I wonder if any of you recall the fuddy-duddy Oldsmobile brand of automobile, and their decision in 1988 to make their image more youthful with a series of ads that started with “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile!” That campaign pretty much marked the demise of the brand and the line was discontinued by General Motors in 2000. It had in fact become too youthful for the fuddy duddies and could not stay quite young enough to keep up with the youth.
Abbas Tyrewala is the wunderkind credited with dialogs for films like Asoka, Munnabhai MBBS, Salaam Namaste and Welcome, screenplays for Main Hoon Naa and Maqbool. So when he decides to write and direct a film we all sit up and take notice. The interest grows when the film has names like Aamir Khan, Mansoor Khan, and AR Rahman associated with it. So what if the most prominent member of the cast is a young unknown man who calls Aamir ‘Mamu’, and is often dressed to look like Mamu in the early 90s. So what if the leading lady is not unknown to us, in fact has another film running at the same time, but is kept demurely hidden. All this only increases our interest in the film, feeds the frenzy if you will. We have been told it is a very fresh, youthful romance.
But this is not your father’s teen romcom! Abbas modernizes it for teenagers of today. So Aman or Aamr or Aakash or Rahul are now called Rats, and Rotlu and Jiggy (Jignesh – Jughead?), while Anjali or Pooja or Shalini are called Meow and Bombs. If you are a parent/teacher/authority figure, then catch this film with a teenager to understand what’s in their heads. Here the family is dysfunctional and dad speaks out of a portrait to mom, parents either bicker or have a weirdo grown son they have no clue about. It is all about teenage angst, teens are special and their lives are NOT normal. Their schools do not talk of romance in the guise of discussing Romeo and Juliet, or Chemistry with a hot chemistry teacher, their schools do not talk of anything inside the classroom. They do not have romances that work or don’t, and cause them to burst into song, they have dead pets that are mourned in songs. They don’t LEARN to dance, they just mock those who cannot. They do not have to sneak into a girls’ room at night using a ladder, they waltz into each other’s rooms with complete blessings from the parents. They do not have to worry about jobs or what will feed the family, the jobs will find them! If they are confused between friends and girlfriends, then their mind in conveniently made up by the fact that the friend looks sexy in a black dress with her hair down, or has an asshole for a boyfriend, preferably both. And along the way if they transiently part then the police must make way for the matters of the heart too! After all love conquers all. Then they marry the girl and go off abroad for a honeymoon, still jobless I think. So are you taking notes on what you teenager’s ideal world is like?
This I think is at the heart of the success of Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na. Every era has some formula for romcom success. The earliest formula was the harsh parents and cruel world against the star crossed lovers. Then we moved to the rich kids singing and dancing and meeting and parting. Next was thrown in all that plus some male bonding. But teenage angst, as aptly expressed by grunge rock (spearheaded by Kurt Kobain) of the 90s, was never really imported to Indian cinema. So how are the current crop of teenagers to feel special? Add in the angst! But of course, it is also Indian teenagers, so they are still obedient, now they already have the cars and dresses and rich lifestyle, but want more. They want to feel disturbed (Jai’s vague and mysterious dreams), somewhat cuckoo (Meghna’s take on her parents relationship), sensitive (Aditi’s mourning for a dead cat), artistic and weird (Aditi’s brother). They can only be so in the context of their somewhat dimwitted friends who provide good props as Jiggy and Rotlu etc.
If I were to review the film briefly I would say the film is a teenage focused romance with yet another take on the Archie, Betty and Veronica story, a reworking of Kuch Kuch Hota hai with shades of Dil Chahta Hai thrown in for good measure, and all done with a hefty dose of Chalte Chalte to start and end the story. Jai’s dysfunctional family was superb (maybe my adult take on adult angst?) with both Naseer and Ratna Shah doing a superb job. Imraan was endearing, as he was the most normal for me. Genelia needs to learn Hindi if she is moving to Mumbai. And why was her trajectory reversed from that of Kajol’s in KKHH? She came off that plane with a pre-interval Kajol wig! Prateik Babbar played an interesting character that could be explored in a whole another film, but he himself was merely sufficient as there was not enough to judge him by. Still it might be worth watching out for him. The great song Aditi was a huge letdown in the film. So in sum the youngsters were not half bad, but the story and script was a let-down considering who was writing it.
Why did Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na work big time at the box office? Because it was not your father’s romcom! But the Oldsmobile lesson should be kept in mind lest this one spawns more of its kind, and more.
This review first appeared on NG.