How much you enjoy Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani depends entirely on how much you’ve missed the typical Karan Johar formula. Wake Up Sid director Ayan Mukerji takes us on a familiar journey through holiday romances, family conundrums, and big fat Indian weddings. It’s predictable every step of the way, but Mukerji has a superb cast that never slips, even when his script does.
Straight-laced ‘Scholar Naina’ (Deepika Padukone) has little in common with thrill-seeking Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) when she joins him and his two best friends – Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) and Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) – on a trip to Manali. But after a series of collective experiences, including a messy run-in with the locals, a midnight trek to a high-altitude peak, and intoxicated Holi celebrations, she’s lost her inhibitions and also her heart. Too bad Bunny is focused on chasing his dream to travel the world, unwilling to let anything or anyone hold him back. When they’re all reunited at a wedding eight years later, Bunny must ask himself if he really wants to make the same choices all over again.
Although writer-director Ayan Mukerji sets his story in a world far from Wake Up Sid, he still has his hero go through an existential crisis in both life and love. If his first film was about a slacker finding a purpose, the message in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is that life can pass you by, if you don’t stop to savor the moments. This idea, however, is couched in the template of a dozen love stories starting from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
It’s a pity the treatment has a been-there-seen-that feel to it because there are some modern ideas hidden underneath all that fluff. Part of what makes Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani warm and fuzzy is the friendship that Bunny and his die-hard buddies Aditi and Avi share, despite their shifting dynamics over eight years. Mukerji understands and nicely puts across the bittersweet qualities that friendships go through, and more often than once I found myself misty-eyed. Even love is viewed rather practically by the four key characters here – it’s nice if you’ve found someone, but it needn’t be the end of the world if you’re not in a relationship. It’s refreshing also that Mukerji doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in the movie; not everyone gets the perfect happy ending.
These are, however, small mercies in a film that smacks of assembly line reproduction. The high-gloss, picture-postcard cinematography, the gilt-edged production design, and the unending scenes of wedding revelry and over-choreographed dance numbers have that distinct Dharma Productions stamp on them, each frame oozing excess. Still, they’re a lot less clumsy than the scenes of faux realism – like that entirely needless prologue in a Mumbai brothel where Bunny breaks into a dance with a hooker, even if she is played by Madhuri Dixit. Equally unconvincing is the intended grittiness in a sequence where an older Bunny, now a documentary film cameraman, daringly ventures into a seedy European ghetto shooting drug peddlers on the sly.
Many of the film’s problems, fortunately, are smoothened out by the terrific cast. Kalki Koechlin invests heart and spunkiness to the part of brash tomboy Aditi who is the glue that binds this group, while Aditya Roy Kapur is entirely likeable as the goofy Avi. The film benefits even from the spot-on timing of bit players like Dolly Ahluwalia and Kunal Roy Kapur, while Farooque Shaikh melts your heart in a two-scene cameo.
Ranbir Kapoor turns on the charm in full heartthrob mode. He’s pitch-perfect as the devil-may-care wanderer and flirt, and yet chokes you up in the more vulnerable, sensitive flashes. It’s difficult to stand out in the same frame as Ranbir, but Deepika Padukone knocks it out of the park as Naina. She brings a lovely innocence to the early scenes, and then an understated sexiness when we meet her again in the film’s second half. The pair sparks off each other, displaying a searing chemistry that neither has shared with other co-stars.
Too long by at least twenty minutes, this is a watchable film despite its conventional arc. Fans of Wake Up Sid will likely miss the original voice Mukerji revealed in his surprisingly mature debut, but with this one he shows he can do formula with as much ease. I’m going with three out of five for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. If light-hearted mush is what you’re seeking, you’re looking in the right place.