Valentine’s Week Final Review: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani! A Young Couple Who is Too Grown-Up

I promised to write this review for Valentine’s Week and then I missed it, so I am squeezing it in now instead. Oh well, I didn’t have anything else planned for today anyway.

This is one of those movies that is kind of too good to be “just” a romance. The romance between Ranbir and Deepika almost feels like a distraction from everything else that is happening around them. It’s kind of a classic character study in two parts, the first half establishing Deepika and her life and changing her, the second changing Ranbir. And sure, part of that changing is falling in love, but that’s equally important with all the rest of it. Maybe the biggest flaw of the film is that I want to spend more time with everything happening around the edges and less on the romance that is supposed to be central.

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But I get pulled back into the romance after all because the Deepika-Ranbir chemistry is just so good. And a lot of that is the characters written for them. This is an Ayan Mukherjee movie, and since Ranbir is his muse/soulmate/best friend, of course he wrote the absolute perfect hero for him, taking advantage of his exact acting talents and persona in just the best possible way. I don’t know why Deepika got such a good role, I think it is a combination of good role and good actress. Although, to be fair, Ayan has a history of great female characters, Konkana in Wake Up Sid was pretty awesome too.

The real magic is when the two actors and two characters are together, Deepika and Ranbir both give quietly excellent performances playing quietly complicated characters. They really are very well-matched as performers, a good supply of charm, the kind that makes you want to smile back at the screen when they smile. But also a good supply of subtle emotional cues, the kind that make you cry when all they do is a little lip quiver. This script is perfect for them, because it is a love story full of unspoken moments, two characters who can’t connect enough to speak their feelings.

And on top of these great central characters with great journeys, and also great secondary characters with their own journeys, we have SONGS! And CLOTHES! And LOCATIONS! It’s just a dream of a movie visually and aurally, on top of the actual plot. Just a 100% delight.

And MADHURI!

I don’t know why it doesn’t quite have the cult living legend status it could have. I can’t remember it ever coming up in the comments here, compared to Piku, Rockstar, even Wake Up Sid. Maybe because it is such an odd fit? A swoony romance in many ways, but a grounded character study in others.

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This is really the story of Kalki and Deepika’s friendship. That’s where it starts and ends, Ranbir is just a detour in the middle. At least, that’s how I watch the film.

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See how they are clinging together and ignoring the others? Boys are stupid, no one needs them!

Kalki and Deepika went to school together, Kalki was the weird gawky loud outgoing one, Deepika was the one who spent all her time studying and quiet. And then Kalki sees her at the store, being quiet and obedient with her mother, and spontaneously invites her to go along an a week long adventure trek. Kalki reaches out for the kind of stable traditional female friend she has never had, and Deepika is inspired to reach out for the kind of wild irresponsible adventure she has never had. And at the last minute, they are reunited at the train station for the trip that will solidify this new friendship. At which point, Ranbir suddenly falls in between them.

It’s a great twist on the usual romance. It’s not that Ranbir bursts into her life and inspires a change, it’s Kalki who does that, Ranbir is just kind of a surprise in the middle of it. Imagine if Kajol had fallen in love with Karan in DDLJ instead of Shahrukh, and Shahrukh was just the one who helped her get on the train and take the adventure. Kalki and Deepika share rooms and tents and secrets. Deepika sees and sympathizes with Kalki’s painful crush on her other best friend Aditya Roy Kapoor. They build a friendship that can be a bridge to a new kind of future for both of them, right as they finish school and their lives are about to change and they want someone who can change with them.

And then Ranbir bursts back into their life 8 years later. And we learn how Deepika and Kalki grew together in the meantime, Deepika is now the kind of confident woman who gives a speech in public and looks forward to winning a dance contest, and Kalki is happy wearing make-up and having a big party that is all about her. The two of them have been doing just fine without Ranbir. He’s a nice benefit, as a friend for one and a lover for the other, but he is only slightly needed.

That’s also why their romance is so unspoken. Deepika has a crush on Ranbir, but he is just a friend of her friend, not a direct connection. Ranbir kind of likes Deepika, but he is just being nice to her because Kalki brought her into the group. It’s a great look for Ranbir’s character, being super nice just because he wants to make this new girl feel comfortable. And part of being nice is not flirting, not pushing a relationship on her while she is just getting comfortable with herself. Deepika’s in a similar position, trying not to push herself forward into this tight group of friends, being grateful for them inviting her in, as focused on enjoying this new experience as she is on her maybe possible feelings for Ranbir.

And so the first half is a slow dawning of a lot of things for Deepika. She discovers she can stand up to her parents, she discovers she can have her goals and also have fun and friends, she discovers that she doesn’t have to change herself to have fun either (a different movie would have had a drunk scene, but in this one has her stay a glasses wearing good student straight through, just one who learns how to make friends). And somewhere along the way she starts to notice the nice guy she doesn’t really know, who seems to be noticing her too, who seems to have some kind of special connection with her, who seems like he might actually be perfect for her. It all culminates in “Balam Pichkari” when she finally feels free and comfortable and happy with every part of herself, ready to move on to a new chapter of life, and maybe might possibly be ready to admit her love to the boy who maybe might possibly love her back.

And then it all comes crashing down as we discover that this was never just Deepika’s story all along. It was Kalki too, struggling with her feelings for Aditya, only to finally on this trip discover that he will never see her that way, have her heart broken over and over again. And it was Ranbir, wanting this last trip with his friends because he knew his future was going to take him away from them. And it was Aditya, leaping in to life with both feet and trusting that his friends were always going to be there to catch him. And just as Deepika is about to complete her journey, Aditya finds Ranbir’s acceptance letter to Northwestern and this journey goes from Deepika finding herself to Ranbir breaking away from himself, saying good-bye to Kalki and Aditya and India before going off into the great world. Aditya learning he has to find a way to survive on his own. Kalki discovering that she actually can survive on her own, being immediately sincerely happy for Ranbir. And Deepika taking a step back, moving away from admitting her feelings and taking that leap into love and being happy with what she has already experienced.

And the second half, that is when Ranbir learns over and over again just how much this is NOT his story. I love it when Ranbir learns that. Or, rather, when self-important sensitive young men who are full of themselves learn that. Ranbir is now an internationally successful travel reporter/photographer. He’s had a life of adventure and sees himself as the hero of his own story, has the chance to be the hero of his own story literally when his boss offers him the job of hosting his own travel show. So when Kalki begs him to come to her wedding, he sees himself as the hero, bursts in on Deepika’s heartfelt toast about how she and Kalki have been best friends for 8 years to do a massive song and dance number romancing her, cheering up Kalki, all the good things. He thinks he can “fix” everything, save Kalki from marrying the boring man her parents are forcing on her since she is still in love with Aditya, save Aditya from his business troubles by throwing money at them, and sweep Deepika off her feet.

And then he learns he can’t actually do any of those things. In the first half, Deepika learned to see herself as the heroine, that she isn’t the studious one in the corner who always obeys her parents, but the adventurous one who can climb to the top of a mountain and fall in love and, finally, start off the big roucous dance of “Balam Pichkari”. Ranbir is starting from there, he leads the dance and saves the day. He thinks. But then he has to learn that life has moved on without him, you can’t be anyone’s hero if you are never there. Kalki’s best friend is Deepika now, and Aditya second. She doesn’t need Ranbir to rescue her, because she is fine on her own, she is in love and getting married, she has grown up in the past 8 years and grown away from a childish crush. And Deepika isn’t there waiting for Ranbir to swoop in and sweep her off her feet, she has a life that she loves, her own clinic, achieved her own dreams. And she isn’t going to throw them all away for Ranbir. If he wants to be part of their lives, he has to learn to take a backseat to what they all want, not make it about himself.

Of course, Aditya is the most interesting character. Aditya’s character is a nicely drawn addictive personality. When they are young, he drank a little too much (his dreams for the future were to own a wine shop, that’s a bad sign) and also had a little too much sex. Now, he is almost always drunk, and gambling massive amounts. And Ranbir doesn’t seem to get that he can’t save him. Kalki and Dips have given up, they don’t give him money any more. That’s a sign of how much they care and how much they have been around. It’s the dumb outsider, Ranbir, that thinks this is still a quick fix. Even Aditya knows that, he is offended when Ranbir offers money, aware that a true friend would offer something much better. Aditya’s character is also the one where I most feel the tug of the love story throwing the film off balance. I could use more Kalki too, more on how she went from a wild tomboy who couldn’t express her crush to a confident woman in love with her boyfriend. But Aditya just cries out for a resolution! The end of the film should be his friends giving him an intervention, not anything else. I almost feel like this movie should come with a trigger warning, looks like a happy romance, really a chilling vision of an addict growing up as his friends do nothing.

But the romance is plenty interesting anyway. What makes it so great is that the fact of their love for each other is never really in doubt. Even when they were young, Ranbir always “saw” Deepika. They challenged each other and brought out the best in each other, and just plain liked each other. Deepika prepares to confess her feelings, and the audience doesn’t have that feeling of dread that she will be embarrassed and heartbroken, the know that Ranbir will have to admit he feels the same way. And Deepika knows it too, that’s why she doesn’t say anything, because if she had he would have stayed for her.

And then in the future, it’s a different pull. There is no more fear of admitting their feelings, that is almost beside the point, they move right on to discussion of what to do about them. Can Deepika give up the life she has built in India to be with Ranbir on his terms? Can Ranbir give up his traveling life to be with her on her terms? And if not, when happens now? Do they kiss, do they say words of love, or do they just enjoy this time, knowing it is limited?

This is a really realistic conflict, so realistic that the resolution almost feels like fantasy. His whole life, Ranbir has wanted to travel, has built a career out of traveling, and now his career is taking off. And Deepika is happy where she is, truly happy. She isn’t dying of a broken heart, and she isn’t rushing into a new romance either, she just wants the life she has. I could more easily believe that they say good-bye at the end of the film than that Ranbir suddenly shows up on her doorstep and tells her he is there to stay.

But, Supriya Pathak pulls it off! The first half, that was about Deepika’s deepseated issues and now she is happy and past them. This second half, this is for Ranbir and he really needs to get past his. He isn’t traveling, he is running away. He never made his peace with his stepmother, and now his father is dead. He missed the whole funeral because he was traveling and he can’t stop traveling because he can’t let himself think about what he has lost. He needs to go home, go back to the apartment where he grew up, and say good-bye. Once he does that, starting a new life with Deepika doesn’t seem so impossible.

I wish there had been a little more exploration of this conflict. The idea of “you don’t really love to travel, you just like running away” seems pretty simplistic, but I think this movie could have pulled off some version of it. And some exploration of the other half, Deepika’s life. She stayed in one place and put down roots, not in a trite socially mandated way but in a real way. She doesn’t live with her parents, she isn’t married, but she is peaceful and at home in her life and in the world. That is what Ranbir is afraid of, staying in one place long enough to feel something, to feel at peace. To appreciate what he has instead of running after what he doesn’t have. The movie simplifies it a bit to just have him propose to Dips, but the real ending is the right one. It’s not about the proposal, it’s about reuniting the 4 friends, Aditya and Dips and Kalki and Ranbir all on phones together bringing in the New Year. That’s what Ranbir is committing to, the whole idea of friendship and connections and people who know you down deep. Being in love with Deepika, that’s just a bonus.

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27 thoughts on “Valentine’s Week Final Review: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani! A Young Couple Who is Too Grown-Up

  1. I don’t know why but I absolutely hate this movie.
    Reading your review helped me appreciate many things, but I still don’t like it. Maybe because I didn’t like Deepika-Ranbir love story? Maybe because I didn’t believe in this “happy ending”? Or because Aditya has been left without good end? I don’t know.

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    • Maybe it is because of Aditya? The way he is left behind kind of spoils a lot of things. Like, can we really trust Ranbir as a person and a friend if he is leaving Aditya behind like that? Kalki cares enough to be fighting with her fiance the night before the wedding over what to do about Aditya, and Ranbir just kind of never confronts it. Almost feels like Ranbir didn’t earn his happy ending, he didn’t fully commit to being there for the people he cares about because of how he failed Aditya.

      On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 8:12 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Aditya was a part of my dislike for sure. But what I hated more was the romance. Ranbir returned, and discovered he has feelings for Dips only when he saw her with other man. And I’ll never believe R and D will stay together forever (and that’s what make good romance for me). Sooner or later he will leave her.

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        • Yeah, it was WAY to fast to make me believe Ranbir had actually changed. I definitely need to write a fanfic and fix that ending. Make it more like Hum-Tum where you see serious long term effort over time that convinces you he is different.

          On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 2:34 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I really like this movie and am so glad that someone else has also noticed how this is more (or at least as much) a story of the friendship between Deepika and Kalki than just a love story. I find it interesting that in the very last scene, Aditya is trying to call Kalki and Kalki is calling her best friend Deepika (not Ranbir or Aditya). I feel like a lot of people dismissed this as just another love story when it is so much more than that.

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    • I hadn’t noticed that in the last scene, that Kalki is calling Deepika!!!! I love their friendship, because of how you can see how much they both got from it, Deepika got this adventure and confidence and friends she had never had, but Kalki got someone who would be empathetic and kind and loyal in a way Ranbir and Aditya never could be. And did you notice they each, in their own way, ended up choosing partners like the other one? Kalki ended up with the same sort of “good kid” quiet responsible “boring” type that Deepika is, the one who will always love her and take care of her and understand her just like Deepika does. And Deepika ended up with the sort of wild fun type who will take her out of herself like Kalki did.

      On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 9:10 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • You are so right about them marrying someone very much like the other person. I also like how in the second half with the wedding festivities, while we don’t really get Deepika-Kalki friendship scenes, we totally get casual references to Deepika being very much involved in the organization side of the wedding while Ranbir and even Aditya are just guests. She is the one who tells Ranbir to go pick up someone from the train station, she is the one who has the keys in her waistband, she is the one who walks in with Kalki to the wedding mandap.

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        • Yes! And that also fills in so much about Dips’ life now. In a regular film, there would be no good “reason” for her not to leave with Ranbir and start fresh, she doesn’t have a husband or kids. But we see that her position in this marriage is responsible, the life she has built for herself comes with things like organizing her friends’ weddings and stuff. She has a lot to lose if she runs away.

          On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 10:25 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I finally watched this movie because of the songs, mostly. I already liked Ranbir and Deepika (I’m a rare Tamasha fan) but did not like Kalki until I saw her in a couple of other things, including A Death in the Gunj. I’m still not sure she has a lot of depth/variety but she is appealing.

    I enjoyed the movie while I was watching it, but it didn’t really stay with me after or make me want to re-watch. I liked all of the characters ok, and agree that the heart of the story is Deepika and Kalki’s relationship. I like stories about how our relationships with long time friends or partners change continually as we change over the course of our lives. I seem to recall feeling that Aditya also turned a corner in some way during the wedding celebrations, but that may have been wishful thinking on my part.

    I wasn’t bothered by the slightly forced happy ending for D and R, because I was so thrilled with the cute love story and happy ending of Kalki and her man. Not an easy character to play well, I would imagine, but he did a good job. Oh, I just looked him up, and he’s Kunaal Roy Kapur, Adi’s older brother. Interesting.

    This might be a good intro Hindi film for newbies, I think. If you wanted to update from K3G. It is, as you say, beautiful to look at, with good songs.

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    • I love the Kapoor brothers. The oldest, Siddharth Roy Kapoor, used to run Disney/UTV and now has his own studio and is president of the Producer’s Guild, the most respected and official and powerful Hindi industry lobbying group (he took over from Mahesh Bhatt, and my impression is that it is basically a full time job running it). He’s also married to Vidya. Then there is Kunaal who pops up off and on in comic/serio roles and is always good. He was also in Delhi Belly, and in Nautanki Saala with Ayushmann, but his career hasn’t quite taken off. And finally Aditya. And, they are Jewish! Their mother is part of one of the ancient Jewish communities of India, was a beauty queen and sexy dancer in her youth (stage name “Salome”), married their producer father when he was a young man and fell in love with her, and now has her three boys. Something about them being a nice Jewish family just makes me happy.

      I love the contrast of Kalki’s love story with Dips, another nice mirroring moment is that Kalki got the love story Dips was expecting for her life and vice versa. Wild impulsive strange Kalki ended up with the arranged marriage to the engineer from a good family, and responsible stable unadventorous Dips got the impulsive sudden love story. One of my least favorite things about Ranbir’s character, and most favorite about everyone else’s, is how he misunderstands Kalki’s romance because he is too shallow to get it. Thinking she must be “settling” somehow, instead of accepting that she has grown up into a person who doesn’t care about good looks and romantic love stories, and just wants to marry the guy who makes her happy even if he doesn’t look like a movie star and she met him through her parents. But I love that Dips and Aditya clearly do get that, and are 100% behind this wedding and kind of confused by why Ranbir doesn’t understand. I’m not sure a quite buy Ranbir growing up from someone who thinks all his friends are frozen in a teenage version of what they want to someone who understands what real love is just in the course of a week. Maybe I’d be happier if we got another time jump? Like, a year later at Kalki’s baby shower?

      On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 10:27 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. From your review, I can see that this film has a lot more going on than the posters or first watch might show. I saw it a year or so after it came out and for some reason I hated it. I don’t know why, but the entire film had a depressing undertone to me and you know sometimes when you watch a film you don’t like the vibe of the filming locations? That was this movie for me. There was something off about all of the locations, they were nice, but for some reason I didn’t feel it added anything to the movie. Or if it did it added a kind of depressing feel. I guess I prefer the early 2000s romance films more than these kinds. The slightly more fun romantic comedy types! If I’m watching romance I prefer it more as a romantic drama or romantic comedy. And if I’m watching a dark film I like it dark. But I don’t like darker romances. Not that this was that exactly, I mean correct me if I’m wrong since I saw it a long time ago, but it felt kind of toned down. Like too realistic.

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    • No, you are completely right. Aditya’s character is really too dark for the rest of the film and the way the movie and his friends both avoid addressing it just makes it feel darker. Locations, I can see that too, kind of poor tourist towns and then a big too rich location wedding setting, nothing that felt just purely happy and healthy.

      I still like the movie, but there is a sort of darkness too it. Wake Up Sid, which is more aggressively obviously realistic, feels happier to me. The combination in this film of Aditya dying of his addictions while Kalki plans her fabulous expensive wedding is just odd.

      On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 1:08 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I feel the same way about 2 States. The pull of this happy college romance against the terrifying abusive father storyline just doesn’t work. And somehow is even worse when they try to throw on a “happy ending”.

          On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 1:21 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Yup, true, that’s another one. Though for that one I read the book beforehand , so I was kind of expecting it. But I didn’t like Tamasha either, though that film felt a bit messy to begin with. But even putting aside the execution of it, the basic plot wasn’t appealing to me. How about you? Much much prefer Jab We Met to Tamasha and Wake Up Sid to YJHD.

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          • I HATE Tamasha with the fire of a thousand suns!!!!!! I have absolutely no sympathy for Ranbir’s character, and I am angry at the filmmakers for making a movie that relies so completely on being sympathetic for the central character. If Dips had anything approaching character development, I could have enjoyed watching for her, but it was all Ranbir and his Man Pain. I was ready to be done forever with Imtiaz after that movie, but he brought me back in with JHMS.

            On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 1:36 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Interesting. I agree with you that Kalki is a key part of the film and that her relationship with Deepika ends up grounding the plot, but most of the rest I saw differently. First, I don’t think the centering of the Kalki/Deepika friendship was intentional, I think it was a result of the two womens’ performances being really strong and taking up space. In the beginning, Kalki doesn’t invite Deepika, she accidentally leaves behind the brochure for the tour company. And when Deepika joins the group, it becomes clear that she sort of knew all three of them but none of them well (and she might have had a bit of a crush on Ranbir). So just going by the script, Deepika starts out with all three on equal footing and then her story merges with Ranbir’s. But Kalki’s performance in this role is so sensitive and transparent, the two women are able to draw out an amazing connection during the mountain section just by the looks they exchange. Same thing in the second section, Deepika and Kalki get hardly any dialogue with each other, no Bechdel exchanges where they talk about not men, yet you’re still left feeling that their bond is the center holding everything else together. I feel like if this movie had had a female screenwriter, if it were a Zoya movie for instance, much more screen time would have been given to building the relationship between Deepika and Kalki, but instead they just managed to sneak it in around the edges in spite of the script.

    The central conflict between Deepika and Ranbir felt very believable and pretty much unresolvable. Definitely agree that the ending felt quick and too neat and I don’t really believe it will last! I didn’t feel like Ranbir was running away. I felt like he wasn’t good at sitting still – he’s smart guy but a poor student, he’s good at adventuring and exploring and charming people he’s never met before. Deepika discovers she can be braver than she thought, but she’s ultimately a happy homebody and safely ensconced in her carefully built life. That scene where they walk around Udaipur together is perfect, it shows how different they are and also how that’s exactly what makes the chemistry between them spark – each is an unsolvable puzzle to the other, and they both respect the other too much to try to drag them into a life they would hate. For Deepika that last part is clear from the beginning, she knows it as she’s letting him go off to Chicago. For Ranbir it is always there but not really acknowledged until she says it to his face. I really like this conflict because it is so resistant to easy solutions. If Ranbir goes to Paris, he pretty much guarantees a lonely if successful life, and the longer you’re away from home the harder it gets. The solution would be for Deepika to go with him but that would cut her off from all the other human connections that sustain her and make her unhappy. Ranbir staying, as he does in the end, might mean he ends up stir crazy and making them both miserable. No guarantee he’ll be any better at settled married life than he was at school. Agreed that his choice is for the human connections he’s neglected during his wandering years, the hope is that those connections will be enough to sustain them both.

    Aditya…his character is sad, and doesn’t get a happy ending. Part of me appreciated that because addiction is another thing that doesn’t have easy solutions. I don’t think his friends failed him, I think they couldn’t help him. The fact that he still has them in the end is a lifeline, but we don’t know if it will be enough. Agreed that this is quite dark for a happy romance movie, thematically aligned but so realistic that it makes the Deepika/Ranbir resolution look like fantasy.

    One other thing that bothered me: no way were they prancing around in miniskirts and light parkas having snowball fights at 16,000 feet! Even when I lived in Colorado, I had trouble breathing normally over 12,000 feet, and 14,000 is walk, pant, walk, pant.

    The songs really are wonderful, though,

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    • Have you seen Wake Up Sid yet? It’s the other Ranbir movie by this director that we keep mentioning in the comments. Your comment about the differences being what make them like each other and also what will drive them apart reminds me of that movie and made me think about why it worked there and not here. In that one, it was a difference of age and maturity, and that can change. The Ranbir character grew up, over the course of the many months the film covered, so that by the end you could see him and the heroine together in a way that would have been impossible at the start. But in this film, they HAVE grown up. And in the intervening 8 years, nothing has really changed, why should we believe it can change now? Especially because all the other characters are drawn so well in terms of what changes and what doesn’t. Aditya’s addiction is still the same, Deepika’s calm and sense of self is still the same, Kalki’s loyalty and energy is still the same, the superficial things are different but the essential heart of the personality doesn’t change. How can we believe that Ranbir will be able to change himself completely?

      I did a quick skim through of this movie to refresh myself and I think what bothers me the most about Aditya’s addiction is that we always see his friends drinking with him. The characters don’t really drink in other scenes, but Aditya always has a glass in his hand and is handing it off to them. Even when Ranbir tries to help him with money, Aditya says “all I want is for you to have a drink with me”. That can’t be healthy, can it? To normalize the way he looks at alcohol by joining in, and to confirm his identity within himself as “the friend you drink with”? I just wanted one of them, one time, to say “no thanks, and maybe you shouldn’t be drinking so much either”. The whole interaction felt so natural and real it makes me wonder if Ayan (the director) has a close friend who is an alcoholic and this is how he is with him, this is how he thinks about him as “the friend who drinks” without seeing it as a problem. It’s still good that his friends are there for him, but if being there means drinking together, it’s maybe not that helpful.

      And you are so right, the problem is that it IS thematically aligned! If Adi is still an addict and there is nothing to do about it, how can Ranbir suddenly no longer have wandering feet? If they had addressed Adi’s addiction, given him hope, it would have made it easier to believe that Ranbir changed too.

      On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 11:28 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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