhan Akthar and Hrithik Roshan, unpacks the drama through a journey, becoming a road movie.

Farhan includes a largely cheerful road-trip to Goa in Dil…, but Zoya attempts to make Spain an integral part of her film — the adventures and experiences there profoundly change its protagonists. In fact, it was a trip to Spain, and not Dil… that inspired Zoya and her co-writer Reema Kagti to make ZNMD. The duo, in a conversation with The Hindu, look back at what they admit to be their most fun-filled project till date.

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ZNMD, Dil Chahta Hai, 3 Idiots, Kai Po Che… why do best friends in popular Hindi buddy movies often come in a trio?

Zoya: Two is perhaps too little, and four is a bit too much. I think three people adds a good dynamic. You can spread your theme with three stories. And the interpersonal relationship between three people is more fun and interesting.

What is your favourite memory from ZNMD?

Zoya: I think it’s the only script that we wrote fast, no, Reema?

Reema: Did we? I remember us writing many drafts.

Zoya: But it was the least time we spent on a script compared to our other films.

Reema: My favourite moments are from the shoot. Being in Spain was a lot of fun.

Zoya: We just drove throughout the making. So, it was a very different kind of shoot. Every day was exciting.

Reema: I was doing the second unit. Zoya wanted panoramic vistas for the songs. So, I was travelling the length and breadth of Spain. That was fabulous.

Any specific memory you would like to share from these travels?

Zoya: In one of the scenes, the car almost fell [from the edge of a steep road]. Hrithik forgot to pull the handbrake. That was funny because luckily no one got hurt. For me, the scariest thing was shooting the skydiving scene. I was with the cameraman and the monitors in a little plane with its door half-open. The boys were having fun, but I was freaking out because I do not like heights.

Did you overcome your fear like Imran does in the film? [Farhan’s character, Imran, is acrophobic. The actor, however, is a certified skydiver]

Zoya: Not at all. In fact, everyone in that crew tried skydiving except me. I still have a fear of falling.

How often do you revisit your films?

Zoya: I have not seen ZNMD since its release. I sometimes catch a few scenes on television when someone else is watching it. By the time you deliver the film, you have seen it so often you are like, ‘It’s out of my system; now move on.’ I am now going to watch it as an exercise hoping I can learn from it.

Reema: Yes, it becomes a bit of an overload once you are done.

A still from ‘ZNMD’ 


What do you like the most about ZNMD, and what do you dislike?

Zoya: What I liked the most was that Reema and I set out to connect with people in a way that we connected with certain films while growing up, and I think that happened. I had more fun on the sets for this than with any other job I have done. What I do not like about it, I will never say publicly (laughs).

Reema: I am not sure if I dislike anything, but there are many things I like. First, the way Zoya shot it. She took what was written to another level. Like Zoya said, it connected with a lot of people. She even got a few emails from people who were feeling guilty for ending relationships. And, this movie kind of told them ‘It is okay; it is a part of life.’

Zoya: The film is about wanting to do whatever you want to do. We come from such a conformist society that we sometimes think we owe it to other people. If you are not hurting anyone, you should be able to live your life the way you want to. That is what resonated with people. It gave them a sense of freedom.

Zoya Akhtar | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Did you ever view ZNMD as a spiritual sequel for Dil Chahta Hai?

Zoya: Not really. We were aware that there were three friends and it is going to be compared to Dil.. or being looked at as a sequel. We were comfortable with that because we both worked on Dil… [as assistant directors].

Reema: The starting point was similar. There were three friends. And, it is a buddy movie, but beyond that, ZNMD went to another place.

All three protagonists of ZNMD have a backstory. If you were to make it today, would you have considered making it as a web series?

Zoya: No, it would have still been a feature.

Reema: Same. The backstories were only meant to be that much.

Spain was a much-talked about point in the film. People who liked the movie, liked the location. And, there were people who called the film an advertisement for the country. Why did you choose Spain?

Zoya: The minute we decided to go with adventure sports and wanted to end the film with bulls running, we knew it had to be Spain. We had been there on a holiday. It is an absolutely gorgeous country. You take a road trip in any country, you will see a lot of places.

Reema: Zoya and I had been to Spain just six to eight months before we started writing. We loved the place. And that is the spirit we wanted to bring to the film — a nice, beautiful holiday.

Zoya: When you are doing a journey, the road becomes part of the narrative. The journey and those spaces should emotionally resonate with the characters. So, you pick the locations that ties into the emotional graph of the characters.

Katrina Kaif, Farhan Akthar, Hrithik Roshan and Abhay Deol in ‘ZNMD’ 


Does showing travel in a film make it more likeable?

Zoya: It depends on the story. You do not invest in the location. You first invest in the characters, their emotions, narratives, and conflicts. As long as they are working, you are fine. You could be in one house and have the most engaging narrative.

Is it easier for women writers to write male characters than the other way around?

Zoya: I do not think so. There are a lot of male writers who have written women well. It depends on the calibre as a writer. If you are a good writer, you will be interested in the character’s psychology, their emotions, their experiences, and how the world treats them.

Reema: I don’t think gender matters. If you examine the films of guys who have written women badly, they might not have written the men well, too.

Finally, will there be a sequel?

Zoya: There is no plan yet but the idea keeps coming up. If we find a story we resonate with, we will definitely go ahead. We do not want to make a sequel just for the sake of it. It has to stand on its own.


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