Ranbir Kapoor’s modus is most successful when he plays a carefree, detached free spirit grounded only to himself, like he did in Wake Up Sid(2009), Anjana Anjani(2010) and Barfi! (2012), and not so much when he turns serious, as he did with Sawaariya (2007) and RockStar (2011). Fashioned after a film-style made famous by his great-uncle Shammi Kapoor, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a modern twist on the era of hipster saris, chandelier earrings and beehive coifs. More precisely, YJHD is very much like a remake of a Shammi Kapoor movie where a youth goes off into the mountains—not as rehab devised by parents to reintegrate their womanizing wayward scion—but as self-imposed exile to discover uncharted terrains. And the result is highly entertaining.
Kabir Thapar (Kapoor), aka Bunny, is a high-flying host of an international TV channel. A chance meeting with Naina Talwar (Padukone), aka Billi, a former college acquaintance, results in the abrasive, outgoing and self-absorbed Bunny daring the coy, homely and bookworm med student Billi into signing on with Bunny on a camping and hiking trek in the Himalayas. As the adventure troop sets out, a subtle world-view reversal creeps in. The higher the group climbs, the more introspective Bunny becomes and he relives the turning points that have dinged his past. As if in response, Billi starts to shed her homebound footing and discovers a new, more self-assured identity.
The embodiment of this inverse transformation, having Bunny cleverly mask a run from something as a mad dash towards something and having Billi appear to be dashing from something all the while she is running towards something, is handled by director Mukherjee with great finesse. Just as in Wake Up SidMukherjee delicately exploits the nuances of having two very different people brought together by chance. Billi and Bunny declare their specific boundaries up front and then spend the rest of the screen time imperceptibly nudging the same boundaries.
Staged with the same open-pockets conviction—YJHD is, after all, a Karan Johar production—there are sumptuous destinations used as backdrop, everything from Paris and Bangkok to a luxury island resort in Rajasthan and even Kashmir. Accompanying Bunny and Billi are two friends who have a mini discovery of their own. As their travelling best friends, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Koechlin add sizable amounts of romantic currency of specific one-sided unspoken longing. Kunaal Roy Kapoor as a bumbling groom-to-be, Sharma as a mountain-side sex siren and veteran actors Shaikh and Azmi as Bunny’s parental-figures round out a fine cast.
Chakraborty’s reach in Hindi film music is currently second only to A.R. Rahman, who only makes infrequent stops with mixed results (“Jab Tak Hain Jaan”). After scaling dizzying heights with Barfi!, Chakraborty returns to a playful mood that wonderfully synchs ups “Ghangra” with beer hall moves of Madhuri Dixit dancing to a tune by Rekha Bharadwaj and Vishal Dadlani while “Dilli Wali Girfriend” has Arijit Singh and Sunidhi Chauhan celebrating a village belle’s coming of age. The soundtrack fits the movie’s adventure-trek mood like hand in glove.
The 1960s witnessed a remarkable rise in what became known as the Technicolor romance genre in Hindi movie scripts. In step with a stable and maturing country’s arrival on the world stage, in part because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s prominence in championing of a “non-aligned” power block that cleverly swayed against the tides of the Cold War, Hindi filmmakers went overboard in delivering mass entertainment that was high on emotion and low on realism.
Junglee, Professor, Arzoo and Ayee Milan Ki Bela were prime examples of this micro epoch.
Even Raj Kapoor’s couldn’t resist the easy money that could be made and did so with the megahit Sangam. If nostalgia can be packaged as romantic comedy and have it dress as well as YJHD does, we have no objections!
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.