Director Ayan Mukerji doesn’t quite manage to replicate the freshness and spontaneity of his first film - Wake Up Sid (2009) even though his latest - Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is bright and youthful. Like his first film it explores transition from adolescence into adulthood drawing out details which transform clichés into entertainment. Yash Chopra, who understood the art of making romantic films commented that ‘moments’ and ‘emotion’ were fundamentals and Mukerji works the screenplay with deference to both.
He has much more to contend with here than in his previous film. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani there were multiple shooting locations, an ensemble cast, a secondary love story, big musical numbers and a heavy reliance on clichés to advance the narrative. We have an opening which teases by withholding information. Gifts and wedding invitations are being sent out globally but whose wedding is it? Cut to the contrasting lives of the key players Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) and Naina (Deepika Padukone). She’s a spectacled, uptight Naina like the one in Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) and he’s a bit like Aman - full of joie de vivre - ready to out her inner siren.
They go trekking in Himachal Pradesh with a group of fun-seekers among them Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) - a young woman with an independent streak and Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor) - the guy she has a crush on. The situation is not unlike Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge where young people go on a wild holiday and the bubble bursts just prior to intermission before the narrative picks up in wedding mode so where then, is the attraction?
The dialogues between Naina and Bunny are strong enough to engage someone (like myself) who is subtitle dependent. Ranbir Kapoor has perfected his ‘boy-man’ persona after playing similar roles in Saawariya (2007), Bachna Ae Hasseno (2008) and Wake Up Sid. Deepika Padukone emotes more confidently than in previous films and intimate scenes on a mountain peak close the first half effectively establishing the all-important relationship.
The romantic sub-plot between Aditi and Avi is weaker but is needed to provide contrast post-intermission. The creator of the screenplay - Mukerji himself - has avoided high melodrama - perhaps influenced by the fact that younger audiences are becoming a bit too cynical. The problem is that light and breezy treatment still needs to be anchored to a level of tension and gravitas to bring about a satisfactory resolution. Missing is a sense of adversity - needed to generate excitement and euphoria.
In Wake Up Sid the character of Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma) was the traveller exploring a new city for the first time while is this film Bunny and his passion to see the world is certainly many a young person’s dream. At this level at least, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani should connect with younger audiences. The crazy party atmosphere is also well constructed both in the early nostalgic scenes and later during the wedding. I remember how Mukerji extracted light and shade from a single room in Wake Up Sid. The wedding scenes in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani lose focus in terms of the relationships being portrayed but there is still an array of moods presented ranging from drama to burlesque.
Songs by Pritam were a welcome addition with “Badtameez Dil” being a stand-out because of Remo D’Souza’s choreography as much as for its catchy beat. The foot-work is intricate - more so than in most Bollywood routines where emphasis is more often on isolation of upper-body parts. There was also a great motif which gives the illusion of moving forwards and backwards at the same time not to mention Ranbir’s pointed entry in Shammi Kapoor style. Bunny’s flirtatious fantasy (“Ghagra”) with choreography by Farah Khan is all swirls and curves with an expressive performance from Madhuri Dixit.
The most emotionally charged parts of the films are strangely some of its shortest such as the father-son dialogues between Bunny and his father (Farooq Sheikh) or snatches of love, lust and disillusionment during the inspired Holi picturization. If the love scenes in the second half had managed to crystallize emotion to the same degree then Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani would have been more satisfying. In a time when all genres in Bollywood are being reconfigured this film still works with many of the mainstays of the romantic style while commenting on issues most pressing to the younger generation such as identity and one’s purpose in life.