Archive for June 11th, 2013

June 11, 2013

Bulletpoints: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

I blame Suba for my continuing to do these bulletpoint things, and this anonymous friend for this particular one. Anyway:

  • I watched two Hindi films in theatres in May. Both featured main characters called Bunny. The other one was better.
  • Is Bollywood still in the middle of its meta-, pay-tribute-to-other-bollywood phase? I’m not complaining, because I find all the self-referentiality charming, but still. So naturally, in a movie that talks about the superiority of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge over Phantom of the Opera (an entirely reasonable point of view) we have the sheltered, bookish heroine going off on holiday with the irresponsible young man, and then falling in love with him. Complete with visual references to certain iconic train scenes (sadly no mustard fields).
  • Another of the movie’s charmingly retro features is the idea that Deepika Padukone with glasses on is somehow bookish and unnoticeable. Fair enough, Bollywood- (or Hollywood-) pretty isn’t the same as regular person pretty. But one of the many excellent things that has happened since the eighties is that we have fashionable glasses, and entire subsets of the population who think people are more attractive with glasses than without. Even the movie is unable to commit more than half-heartedly to the idea that Padukone’s character is magically prettier after she takes her glasses off. Which she does, from the end of the first half. Presumably in the eight years between the first and second halves of the movie she gets contact lenses.
  • What with this, Gippi (which I haven’t seen yet) and Student of the Year, that’s three movies Karan Johar has been involved in that have featured a major character who is lonely and unpopular at school as a plot point.
  • This is interesting, I think, because one of the things the first half of the movie does well is Padukone’s character Naina. Naina is all bottled up and awkward, has very little idea how to connect with these new people yet feels terrible about being left out. This almost makes her feel like a real person– until a few days in the mountains with new people turn her into a new person. Suddenly she is no longer wearing glasses, initiating songs, and apparently forgetting that she’s religious. We will never see this awkward, likeable person again.
  • Everyone in this movie is a child. Grown men keep getting into fights until the women around them force them to say sorry to one another (at one point Ranbir Kapoor’s character Bunny accepts an apology but refuses to offer one in return, whereupon Aditya Roy Kapur’s character (Avi) whines at Kalki Koechlin’s character until she makes him). Padukone’s character throws a hissy fit because Evelyn Sharma’s dance at a wedding is good and she wanted hers to be the best (remember when this woman was all awkward and shy about being around people?). (This situation leads to this song, and how anyone permitted Kapoor to wear those shoes is beyond my understanding) Men order other men away from the women they are attracted to, because we’re all toddlers here and not afraid to show it.
  • And yet. Occasionally the film takes the trope and undoes it. Bunny sees Aditi (Koechlin) and her husband arguing and assumes that Taran is jealous of his wife’s close friendships with other men. No, it turns out, he’s telling her not to be so hard on a (close, male) friend with a gambling problem. Aditi was in love with Avi in school; but this isn’t Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and normal people don’t stay hung up on their school crushes for decades after. And so she’s stopped, and they’re best friends, and it’s fine. At one point I almost wondered if these characters were going to be mature enough to admit that their goals and worldviews were incompatible and part (or have lots of sex then break up) regretfully, but sensibly.
  • LOL no. Because this may not be Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (though the movie begins, like I think all films from this stable do, with some of the KKHH music) but it’s still a tribute to DDLJ and all its genre. Aditi may not spend her life pining after the guy she had a crush on years ago, but Naina, being the heroine, must get the guy, even if it’s years after and she could do better.
  • Before the interval, the movie switches between Naina and Bunny’s perspectives, though it mostly stays on Naina’s. At the end of the first half this changes–so we know that Bunny goes to college, becomes a photographer, eats exciting food in French restaurants, dates attractive women. We presume that Naina becomes a doctor, but we know nothing about her life in this eight year interval. There’s nothing to suggest that she’s done anything at all -had career highs and lows, men, women, heartbreak- other than keep herself unmarried and unattached enough that Bunny can come and claim her without too much difficulty.
  • And I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that the film sees her character arc as having ended in the first half itself. Naina’s “problem” is that she’s not bright and friendly and outgoing, her trip with her newfound friends fixes that, problem solved. Bunny doesn’t really have problems in the first half, so the movie kills his dad (poor Farooq Sheikh!) because Daddy Issues are the most reliable problem there is. Bunny’s problems are solved by his coming home, realising that he’s willing to give up his big, see-everything dream if it means he can have the woman he wants, and resolving his guilt over his father’s death.
  • And I find myself uncomfortable with both of these arcs. The first, because it suggests that awkward, bespectacled Naina is broken and outgoing, wanting to be the centre of attention at weddings Naina is fixed. I’m an awkward bespectacled person who is bad at connecting with people, and it frequently sucks, and I’m sure the world would be much easier if I were none of those things (if I danced at weddings, or indeed at all). And I can’t demand that Naina (were she a real person, which she’s not) not want to be the sort of person for whom the world (and particularly the world of Bollywood) is easier; yet I don’t like the implication that there’s something wrong with those of us who don’t fit that particular pattern.
  • As for Bunny’s arc. There’s a moment towards the end of the film where Bunny finally goes home and speaks to his stepmother, she assuages his guilt and tells him that his father was always proud of him for uncompromisingly following his dream–even if it was a dream that meant being constantly uprooted. Of course, Bunny’s dreams as they stand are incompatible with the happy heterosexual couple ending that the movie needs, so they must “change”. The movie ends with the happy couple having just gotten together so we don’t see the years ahead of them; the toll Naina’s constant extrovert face (or the horror of calling her lover “Bunny” in the throes of passion) might take upon her, or Bunny’s thwarted need to be moving. But it feels like a betrayal of both characters–and surely love shouldn’t be that.