Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Aleya F, Tabu, Kubbra Sait, Kumud MishraDirector: Nitin Kakkar
Three things we can safely agree on: that Saif Ali Khan has been a consistently competent (if somewhat undervalued) actor who especially tends to shine in comedies; that no actor currently working in Bollywood has done as many versions of the emotionally-stunted-boy-trapped-in-an-adult-body than Saif Ali Khan; and that a great performance by Saif Ali Khan isn’t merely enough to salvage an ordinary film – the material needs to work.
In Jawaani Jaaneman, Saif is in good form once again, but saddled with the kind of material he knows inside out. He stars as Jazz, a single, forty-something, responsibility-shirking party boy in London who has a bit of Nick in him from Salaam Namaste, a dollop of Jai from Love Aaj Kal, a sizeable helping of Gautam from Cocktail, and a dash of Yudi from Happy Ending.
Jazz is an ageing playboy who is complete denial of the very fact that he’s ageing. He gets his hair dyed secretly, and needs glasses to read, but he dresses in tight rock band T-shirts and spends his evenings at his best friend’s club downing shots, grooving on the dance floor, and picking up any woman who’s willing to go home with him for the night.
Then one day Jazz discovers that he has a 21-year-old daughter who happens to be pregnant. In a single moment he goes from carefree bachelor to father and impending grandpa. It’s an interesting premise for an enjoyable comedy. And there are moments of inspired humour. A scene in which his old parents visit him at his flat and think his grown-up daughter might be his elder brother’s secret lover is very funny, especially since the reliable Farida Jalal plays his harrowed mother, and Kumud Mishra his straight-laced older sibling.
But there aren’t enough good laughs to go around. Director Nitin Kakkar and his writers give us scene after scene set in the same nightclub, making the same point over and over again. In one, Jazz tries to outdrink a much younger guy…but it isn’t particularly funny. Emotionally too, the film hits familiar beats, so much so that you can predict exactly how every scene is going to end.
Jawaani Jaaneman picks up briefly with the arrival of Tabu as the mother of his pregnant daughter. She’s a mumbo jumbo-spouting hippie who gets a few killer moments, but the actress deserved more to work with.
The real surprise in the film is debutant Alaya F, who plays Tia, the daughter Jazz never knew he had. She’s unmistakably confident, and has a likeable presence. The film gives her none of the special treatment usually accorded to second-generation industry kids, which works in her favour. She has an understated charm, and her scenes with Saif, especially in the film’s second hour have real warmth.
But there is a lot in Jawaani Jaaneman that feels contrived. A subplot involving a housing redevelopment deal that Jazz wants to close feels shoehorned into the screenplay for the sole purpose of creating a final act conflict between father and daughter, and to give Jazz a shot at redemption. Chunky Pandey plays his hard-drinking, skirt-chasing club owner buddy, but his purpose in the script is strictly as a stereotype for the cautionary tale. The same is true of Kubbra Sait’s character, Rhea, who cuts and styles Jazz’s hair, but in the script she represents the kind of girl who’s not his type: she’s smart, she’s as old as him, and she’s looking for meaningful companionship.
Much of the film’s strength is Saif’s sharp timing, and his ability to mature convincingly when the time comes. Early on in the film he shakes a leg to an old chartbuster of his, Ole ole from a film that came out 25 years ago. He’s still got the moves, and he’s definitely got the charm. Too bad the movies he makes frequently don’t match up to what he’s willing to bring.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Jawaani Jaaneman. It’s funny, but only in spurts. You’ll feel like you’ve seen this movie many times already.
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