Two years ago I saw Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara
, a comedy-drama about love, travel, friendship, youth and a little bit about growing up. I reviewed it with a slightly rambling audio review
, and if you're too lazy to give that a listen, I'll recap my thoughts on the film: I liked it, but I didn't love it, and the whole experience made me rather pensive about what it means to grow up as a viewer. Suddenly things you adored about films are things you're no longer impressed by, and might even start to find annoying. I would have loved Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, when I was younger, because it's heartfelt cheesiness and focus on male friendship above all else would have worked its magic on me, and everything that I still found good about the film - the music, the performances, the comedy - would've been heightened further.
I don't bring this up to draw a direct comparison between these two movies, even though they share a cast member (the darling Kalki Koechlin) and some common themes of youth and friendship and travel or because I saw both films in the same theater at Helsinki International Film Festival. I bring this other film up because the experience I had with it, and the experience I had with Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani to me seem like siblings - watching Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was also a very personal experience, and some of the things I loved about it may be completely universal but at the same time I felt like the movie was talking to me. Just me.
Ayan Mukerji does an absolutely stellar job in wringing something really fresh out of the scene we've seen a million times in Hindi films: the uptight, studious girl Naina (Deepika Padukone) with the flirty, out-going dude Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor), at a train station, in the beginning of a journey they're about to go on together. A part of the triumph is just that instead of being these characters we've seen before a million times, as clusters of characteristics that form polar opposites (she's serious, he's funny and so forth), Naina and Bunny are actual characters. They form a chemistry and a friendship that is very much the extrovert making the introvert enjoy life and loosen up a little, but it's also more than that.
The film is fluffy and funny and enjoyable, but it's also got this layer of realism about its young characters. The two other friends that complete the central cast - Kalki Koechlin as Aditi and Aditya Roy Kapoor as Avi - are not just friends to our lead characters, they have their own motivations and aspirations as well. These young characters accomplish their aspirations, fail to, change their aspirations because they've changed as people, all the things that people do at this point in their lives, when the world feels completely conquerable.
I don't mean this to sound like an over-enthusiastic celebration of youth - I'm sure the question about aspirations, and what you want your life to be are relevant to many people at various stages in life. It's not an age thing, necessarily. But I guess that's where the personal film experience comes into play; I felt like YJHD was asking all the questions I'm asking myself right now. Bunny's enthusiasm for travel gains a new layer on the second half, when he has a series of conversations about his new job and his chosen nomadic life style with his friends from back home, really struck me. Travel is about living life to the fullest, in many ways, and gaining new experiences, but it can also hide something - a literal escapism from home, or from settling down. After all, if you never stop, you also never stop to think about where you're actually going, and where you should be going, or staying, instead.
If you've not seen this movie, reading this review might make it seem like a particularly serious fare, which I assure you it is not. The reason I fell in love with these characters was because they feel true to life, but also because they're just so funny. The narrative is woven with delightful, bouncy song-and-dance, from the opening number that features a great guest star appearance and there's rarely a moment when the film stops being entertaining. I love the depiction of friendship - joyous but not without problems, and not without being able to overcome those problems, and there is also a healthy friendship depicted between the two women at the centre of the film.
Is there anything wrong with the film? Well, no film is flawless, and there are a few comedic side characters who I did roll my eyes at a little. But for the most part, it's been a while since I've been this smitten, walking out of a Hindi film. I'm sure a part of it is just the giddiness of the theater experience (such a rarity for me) but most of the credit goes to the script: taking tropes I like, and turning them into more fleshed out characters with interesting dynamics and facets that just seem very true to life, all of these little things came together in YJHD rather beautifully. I haven't spoken word one about the two leads in this film, but it's almost like I don't feel the need to point them out specifically - I already know Deepika Padukone is definitely among the better new faces of the past couple of years, and Ranbir Kapoor is good, despite still not being a favourite of mine. Their chemistry is easy and comfortable here, and something I'm sure I'll enjoy in many future viewings.