Sunday, July 7, 2013


Once the basic needs of life are taken care of, what makes a person happy? Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani tackles that question, sort of, but if you ask me, the film is arguing for giant Bollywood production numbers as one of life's great pleasures. And since really good naach-gaana strikes me as a prime reason to be cheerful, you will get no argument from me on that.

Watching the first number in YJHD, which happens right at the beginning of the film, I realized how very long it has been since I've watched a song-and-dance extravaganza that was this much fun. I've heard the argument that it's a comedown for the great Madhuri Dixit to appear as a tawaif in an item number, but I'm just grateful to see her dance again. Her beauty is all the more poignant now that her face has a few lines, and the spring in her step seems undiminished. And what joy there is in her dance-off with Ranbir Kapoor! The situation requiring the dance remains vague to me (he's an intern on a documentary shoot, she's the subject of the film, and there seems to be a lot of innuendo), but as the kids say, whatever. It's the kind of dance number that makes me glad to be alive and reminds me of the wonders of unapologetic Bollywood. I grinned like an idiot all the way through.

And if there is a future for Bollywood as we have known it in this age of the Hindi indie (and I love both)--Ranbir Kapoor is the one I would pin my hopes on. Watching him dance is one of the reliable pleasures of today's cinema, and if the merest excuse is all it takes to get him started, well, hooray! Even when he isn't dancing--even when, as in this film, his character seems a hair underwritten--I'm willing to go along. A not-very-studious young Indian citizen gets a full scholarship to Northwestern with so little effort that his friends don't even know he's applied? A journalism degree leads to a job as a globe-trotting cameraman (the kind who breezes through Rome at sunset, not the kind who gets shot at in Afghanistan)? The cameraman job leads to an offer to be the host of a reality show that involves living in Paris for six months, apparently minus the Real World-style psychotic roommates? OK, fine, let's not look too closely. If anyone on earth has that kind of luck, why not Ranbir Kapoor?

Deepika Padukone
What "plain" looks like in the movies.
The foil to Ranbir's Bunny is Deepika Padukone's Naina, a glasses-wearing girl who spent her formative years studying so hard that her schoolmates didn't even register her presence. (Let us pass lightly over the Hollywood/Bollywood convention that if a girl wears glasses, then she cannot be considered attractive, even if she has a face like Deepika Padukone's.) Now she's preparing to be a doctor, but a chance encounter with a free-spirited former classmate (Kalki Koechlin) makes her decide on a whim to go spontaneously trekking in Manali. Naina and Bunny--also old schoolmates--meet cute shortly before the trip, which starts with an unexpectedly poignant drinking game in a crowded train compartment that reveals good-girl Naina as the odd one out among her more flirty, flighty young companions.

Olivia Newton-John in Grease, changing yourself for a boy
What I was afraid of.
My daughter, who has experienced just under 14 years of life, pronounced this film "predictable," but based on my longer time on earth I'm convinced it was not at all a given that Naina would fall for Bunny without actually losing herself in the process (think of what Olivia Newton-John went through in Grease to get the boy). While the spontaneous Manali trip may seem out of character for careful planner Naina, she proves there that she has a sense of adventure and plenty of good humor. She also falls for good-time loverboy Bunny, but just as she's about to tell him how she feels, she learns about his sudden serious Northwestern plan, which a studious girl like Naina wouldn't think of derailing. Instead, she decides to forget him and buckles back down to her chosen career path.

We catch up with Naina and Bunny again after the interval, when they're eight years older. The occasion for the old friends' reunion is the wedding of Kalki Koechlin's character, who is engaged to marry not Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor), the fourth old trekking pal on whom Kalki once had a crush and who has become something of a loser, but the wacky, plump Kunaal Roy Kapoor (last seen by me having some serious intestinal distress in Delhi Belly, and, for what it's worth, the brother of Aditya). I expected, then worried, that Kalki would ditch her bumbling but sweet fiance for her old flame, but fortunately, YJHD doesn't take that path either. The four friends get to know one another again. Bunny has soared, while Avi has also tried to make a living having fun and failed. Kalki has found a dependable, traditional guy and discovered that she likes being solid and respectable; Naina, who has always been respectable, has remained alone and seems OK with that choice.

The wedding/reunion is the occasion for yet another showstopping number from Ranbir*, and I throw it in here because who doesn't need the occasional delirious good time?

I'm not going to say that it's a spoiler to mention that Bunny and Naina do eventually end up together, but for a good part of the film, that outcome doesn't feel certain. How nice, at least, to see these two not making any decisions about pairing off until after a conversation acknowledging that they want different things from life. Bunny raves about the famous burgers of San Francisco (burgers?? but never mind), while Naina extols a home-cooked biryani. In the end, Bunny is pulled earthward, in traditional Hindi-film fashion, by realizing that being at home more would have given him more time with his big-hearted and doting father (Farooque Shaikh, awwww). His teasing, sweet relationship with dad and stepmother (Tanvi Azmi, also adorable) makes the belated attractions of family life a little more believable.

In the end, it feels pretty satisfying for Bunny to come to Naina and not the other way around. They may not have worked out all the problems that they'll have to resolve, but at least they're thinking things through. And so, after the film, was my daughter, who wisely noted, "He can travel, and then come home. Or maybe she can travel with him once in a while."

And then while they're in the same place, they can do a lot of big fluffy Bollywood production numbers. And that, my friends, sounds like more than enough for a happily-ever-after.

*Am I imagining this, or does someone really shout "Ranbir!!" when he shows up at the beginning of this video?

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