Ayan Mukehrji’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a fun film. The story of a young guy who wants to chase his dream, at any cost, is told energetically, albeit without context.
Ranbir Kapoor does a good job of essaying a role he has now played several times in Wake up Sid, Rockstar and Bachna Ae Haseeno - of a boy/man who is obsessed with his own dreams, emotions or goals to the exclusion of everything else.
That, it seems, touches a chord more often than not with Indians now. Have you noticed how many of the big films, the ones which connect with audiences and make money, are about I, me and myself? Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Love Aaj Kal, Cocktail, Wake Up Sid and the others mentioned above.
What touches a nerve for most of us is the ability of the protagonists to break through barriers emotional, psychological, familial, societal or any other - and grab what he or she wants to grab. While films have been about this and more for ages, the protagonists have gotten more and more self-obsessed over the decades.
Anyone over 40 watching the hit films of today is bound to think that Bunny, the character Kapoor plays, was being downright selfish for not coming back to India when his father dies. He shows little regret for that and his friends too don’t seem to mind it. In fact when one of his friends mentions it in a fight with Bunny, it seems like ranting.
You could argue of course that life has moved on. In the 50s and 60s it was about nation building and ‘Saathi Haath Badhana’ kind of stuff seeped in socialism born out of our love affair with the former Soviet Union. Our ‘mixed economy’ experiment, oxymoronish in retrospect, was going on and we were just happy at the whole idea of independence.
Then came the cynical seventies and dismal eighties when everyone from policemen and politicians to doctors and priests could be corrupt and wanting. If the nineties seem wish-washy, they probably were. The mix of the nineties hits is very uneven Taal, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Satya. There was a whole lot of I, me myself, but with strong parental safeguards and ‘respect’ built into the stories to get the family audience.
Even Dil Chahta Hai the 2001 hit that heralded a fresh look at a newly globalising India and its youth, had an element of parental approval/disapproval built in. So for all his coolness when the character played by Aamir Khan goes into depression, he reaches out to his parents. Some of the new age films now use parents as mere props.
They are characters played by some really good, under-utilised actors such as Ratna Pathak Shah in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na or Farooq Shaikh in Yeh Jawaani... They are funny and usually full of approval for anything their offspring does. There is very little attempt to correct, point out the right thing or god forbid order kids to do anything. There is no right or wrong in any of these films, there is only what ‘I’ want and how ‘I’ worked hard to achieve it.
If films are a mirror of society, then what do these somewhat narcissistic, self-obsessed, I me, myself films say about Indian society. They reflect a freeing of minds and souls from the ‘roti, kapda, makaan’ thing that occupied earlier generations. They reflect a society where large pockets of the population that have risen above basic needs are searching for the individual within themselves. In the eighties when Yash Chopra made movies which dealt with individual problems not too many people could relate to it.
Remember Kabhie Kabhie? All the characters were well-fed and housed. The film was about the pain of dealing with loss and knowing that you are adopted. It wasn’t something most Indians struggling to get a decent job and making two ends meet could relate to. They enjoyed the film for the songs and its aspirational value, not for its attempt to deal with a girl’s search for her real parents.
In a better off India, where large chunks of the population are now well-fed, well-travelled and well-housed, some of the more individual centric issues are bound to resonate. Note that they do so more in the prosperous states. In a UP, Bihar or MP, Dabangg or Singham are still the winners. These films then tell you more accurately than economic data the story of several Indias and their different aspirations.
The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik