While watching Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, the biggest question is not whether Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone get together or which anti-ageing cream Madhuri Dixit uses. It’s this: when Sooraj Barjatya saw Karan Johar and Ayan Mukerji’s latest offering, did he grin triumphantly or snort contemptuously? Because with its candy-floss friendships, picturesque settings, flat yet strangely endearing characters and destination wedding, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani fits neatly into the Rajshri Productions stable. In fact, the film could well be this generation’s Hum Aapke Hain Kaun? (complete with Dixit’s blessings).
Ranbir Kapoor is full of the easy spontaneity and charm that has made young hearts go pitter patter ever since he appeared in a towel in Saawariya. He plays Bunny, who is essentially Sid from Wake Up Sid but with video camera and a love for travel. Bunny sweeps Naina the Nerd (Padukone) off her feet metaphorically and does the same literally to his best friend Aditi (Kalki Koechlin). Not only is the role spectacularly un-challenging for Kapoor since Bunny’s character hardly grows, but we can’t help wondering if Kapoor isn’t sick of playing the carefree, wisecracking guy who must, by the end of the film, find his serious side. Kapoor has had to act more in Pepsi commercials than he does in YJHD.
The film begins in 2008, when Naina decides to take a break from being a nose-in-the-textbook medical school student and goes on a trek to Manali with classmates from school, Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur), Aditi and Bunny. Avi’s a bit of a drunk, Aditi’s a tomboy and Bunny’s the not-quite-bad boy, and for the first time in her life, Naina finds friendship. During the holiday, Naina also discovers contact lenses, very short shorts and that she has inexplicably good stamina. (You find me a bona fide nerd with abs like that who can beat supposedly experienced trekkers.) She falls in love with Bunny, but Bunny is determined to see the world and he’s got a scholarship to study journalism at Northwestern University, so Naina keeps her love for Bunny a secret and they go their own ways.
When we return to the vibrant colours and plastic prettiness of the wonderland called Karan Johar’s India, eight years have passed and Aditi’s about to get married. Naturally she wants her best buddies to be there and so, serendipitously, the four reunite and love is back in the air. Naina by now has discovered she is the hottest doctor in Mumbai by a long shot and she isn’t shy of flaunting it. Aditi has turned into a woman – which means she’s swapped leather jackets and trousers for dresses, salon-styled hair and much better make-up. The men, however, are much the same. Bunny, empowered by his education at Northwestern University, is now both a still photographer and a cameraman with Fox Traveller. These are just superficial though because his greatest desire is still to travel and romance a girl or two along the way. When we first saw Avi, he was cute, stubbly, ruing the fact he’d placed a bet (on a cricket match! Spot-fixing alert!) and in love with alcohol. Eight years later, he’s much the same. The only difference is that the stubble is almost a beard, although that might be to emphasise his is a tragic character whose business fails and who – spoiler alert – doesn’t get the girl.
Incidentally, one of the people who does get the girl is Taran, played by Roy Kapur’s real-life brother, Kunal. Kunal, like Madhuri Dixit, also has an item number in the film. Aditya, on the other hand, nurses numerous drinks and has more and more of his face covered with facial hair. For once, teddy-bear cuteness scores more than buff.
YJHD doesn’t have much by way of plot and you know how it’s going to end from the moment Bunny meets Naina and the two of them leap on to a running train. From the characters to the situations, YJHD is terribly predictable and it’s only that brand of fandom that’s waiting for the close up of a French kiss – it’s there, so don’t leave at interval – that will keep you from yawning. Unlike in Wake Up Sid, Mukerji relies heavily on stereotypes in YJHD. The picturesque brothel for the item number, the train that’s about to leave, the nerd who will flower into a sexy siren, a bimbo – they’re all in the film.
The surprise in YJHD is that Padukone and Koechlin are both a pleasure to watch. It turns out Padukone can emote after all and Koechlin manages to make her role seem meaty and nuanced enough to give the lead pair some competition. She’s great fun as the tomboy, particularly when she wants to go after a bunch of thugs and has to be dragged away by her friends. Even when her character has the predictable twist of being in love with one of her male buddies, Koechlin plays it with a subtlety that makes that entanglement feel less like a tired trope.
Much like in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, there really isn’t much that you can pick on or criticise in YJHD because there’s just so little meat on this bone. The point of YHJD is to show you pretty people having fun in pretty places and – if the feminine sighs in the audience were any indication – to see Ranbir Kapoor play the romantic lead. On all these accounts, the film scores. Everyone and everything looks fantastic. And for those so inclined, Kapoor has approximately four on-screen lip locks.