With over 60 Hindi films under my belt, I’ve decided I can let some of my thoughts out. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, released in May 2013, has been a huge financial success in India and around the world. Running time is 159 minutes and within that are 9 songs lasting nearly 39 minutes. That’s 120 minutes of dialogue – comparable to most modern Hollywood films. The plot, for what it’s worth, is very simple: boy goes on holiday – boy leaves home for college abroad - boy sees the world - boy comes home and finds love. College friends, Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor), Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) and Aditi (Kalki Koechlin), take a trip to the Himalayas with a nerdy (but beautiful) newcomer Naina (Deepika Padukone). The young men are confident flirts and flirt with a succession of beautiful young women. Even so, it’s clear that Aditi is secretly in love with Avi and, as the holiday continues Naina is falling for Bunny.
Kapoor, is not the most handsome leading man of his generation (see Shahid Kappor and Ranveer Singh), but as Bunny he is charismatic, confident and self-assured playing the young man determined to seek out adventure and see the world. You can see why he’s becoming such a big star. Padukone is charismatic AND drop-dead gorgeous; you easily believe the convention of the shy girl starting to trust herself and becoming increasingly confident. The characters are quickly established, the dialogue is slick and smart; the production values high.
The first half comes to an end with the revelation that Bunny is moving to the States to study journalism. The second half begins with an extended musical montage of Bunny’s adventures across the world. He is clearly enjoying himself and living his dream. The short section ends with Bunny receiving the news that Aditi is getting married and wants Bunny to come home for her wedding. The slightly longer second half, filled with great songs, focuses on events around the wedding.
The film is conservative in myriad ways. All its characters are solidly middle class or petite bourgeois – no call centre workers or waitresses here nor any glimpse of poverty, hardship or oppressive traditions. If the importance of family is forgotten in the first half then the film reasserts its importance and centrality slowly throughout the second half. These modern films have increasingly rich production values and are often a little more 'Hollywood' than similar films from twenty (or even ten) years ago - no dream sequences, no loss of continuity and a lot less cheese. The song and dance numbers, however DO serve to move the plot forward, DO come at moments of emotional tension OR are fitted in on the dance floor.
Moreover, Kapoor is the star and you’re never in doubt about the foregrounding and primacy of male desire. As with many a Bollywood hero, he starts off with more confidence than Gene Kelly and Errol Flynn put together and never loses that astonishing inner belief. Yes he changes his avowed path at the end of the film but his learning curve is hardly revelatory. Padukone gets plenty of screen time in the first half even if much of it concerns the camera staring at her heavenly face sporting increasingly confident smiles. When Bunny leaves, Naina stays at home. When Bunny comes back she represents the beauty, calm, wisdom and stability of family and of modern India.
Film fans, I DO worry about myself enjoying such reactionary films – OK that’s a bit strong, films that promote and naturalise ideas and ideologies that deserve critique, but then I think of that golden age of Hollywood during the 30s and 40s. Astaire and Rogers films were hardly a beacon of socialist progressiveness but that doesn’t stop me loving them. Charm and beauty added to singing AND dancing goes a long way in my book, especially in a world where Hollywood, by and large, has lost the skill of combining romance and comedy. I loved Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. I probably shouldn’t have but I did. What’s more it’s a very different (and superior) experience to the previous generation of conservative films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. The blokes’ clothes are SO much better.