Zoya Akhtar
Director of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dil Dhadakne Do

I started writing Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD) thinking I’d go to Mexico. Reema and I started writing it. And then the minute we came upon the idea to use adventure sports, we started wondering where we could place them. And then there was something just gorgeous and mediaeval about running with the bulls. And Spain just seemed perfect because it also had all the modern ones, like skydiving and diving—everything we wanted. So then we just shifted to Spain. I had holidayed in Spain before. So I was always in love with that country. So I kind of knew it. And it was easier for me to move it there.

I did a one-month reconnaissance. I drove the route with my production designer and my cameraman. And we just drove through Spain, discovering wonderful locations along the way. And then we kind of mapped it out visually. We would just take photographs and stills, and we just started blowing them up and putting them into a visual story. You know how we wanted the story to unfold. And then we adapted the script to that.

It’s absolutely stunning. The people are really warm. They’re quite Indian in a way; you know, they have that culture of feeding you; they come over, and they eat late. You know, they’re quite Indian in a way. So it’s very easy to get by. The places are beautiful. The food is amazing. The art is amazing.

There is a scene where Katrina chases the car down and kisses Hrithik. When we were driving, we saw this copper mine. It looked like a gouge in the earth. It’s a red mine. We just thought that it was so harsh. So that would be a nice location to stop her in the middle of the road. We would get ideas like that and tweak it accordingly.

What was amazing is that the Government of Spain let us shoot where we shot. So for the running of the bulls, they gave us the actual location. They had the running of the bulls, and we shot a lot of the second unit in the real festival. The close-up shots with the stars were shot after the festival was over, they gave us the same area to shoot with our actors. For the Tomatina festival, they gave us the exact location where it happens. They also really helped us.

We had a mainly Spanish (110–150) crew. We had about 30-40 people from India. We realised that we had to decide how we wanted to see Barcelona. Because that city gives you many kinds of landscapes and many kinds of views. And we liked their old structures. The old mediaeval kind of vibe, which is in the city. And you know, we said it gives you a sense of history; it gives you a sense of strength; it gives you a sense of solidarity that has lasted over time. And it’s a nice way to start the friendship. So you see there that they’re old friends. You get this kind of old-world, very comfortable, very lived-in feeling. And then we decided to move out of there and tell the story. The first one we were doing was towards the ocean. So it was all whites and blues, you know…the beach. And how we wanted to do it, as well as the paths that led us there. We followed the roads that run along the coast and then go into Bunuel, in Valencia, which is in the interior, which is Tomatina. So the story just becomes red, in a particular sense. And then from there, after the scuba diving , it’s all green, and they’re in the middle of nowhere. And then it goes into sky diving, which is again in the middle of nowhere, into the old town of Alajar, where the Senorita song happens. And then from there they go into Barcelona, which is again back to square one, which is mediaeval… It’s modern, but mediaeval in terms of its sport. So you kind of take it full circle, and you kept a bit of the old-world feel, which I thought was way more interesting.

The town was so happy to have us there. They hadn’t seen anything like that. They were really sweet. They all dressed up and came into the song. And the mayor of the town is in the song!
The mood—where do you want to take it? Where do you want to go? It’s nice to be in that kind of barren landscape after Farhan’s character meets his father. So you just have to pick the mood with the landscape, I think. And sometimes you pick against the mood. You know if it’s a romantic kiss, It’s beautiful not to be somewhere pretty, in fact, in the middle of the day, with the sun over your head. So the landscape adds to the storytelling.

I’ve not done any road movies before ZNMD, but I’ve done many road trips. I like road trips. I find them extremely cathartic. I feel there’s a certain sense of moving through space even as we are still. You’re completely still, and you’re travelling. You’re really with yourself. And everything around you is changing. I love it, it’s a genre I always wanted to make and put on screen.

Spain was not a destination that Indians or South Asians really went to. When they were helping us, they kind of knew that the film was going to promote them, on some level, but I didn’t shoot anything to particularly promote them. Because I wanted to shoot what I wanted to shoot. We knew it could promote, but we didn’t realise that it would do so much.

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