Feminist Bollywood: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

Manic Pixie Dream Girls and Boys grow up.

Comfort food is often presented as a guilty pleasure, but why? Macaroni and cheese is delicious. Sweatpants are awesome. Perhaps there’s a problem in only consuming or wearing (or whatever-ing) the comfortable, since that’s how outmoded ideas remain in place, but ultimately we shouldn’t feel guilty if we’re not causing harm.

Which is a rambling introduction to the fact I love romantic comedies, especially Bollywood ones. I want to be guaranteed a happy ending. I keep up with the news, I work hard; I just want entertainment that ends happily. (A running theme in the fantastic Om Shanti Om is that if it’s not happy, it’s not the ending. Oh, if only I could believe that about real life!)

So it was with a happy heart I attended a viewing of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (This Youth is Crazy), which opened May 31. It’s done quite well at the box office and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on Netflix soon. It’s a nice comforting take on the rom-com”¦ with a few reworkings. Which is actually my favorite comfort food at all: the comfortable with a twist. Macaroni and cheese with bacon.

But to get to that twist, one must ignore the main characters. Oh, they are fine, and the actors do a great job. But their plot is quite what you expect. Side-character Aditi (Kalki Keklan) is the one to watch.

Poster for Yeh Jewaani Hai Deewani. 
Movie poster for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.  L-R: Bunny, Naina, Avi, Aditi.

Synopsis: eight years ago, friends Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor), Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor), and Aditi plan to take a camping and hiking trip in Manali, in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. All three are party animals. Aditi runs into Naina (Deepika Padukone) at the store; Aditi accidentally leaves the trip’s brochure behind but decides to come along. Naina had known Aditi, Avi, and Bunny at school but hadn’t been friends with them. Naina had been, and still is, studious; she brings her medical textbooks with her on the trip.

While on the trip, Bunny, Avi, and Aditi tell Naina to lighten up and have some fun. What was refreshing was they don’t tell her to stop studying in order to get a boyfriend or anything like that; they just point out that she is still young, and spending all of her time in her studies isn’t good for her. They are her Manic Pixie Dream Friends, always having crazy adventures and encouraging her to live life to the fullest. Naina does eventually have some fun, showing off a mischievous side (saving the guys from a fight, climbing a haunted mountain), but once back home, returns to her books. She does achieve her dream of becoming a doctor and lives a contented life.

In the present, the four friends reunite for a wedding. Bunny, Avi, and Naina haven’t changed much, but Aditi has (more on that later). Feelings are hurt, confessions are revealed, declarations are made. And it all ends happily.

In the first half of the movie, Aditi is clearly in love with Avi. Avi ignores her, treating her like one of the guys, and he chases after every woman he finds. He goes so far as to tease Aditi about being a lesbian; she is so much one of the guys, she is treated to the homophobia that can often be found in groups of young men. Aditi never says she isn’t a lesbian, and one wonders if maybe she is, or given her interest in Avi, if she’s bisexual. Bollywood movies do occasionally have gay characters, but they are few and often treated as comic relief (which does happen later in this movie, and of course isn’t that different from Hollywood movies).

In the second half of the movie, it becomes clear that Aditi is not a lesbian; she’s either straight or bisexual (with a male partner). She has given up her short-shorts and T-shirts and now wears dresses and saris. “Can you believe it?” she asks, smiling, showing off her new look.

Of course, one might groan at this plot point: the tamed wild child. She had her little “phase,” and now she’s a proper woman. The men still get be wild and have dreams, and Naina achieved her dream because being a doctor is acceptable, but Aditi has to give up her ways and fit in.

But to the movie’s credit, Aditi is not as simple as that. She has grown up, but we see her still partying hard and having fun at times. She still loves her friends, and she also loves her male partner. When Avi and Bunny get into a fight, she reminds them that everyone has to grow up, that they can’t still be who they were eight years ago. In this way, she reminds me of Lily from How I Met Your Mother: a woman trying to cope with what it means to grow up, to be married, to have a family, to have fun.

It’s refreshing to see a character like this, one who grows up but still has fun. Media is often silent on this: either characters refuse to grow up (resulting in “man children”) or they change completely into someone society finds acceptable (by getting married, having babies, etc; I think the final season of The Office falls in to this trope).

Now that I’m 30ish, I often wonder if I’m still stuck in my old ways or if I’ve grown too old too fast. For my health, it’s good I no longer drink as I do, but I do miss having all night parties with my friends. I look to pop culture for role models, and there are so few who honestly deal with this conundrum.

Naina is admirable: she’s kind, she studies hard, she becomes a doctor. But Aditi is relatable: she’s friendly, she’s a bit of a mess, she grows up, but she’s still herself. Naina is mac and cheese, Aditi is mac and cheese with bacon.

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Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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