Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani – The Joharification of Bollywood

YJHDWe have a saying in our family that “Disney Ruins Everything.” We watched in dismay as the quality of Pixar movies dropped after Disney took over, and now the Disneyfication of Marvel has the die-hard comic fans in my family aghast.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani(YJHD) is an perfect example of the Joharification of mainstream Bollywood. To be fair, Karan Johar himself was inspired by Yash Chopra, whose glossy movies about wealthy Punjabi romances set a certain template for song and dance movies, but Chopra was a romantic at heart, and there was a sincerity in his vision that shone through the mehndis, sangeets, and tulip fields. With Johar, the emotional manipulation in his movies is blatant, from the kid singing Jana Gana Mana in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, to the dupatta handed over by Kajol to Rani in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. There is also something ersatz about all his movies, as if he is incapable of genuine feeling and reconstructs it from the vision and product of other, better directors.

Jawaani is directed by Ayan Mukherjee and stars Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, but it might as well have been helmed by Johar and starred Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. Johar, who produced the movie, seems to have had such a strong influence on the young director that Mukherjee, who previously made the warm-hearted Wake Up Sid with such finesse, goes full-on Bollywood, with ensemble song-and-dances at the drop of a hat and big wedding productions.

Still, Jawaani, the tale of a boy with itchy feet and a girl back home who pines for him, is watchable, and credit for that must go almost entirely to Kapoor and Padukone, who share an incredibly chemistry and light up the screen whenever they are together. The first half, where the shy Naina blossoms under the throwaway affection of the oddly named Bunny and where the lead pair is together on screen most of the time, is quite magical. The aptly named Naina conveys such tender wistfulness to be a part of Bunny’s cool gang and to be loved by the nomadic Bunny that you feel intensely what it’s like to be her. Padukone is perfectly cast and those supercharged moments that promise a budding relationship are beautifully directed and acted.

In the second half the movie loses steam, mainly because the absence of the romantic pair makes you realize how thin this 2 hour, 40 minute film really is. Kalki Koechlin and Aditya Roy Kapur have an unnecessary amount of screen time, but even all that time is not enough to fully develop their characters or their story lines. The denouement is disappointing, but then I think most romantic movies don’t get it right, so maybe it’s just my opinion.

Mukherjohar’s musical co-conspirator is Pritam, which is why each song reminds you of another composer. There is an Amit Trivedi-style song sung by Rekha Bhardwaj called “Kabira,” a Salim-Suleimanesque number titled “Dilliwali Girlfriend,” and the peppy “Badtameez Dil” feels like it could have been composed by Vishal-Shekhar.

To Pritam’s credit, the songs are all peppy and hummable and well-choreographed, but after the evolution of Bollywood movies to songs being played in the background, the ensemble numbers feel retro. And roping in an ageing Madhuri Dixit for an item number is a classic example of the audience manipulation that Johar is famous for.

If you are a Karan Johar fan, by all means watch YJHD. It will not make you feel any real emotion, or linger in your mind after you return home, but for the nearly three hours you are in the theater you will be entertained. I would have been more depressed by the corruption of a good director like Mukherjee, but the trailers of Lootera and Ranjhaana that I saw left me with hope. And Kapoor and Padukone are so good together that I predict they will be a classic romantic pair in many movies to come.

My rating: 3/5


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