2.5 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.