Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Karan Johar's "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is a Bollywood masterpiece


I watched "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" today. Finally. It's been a month since the latest package from the Karan Johar assembly line of box-office hits opened in Indian cinemas. And it deserves every rupee of its billion-rupee (and still counting) earnings in ticket sales.

Call me schmaltzy. But I like my Bollywood platter to be full of young, good-looking and carefree people dancing in choreographed perfection to foot-tapping music on lavish, glitzy sets. And that's not a bad thing.

Don't get me wrong. I relish my dose of art house cinema as much as the next critic. Give me "Pather Panchali", "Cloud Atlas" or even the latest Julio Medem experiment. But don’t judge me for liking "Student of the Year".


Cinema is entertainment. And Karan Johar is the chef extraordinaire who expertly seasons his Bollywood desserts with just the right mix of pizzazz. (Too many food metaphors; I must be hungry).


"Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is directed by a still 20-something Ayan Mukerji, the guy who brought us "Wake Up Sid" some years ago. That coming-of-age film was also produced by Karan Johar but "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" bears the distinct imprint of the head of Dharma Productions.


If you've been living under a rock since the film released on May 31, here's the gist to bring you up to speed. "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is the story of Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor, probably nicknamed so because his character at times resembles the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights). Like other carefree young men, Bunny wants to enjoy life on his own terms. This includes among other things a trekking trip to the northern Indian hill station of Manali (NOTE: Some of the scenes were actually shot in picturesque Kashmir and state chief minister Omar Abdullah is seething over Manali getting the credit).


Joining Bunny on this life-altering vacation are bosom pals Aditi and Avi; joined at the last minute by the geeky, bespectacled Naina (Deepika Padukone) - a schoolmate Bunny barely remembers. Long story short: three songs and an action-packed chase sequence later, Naina gets over her inhibitions and falls hopelessly in love with our hero, only to learn her bunny rabbit is hopping it to the United States for a course in journalism. Another case of unrequited love haunts the quartet. Tomboy Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) pines for an Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) oblivious to her charms.


Eight years later, Bunny has lost his dad. Naina has lost her glasses. Bunny is a continent-hopping video producer for a FOX travel show. Naina is a doctor. Avi's bar business has seen better days. Aditi is getting married to a nerdy engineer in a big fat Indian wedding hosted in stately Udaipur. And the Manali love quartet comes together again. What happens next? No spoilers here. Go watch this romantic comedy.


"Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is unabashedly escapist but I loved every minute of it. Must admit Madhuri Dixit's cameo as the ghagra-swishing Mohini in a faux brothel threatened to put a dampener on things early on. But Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone breathe life into their characters. And they look good together. Really good.


And the songs. Composer Pritam has struck gold, and I don't really care which cave of vintage treasures he plundered his musical notes from - this is undoubtedly the album of the year. If "Badtameez Dil" is the exquisitely choreographed number that gives the film its vitality, "Balam Pichkari" will entrance Holi revellers for years to come. "Dilliwaali Girlfriend" is the spicy item song that's going to reign at weddings this winter while lovers will seek solace in the soulful "Kabira".


What else was good? Witty dialogue. Brilliant art design. Good-looking young people in shimmering clothes. Talented actors (Farooq Shaikh and Dolly Ahluwalia) whose roles we wish could have been longer. Not to mention a second brother-in-law of Bollywood queen Vidya Balan stealing the thunder from his younger sibling. Enough starry fodder for audiences to actually enjoy the film's 159-minute running time.


Evidently, Karan Johar has taught his protégé well. Ayan Mukerji's filmmaking career is looking good.


Critics may carp about why his films can never win an Oscar but Johar should just ignore them and do what he wants. Here's what he should say. In the words of a certain teenage girl who brushed aside calorie-counting naysayers in a TV commercial for anti-pimple cream some years ago: "I don’t care".


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