यह जवानी है दीवानी
I recently attended my 20th college reunion, which inspired much musing onthe arc from youth to adulthood. Now in our early forties, this group of women is, as a whole, every bit as engaging and beautiful as we were at 20. But we have also grown a whole lot less intense. With the perspective of half a lifetime, we have all begun to understand - and more importantly, to accept - the inherent messiness of life and relationships, the reality of compromise, the essentiality of change.
Going into this summer's first much-marketed big-banner release, I did not have high expectations. With a title like Yeh jawaani hai deewani ("youth is crazy") and trailers full of gamboling, gorgeous young people, I braced myself for yet another cinematic glorfication and idealization of youth culture. But the movie that I saw was not the movie I was expecting. While it is a simple story, unburdened by much nuance or depth, Yeh jawaani hai deewani at its best moments shows a pleasantly surprising maturity, touching some of those same themes I was contemplating after my reunion.
The four central characters of Yeh jawaani hai deewani span the space of youth-movie archetypes like points on a compass. Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) is a free-spirited, independent girl whose brashness conceals a tender heart. Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) is a bro, obsessed with booze and sex. He both adores and envies his best friend Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor), the charismatic, impulsive hero who harbors big dreams of seeing the world and saving it all in his scrapbook. And Naina (Deepika Padukone) is a boxed-in, studious overachiever, sure there is more to life than her medical books but not sure how to begin to pursue it.
While they embody familiar youth-romance tropes, though, these four characters are not Karan-Johar-college-student young people; they are something closer to believable young people. (Well, mostly believable, except for one delightfully filmi chase-and-melee sequence through a Manali marketplace.) And, even more importantly, the characters grow up. Over the course of the eight years that pass in the film, these four young people think about who they are, who they want to be, what they want out of life. They become less absolute, less intense; they develop a more realistic outlook, they begin to understand that life requires a series of compromises and that compromise isn't necessarily weakness or failure. They don't all do it at the same rate, and they don't all reach the same conclusions. But they do each find some measure of maturity.
And they do it with reasonably well-turned performances from all four. There has to be little doubt left that Ranbir Kapoor is the real thing, with the stuff to be a superstar. His physicality, so richly on display in Barfi, is here pressed into service mostly in energetic and excellent dancing, and he is a master of the goofy, sensitive charm that is still a mainstay of the chocolate hero. Deepika Padukone is solid, believable and sympathetic. I still worry that the industry will lose interest in her just as she becomes interesting to me, in a few years, when she reaches the better side of 30. If it does, though, it will be a shame and a loss. If anything, her work in Yeh jawaani hai deewani suggests that she will have something to say in stories that are about women, as opposed to stories about girls.
At any rate, Yeh jawaani hai deewani is not enormously profound or rich; in that sense, it meets expectations. It's a standard-issue romance, in which a tightly-laced partner (in this case, Naina) loosens up a little over time and a wild, impulsive partner (Bunny, here) learns the value of putting down roots. What results is an uneasy compromise; they look happy at the movie's end, but there's no real reason to believe that a guy who just weeks before was leading a glamorous, international, TV life, drinking champagne on yachts in the Mediterranean, will be happy in the long term with Naina's provincial, uncurious outlook. Movies like Yeh jawaani hai deewani almost explicitly ask you not to project forward beyond their boundaries. Everyone is smiling at the end, and that had better be good enough.
As often happens with formulaic romances, the second leads, Avi and Aditi, get a slightly more interesting arc than that of the principals, who are more tightly constrained by genre conventions. It is refreshing, for example, that these two do not get together in the end, as their mismatch is evident. Aditi matures the most of this group, and Avi the least. Aditi emerges sure of what she wants from life, comfortable with herself; Avi, as is clear from his gambling, drinking, and passive-aggressive sulking, still has quite a ways to go. Also refreshing is the characters' relative independence from their parents. As in another modern youth movie that I adore, Band baaja baaraat, parents are present in the characters' lives but not dominating. They provide emotional support (especially Bunny's father, a brief but very poignant appearance by Farooq Sheikh), but do not impose rules, expectations, or values. The messages here seem to be aimed at a different generation from those of Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge or Kabhi khushi kabhie gham.
At any rate, even if the movie's thoughts on maturity and compromise and change are a bit facile and formulaic, they are there, and they resonate with my own thoughts with reunion fresh in my mind. My own college days did not include such thrilling jaunts as dancing with Madhuri Dixit in a brothel or celebrating Holi in Manali, but I am glad Yeh jawaani hai deewani offered these spectacular escapes. If Yeh jawaani hai deewani's path from crazy youth to maturity is a little straighter, a little easier, a little less confusing than real life's path, at least it is also considerably more filmi.