Friday 7 June 2013

Bad trip: "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani"

Last weekend, the flimsy and entirely overstretched globetrotter Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani became one of the first Hindi films to enter the U.S. box-office Top 10: a breakthrough of sorts, for which we might blame shameless yoof appeal. For the longest time, Ayan Mukherjee's film resembles an extended advert for, the Indian equivalent of STA Travel, whose logo - plastered as it has been all over the screen - comes to serve as both a visual motif and a plot marker. We're in flashback territory, with successful yet single twentysomething doctor Naina (Deepika Padukone) recalling the time when as a naive pre-med wallflower - decked out with some of those "no, I'm not sexy, really" glasses last sported by Rachael Leigh Cook in She's All That - she set out on her first trip overseas.

Heading the cosmopolitan buds Naina accrues en route - a zany bunch broadly familiar from old Doritos commercials who, over the course of two-and-a-half hours, do their very best to demonstrate that young Asians can be every bit as charmless and annoying as their Western contemporaries - is one Bunny, given name Kabir Thapar. Bunny is presumably meant to stand as the kind of leather-jacketed pseudo-badboy every girl remembers for the rest of their life, yet as embodied by Ranbir Kapoor, he's really no more than a prat with an offputting earring and an even more offputting resemblance to the broadcaster Tim Samuels.

The first of several credibility issues Mukherjee presents us with before dashing off again is that a generally sharp and sensitive soul like Naina should have spent the best part of eight years thinking about this herbert - and, furthermore, that she's seriously considering getting back together with him when he turns up late at a mutual friend's wedding and seizes all the attention meant for the bride by launching into a self-regarding dance number, shortly before throwing a chair through a carefully constructed pyramid of champagne glasses. (By which point, I would suggest, most viewers will be standing cross-armed on the sidelines with the caterers, thinking: what a dick.)

Another hour follows in which Bunny and the Doritos-people work through their Issues, giving us pause to consider many things, not least the itinerary of a Gap year that takes in inter-railing, camping, cross-country skiing and mountaineering as well as a stop-off at a powder-tossing Holi festival. (I mean, how would one pack for that?) Clearly, something about the film has struck a chord with its target audience of overseas students trying to climb out from beneath a Sunday hangover: perhaps the (underdramatised) yearning for home and stability, or possibly just Padukone's eyes, which somehow manage to beckon you in even from behind those ridiculous spectacles.

Yet with the exception of an early musical number that provides an energetic showcase for Bollywood veteran Madhuri Dixit - a bit like finding Shirley Bassey in the middle of a Fast & Furious movie - this is one of those ventures that doesn't even pretend to reach out to anybody over the age of 24. The only thing Mukherjee can bring himself to commit to is a glib ad-world aesthetic, of a kind that becomes increasingly tedious when a director has nothing much to say or sell with it, and which means all the film's breathless, obsessive location-scouting comes to register as blandly as two thousand of somebody else's Facebook photos.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is in cinemas nationwide. (With thanks to Sunny Malik for the correction.)

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