Movie Review: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)

YJHD2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Ayan Mukerji’s debut movie, Wake Up Sid, was a nuanced coming-of-age film grounded in realism. While Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (“This Youth is Crazy”) is also a coming-of-age film, it plays out as a male fantasy in which selfishness is rewarded, and there are no consequences for bad behavior.

The regressive storyline that dominates the second half of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD, henceforth) is a disappointment, given how much the film has going for it. It’s packed with blockbuster-caliber dance numbers, gorgeous scenery, and a strong first half, anchored by Deepika Padukone. But all that can’t make up for the inattention paid to the film’s core relationships and the lack of development of the ostensible lead character, played by Ranbir Kapoor.

YJHD‘s story structure is confusing because, until the mid-point of the movie, Padukone’s character, Naina, is the lead character. She narrates an extended flashback of a mountain trek vacation eight years earlier, when she was eager to ditch her nerdy image and have an adventure before starting medical school. On the trip, she reunites with some high school classmates — Aditi (Kalki Koechlin), Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor), and Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) — and falls in love with Bunny. The trip ends, and the friends go their separate ways.

When the action returns to the present day, Naina’s lead status ends with her mailing invitations to Aditi’s wedding. Bunny takes center stage when he accepts the invitation and returns to India after eight years abroad, having had minimal contact with his friends in the meantime (and apparently no contact with Naina whatsoever). The rest of the story is about Bunny finally realizing — at age 30 — that other people have feelings, too, and that perhaps he shouldn’t be so selfish.

There’s a great scene in Wake Up Sid in which slacker Sid (also played by Ranbir Kapoor) finally cleans the apartment he shares with Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma), hoping to impress her. Instead, she chides him for expecting praise for something he should’ve been doing all along.

In YJHD, however, when Bunny admits that perhaps he should’ve called home more often — instead of ignoring his family and friends while enjoying his globetrotting lifestyle — Aditi, Avi, and Naina all but throw him a parade. Bunny’s stepmother assures him that it’s okay that he missed his father’s funeral, since all his father ever wanted was for Bunny to follow his dreams. As charming as Bunny is supposed to be, it’s hard to accept that there are no consequences for him spending thirty years as a self-interested jerk.

In contrast to Bunny’s virtual lack of moral development, Naina undertakes some serious soul-searching. On the trek, Naina forces herself to take risks, if only to confirm that she really is a homebody at heart, and that that’s okay. When she confesses to Bunny that socializing is more difficult for a nerd like her than it is for a popular guy like him, he responds, in essence, “Why? You’re fine the way you are.” It’s meant to be reassuring, but it speaks to the fact that Bunny can’t empathize with her feelings of social isolation.

During their eight years apart, Naina finishes med school and apparently has no other romantic relationships. It’s as if she put her life on hold until Bunny decides that he wants to grow up. When he does, she accepts him without reservations. Naina must work to become a better person, but Bunny is written as though his value is inherent and obvious. He just has to say the magic word, and he becomes a prize worth having. It’s lazy writing, and it’s a bit sexist.

YJHD also has trouble defining the friendships between the characters. The first half of the film is about Naina earning her spot as the fourth member of the group of pals, but she never interacts with all four of them together in the second half. When Aditi suggests to Avi and Bunny that they celebrate on the eve of her wedding, no one mentions including Naina. Naina gives a toast to her “best friend,” Aditi, but they have few scenes together where it’s just the two of them. Naina loses her status as a friend in the second half, reduced to the role of Bunny’s love interest.

The final shot of the film confirms Naina’s demotion from lead character in the first half to isolated love interest in the second. Naina and Bunny embrace, and the camera moves in to a closeup of Bunny’s beatific face, cropping Naina out of the frame entirely.

There are some really terrific dance numbers in YJHD — all in the first half of the film — including a show-stopping number featuring Madhuri Dixit. As talented an actor as Kapoor is, his performances in the dance numbers are where his star qualities really shine through. All of the four main actors do a nice job, and Kunaal Roy Kapur is funny as Aditi’s dorky fiance, Taran. The trekking scenes in Manali are lovely.

As one might ignore a lousy story for the sake of seeing the exciting stunts of a blockbuster action flick, it’s perfectly acceptable to see Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani for the entertaining dance numbers and beautiful scenery alone. The film’s story is definitely not its selling point.


32 thoughts on “Movie Review: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)

  1. Anushka

    Kathy,I loved the film.Infact,in my opinion,the second half was sensitive,warm n beautiful.While the first half was just what we see in run-of-the-mill cinema.
    And when we are talking about being ‘sexist’.I have to disagree entirely!! I think it was as much as a story of bunny’s as much of naina’s.Lets just put it as–first half belonged to Naina and second half was Bunny’s.And how they fall in love.Even the friends were a major and an adorable part of the movie..And we have seen Ayan’s first film and we certainly know he doesn’t think that way.Naina is something I would associate with.I am a career-oriented person and I have never been in any relationship till now.Its like,it will happen surely some day.Its entirely okay to not be in a relationship.

    I was completely in love with the music,the locations too.Yes,unoriginal but still very well worked for me. 🙂

    1. Kathy

      Hi, Anushka! Thanks for writing, and I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. I love Naina as well, and that’s why this movie bothered me so much. This should’ve been Naina’s story alone, since her character is great, and Bunny is a jerk. It really bothered me that we don’t get to see any of what Naina was doing in the eight years between the trip and Aditi’s wedding. All we get is a voiceover that says, in essence, “I finished med school, and now Aditi is my best friend.” So, she’s been doing nothing but working and eating dinner with her parents since then? She and Aditi never went on any vacations together, never had any more adventures together? It makes it seem as though the trip didn’t really change Naina after all.

      As a former studious goody-two-shoes myself, I didn’t like the message that we good girls are supposed to work hard and then wait around for Mr. Popularity to decide to settle down with us, after he’s traveled the world and had sex with a bunch of other women. We women aren’t allowed to have fun, because supposedly all we want are husbands and babies. Aditi’s storyline in the second half supports that sexist trope as well.

      The film’s final shot is what really made me mad. It’s just a closeup on Bunny’s face. It’s not just a slight against Naina, it’s a slight against Deepika, too. It’s like saying, “Thanks for the great job in the first half, Deepika, but we all know audiences only pay to see movies with male lead characters, so we need to end with a shot of Ranbir.”

      All that said, I’m still looking forward to whatever Ayan Mukerji’s next project will be. Cheers! 🙂

  2. Anushka

    There’s a real point,Kathy.But it didn’t quite bother me.We all knew Ayan would be obsessed with Bunny(ranbir,for the matter).Even in his first film,we saw nothing about Konkona’s life.

    But yeah,I have to agree that it did seem that the trip didn’t change her much.Except for getting rid of those glasses.LOL

    Irrespective of these things,I would not mind watchin it again at all. 🙂

    1. Kathy

      I totally forgot to mention the glasses thing in the review, Anushka! I thought that was so funny. I love when nerds in movies complete their transition to coolness by ditching their glasses, as if they were just wearing them as a decorative accessory. Maybe when Naina and Bunny climbed the mountain looking for a temple, they found an eye doctor who prescribed her some contact lenses instead. 😉

  3. Anish

    Hi Kathy,

    Great review as always. I liked the film, but along with the weak storyline, I felt there were more problems. You pretty much pointed out everything I felt. I totally agree with Bunny being a jerk throughout. I’m sure the filmmakers added the scene with his father at the end solely to help shed the selfless image that Bunny had in our minds, but I still wasn’t convinced. I also agree with your argument on the sexism. In the end, we see that Bunny is not even convinced that he wants to marry Naina, yet she agrees to his proposal. Definitely did not expect so many script issues with someone like Ayan at the helm.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks, Anish! I think you make an excellent point. While Mukerji tries to redeem Bunny with scenes like the one with his father, they weren’t convincing given all of Bunny’s past selfishness. Fingers crossed that Ayan gets it right next time.

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  5. Maya

    I loved this review, it’s most of what I feel. I thought YJHD was mediocre in parts & cliched to the hilt. The romance was so unremarkable, saved only by the friendship storyline. I completely agree about the sexism- it’s like she has to wait for him whilst he is out living his dreams & she accepts him right away. Even the scene with Vikram where “Bunny” (worst name ever) is jealous, it’s like he has some sort of right or claim over her just cuz he’s FINALLY grown up & decided he loves her. When he proposes, he pretty much admits that he will mess it up & is unsure yet he expects her to say yes and she DOES.
    All throughout Ranbir’s (I can’t bring myself to refer to him as Bunny) character was selfish, immensely unlikable & just spoilt. I had no positive feeling towards him at all. If it wasn’t for the character’s of Kalki, ARK & KRK, the film would’v been nothing for me. But I don’t think this inequality between RK & DP was intentional, just poorly written & centred too much around Ranbir. Best example is Dilliwali Girlfriend. It’s meant to be Naina’s song to “win” yet Ranbir has the best moves & Deepika has nothing to do but shake her hips, smile & occaisionally join in with the chorus.
    Sorry for going on 🙂

    1. Kathy

      No need to apologize for a great comment, Maya! Bunny (ack!) stealing Naina’s song is yet another example of Deepika getting pushed aside in favor of Ranbir. You’re right, I don’t think it was deliberate, but the fact that it’s so common place is what makes it so sad. Everyone still accepts as fact the notion that only male actors can carry films, despite great headlining work in recent years by Vidya Balan, Sridevi, Priyanka Chopra, and other talented women. I suspect the filmmakers didn’t even realize they were favoring Ranbir over Deepika in terms of screentime and story focus, and again, that’s why it bums me out so much.

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  7. Sukanya K

    I agree with you,Kathy…I felt like I wasted my 300 bucks for this movie…after having seen Wake Up Sid, this one was a real bummer 🙁

    1. Kathy

      Yep. It was a real disappointment after Wake Up Sid, Sukanya. I’m hopeful for Mukerji’s next one. 🙂

  8. Mandy Sam

    Hi, great review. I agree with most of what you have said! I had an anti climactic feeling throughout the second half of the movie where I was sort of waiting for the story to get to its high point! I liked the first half from Naina’s POV a lot better! I related with the studious good girl who didn’t party a lot. Whereas Bunny, just came across as an ass with a big ego!

    As for the second half, the only redeeming factors are the co actors Kalki, Aditya and Kunaal. They did a great job and I am happy that Aditi did not waste her life on her friend who didn’t see her romantically, but moved on with a man who deserves her. A man who puts her first! I think SHE is the one that won the relationship lottery! Not Nanina who ended up with Mr Hot Shot.

    I just didn’t feel that justice was done to the story, if you can call it that! In all, it was entertaining but left me wanting! I liked DP a lot in this movie and RK gave a good performance as always! The music and dancing was superrb. But it just did not hit the spot for me.

    1. Kathy

      Hi, Mandy! I agree that Aditi definitely got the better deal. Based on their performances in YJHD, I would love to see a romantic comedy starring Kalki Koechlin and Kunaal Roy Kapur. Are you in? 🙂

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  11. Deepak C.

    Great review, though I disagree somewhat. I think the shift between halves from Naina to Bunny is meant to offer both leads an equal amount of development, something that we don’t see a whole lot of in Bollywood movies. It’s a bit clumsy, sure, but I appreciated that these weren’t stock characters created simply to get us from song to song. A lot of the situations felt real and the interactions had some weight to them. This is the first movie in a long time where I actually didn’t think the lead couple would end up together (the scene with the stepmother had me convinced when she said his father wanted him to chase his dreams more than anything else).

    This is the most purely enjoyable Bollywood movie I’ve seen in some time. Barfi might have been better overall, but in terms of sheer entertainment value I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie as much as this (maybe Delhi Belly). Great acting (this is the first time I can remember actually liking Deepika in a movie, and Ranbir is the heir-apparent to the King of Bollywood throne at this point), great music, and solid writing/direction. I can understand why some might not like it — I saw it twice, once in the States and once in India, and there was about a 50/50 split both times between those who loved it and those who thought it was fairly disposable — but I’ll probably end up buying this when it comes out on DVD.

    By the way, I love your site. It’s great to be able to read real, critical reviews of Bollywood movies by someone who didn’t grow up watching them. Usually when friends, family, or even Indian critics write reviews, certain biases towards certain types of movies or certain actors/actresses make it into their critiques, but your objectivity is refreshing. Keep it up!

    Also, do you have any plans for reviewing Aashiqui 2? Would love to know your thoughts on that movie.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Deepak. You bring up a really interesting question about YJHD: what if Naina and Bunny didn’t end up together? I think I might have enjoyed that more, and it might have changed my whole perception of the movie. You’re right that the film is divided as it is in order to give time for Bunny to grow in the second half, but I didn’t feel like he actually developed much. However, what if he had evolved to realize that Naina was waiting around for him, but that he had no desire to give up his vagabond lifestyle? What if their climactic conversation was him setting her free, telling her to go be with Vikram, since he wouldn’t be sticking around? That would have been really interesting, and a very bold narrative choice. Ranbir and Deepika are talented enough that they could have sold such an ending.

      Aashiqui 2 didn’t open in the States, as far as I remember, so I have to wait for it to become available on streaming video. Since I actually liked Aditya Roy Kapoor in YJHD, I’m interested to see how he performs in a lead role again. I found him annoying in both Action Replayy and Guzaarish, but he seems to be hitting his stride.

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  13. jaanbaz

    i read review no.1 to 7.
    i amazed that people are thinking so much about this kind of masala movie, i mean its good. it has changed my view.

    Indian audience wants male character to lead the film any how, whatever he is performing, if he is rude or selfish though audience (male female both) would like it. youths are huge fan of ranbir kapoor (bunny).
    indian audience wants female character to perform under the male character, they wants her to be calm, kind, soft heartened.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for your comment, Jaanbaz. I think the audience in India is gradually coming to desire more gender equality in films. And with so much money to be made overseas, this change is inevitable.

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  15. Anirudh

    I think your criticism is valid, Perhaps, Bunny and Naina will reunite in a movie where *both* of them act as if there is a lot more at stake in their love story.

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  18. Bidyasagar

    Strictly i’m not a fan of Ranbir!(some people may yell-out at me just 4 that lolx).

    Well YJHD is a Good movie. At first i thought it wud be stupid movie. The first half was not that tempting although it puts up the steps for the 2nd Half to play well.

    The songs were all Good…..Madhuri’s special appearance and the Ghagra song was nice(Ladke oh re ladke kahase aya hey reh tu….pyara hey sakal ka akaal ka maara hey….seems so approriate with Ranbir).

    My favourite song is the Ilahi(with Video)

    Keep the Good Work Coming Kathy 🙂

  19. JustMeMike

    Hi Kathy

    Thanks for the fine review.

    I think the outcome was never in doubt, and I do agree with most of your objections. The screenplay gave two very strong clues about the two leads. When Ranbir (as Bunny) early on told his stepmother that he didn’t have to listen to her (because she was his stepmother) we knew, right then, that he would be self-centered, and for the most part oblivious, to anyone else around him.

    Then Deepika as Naina has the conversation with her parents. She abruptly leaves the dinner table miserable, because all she does is study. She had no friends, and obviously never was happy.

    I think both of these events gave major clues. Bunny would eventually get wise (even if it took most of the second half of the film), and Naina would capture him. Which I said up top – the outcome was never in doubt.

    I thought that you made some excellent points – especially about the closing shot, and particularly about the uneven structure.

    From my perspective I just loved the camera work, and spectacular location shooting. While I’ve not been to India, I’d love to see Udaipur and Manali. But I have been to Paris 4 times. so I just loved seeing it again in such a romantic way.

    As for Deepika in glasses – nobody was fooled. She looked great in the glasses.

    Last point – I was surprised about the comment that said the Indian audiences want the male leads to carry the film. And you are very correct when you say, that will have to change. There’s too much money to be made. They can’t stay with the old formulas. Maybe the more regional films can, but certainly not the Bollywood films whch open in India and the western markets.

    They never used to kiss in the Bollywood films either. That has certainly changed.

    1. Kathy

      The locations in YJHD are pretty spectacular, JMM. And I agree about trying to make Deepika “movie ugly.” It doesn’t work! Am I out of my mind, or does Deepika almost look better with glasses?

  20. parth

    Hey kathy
    Yjhd is such a bad movie, other than visuals of the first half and gpod catchy dance numbers thete is nothing in the movie. Plus movie is really sexist. How can even you wait 8 years for a jerk. Recently in an interview Ayan Mukherjee said that he didn’t have last 40 minutes script when he started shooting. Everything was added as shooting wrnt on. That explains a lot. And the last scene weren’t they couple? Why only bunny? Like an episode of how I met your mother bunny version.

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