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.

6 Comments to “Bulletpoints: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

  1. Thank you for writing this! Agree with everything you say, basically. I was thinking of alternate titles for the film while watching it, and all of them ran along the lines of “jawaani and deewani only for men with posh phoren degrees” (except slightly wittier, I should hope, ha). Your point about not knowing a THING about Naina (and how conveniently single she is at any given point) especially rang home; there’s that scene where she’s consoling Bunny about why they won’t work and why she GETS his dreams and why she wants him to fly and whatnot at the wedding, and it’s like, shouldn’t he be saying something along the same lines to you? No, because in spite of it all, he just wants to hold her hand and travel. Lawl.

    Empathy about the glasses thing. I also thought Holi would be a ridiculous time to wear contacts but, well, one can’t have it all.

    • The “contacts, on Holi?!” response is something pretty much everyone I know who wears glasses had in common.
      And how is poor Bunny to tell Naina to follow her dreams when neither he or we have ever been told what those dreams even are? It’s so hard to be a good friend to a cipher.

  2. itna time hai logon ke paas ke pehle faltu film dekhen aur uske baad bade bade articles likhen. mazaak udaane ke liye film dekhne wale log hi aisi filmon ko hit karwa dete hain.

  3. Didn’t it annoy you that for such a supposed charmer, he had like the lamest lines ever? Not just with Lara (who was just a massive case of fail), but with Naina as well. I mean, if this is what passes for either flirtation or ishq, then I weep for my generation. And they were all giant king-babies, all of them. Okay, maybe not so much the women, but I do wish Naina didn’t have to do the “you dumb twit hussy” act around Lara EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Aditi, on the other hand, I can live with. And I loved the fact that Naina and Aditi had become really good friends on their own, but it also kinda screws with the misty-eyed flashback in the beginning. Hello, if you are her bff then you already know that she is getting married, and that the footloose guy isn’t likely in the least to attend the wedding. Why the trip down memory lane?

    And that ending, good god! What with the juxtaposition of the loss of his father and his discovery of his love for Naina (along with the very juvenile hissy fit at hot photographer guy), it basically meant that his decision to “settle down” with Naina was less a discovery of twu wuuuv and more yet another instance of his fear of losing out on a life experience/shiny new toy. And then the final shot of Bunny looking as contemplative as he can, while Naina is clearly beaming. Second thoughts, much?

    (Pah, I am inarticulate. But you know that already).

    • I think the Lara bits were pretty awful– what is the point of that character, other than to remind us that some girls are pretty and not clever and therefore worthy of scorn? As compared to Naina and Aditi who are pretty AND clever, presumably (no one is clever and not pretty because Bollywood). I adored Aditi, and I loved her relationship with Taran, particularly since it seemed at first that the movie was going to make him another figure to mock.

      (Also, I’d prefer it if you didn’t use the word “lame” in comments here? I can edit it out of your comment, but I’d prefer it if you’d let me know what word you’d rather use)

  4. Found myself nodding vigourously with every bulletpoint here! Yesterday, I found myself watching ‘Frances Ha’ which turned out to be the perfect antidote to YJHD. It shows you that you can fall in love with the clumsy girl with the bad dressing-sense, that a woman can evolve without revamping her wardrobe. It is when Bollywood makes a ‘Frances Ha’ that I will acknowledge its progressiveness.

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