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Saif Ali Khan and Alaya F in Jawaani Jaaneman
Saif Ali Khan and Alaya F in Jawaani Jaaneman

Film review: Growing pains and gains in ‘Jawaani Jaaneman’

Saif Ali Khan and Alaya F deftly play unwilling dad and persistent daughter, though Nitin Kakkar’s film eventually runs out of gas

Jawaani Jaaneman does something clever in its first scene. Nitin Kakkar’s film begins with Jaswinder (Saif Ali Khan) dancing to a reworked version of “Ole Ole". Every other Hindi film nowadays has a rebooted 90s track, but this is Saif dancing on an old Saif song. Jaswinder—Jazz, as he likes to call himself— might be in perpetual adolescence but viewers of a certain vintage, ones who saw Yeh Dillagi in the theatre, will feel the passage of time and recognize the tinge of desperation in his footloose ways.

Kakkar and screenwriters Hussain Dalal and Abbas Dalal don’t let up on the 90s references. Khan dances to the delectably cheesy Govinda number Husn Hai Suhana. Chunky Pandey shows up from time to time as a similarly adolescent player. And when Jazz, trying on shades, is compared to Feroz Khan, he responds with “Fardeen" – an inexplicable downgrade.

The film turns when 21-year-old Tia (Alaya F) spills her drink on Jazz at a nightclub and, when he brings her back to his bachelor pad, reveals that he might be her father. Tia’s mother and him had once hooked up in Amsterdam; unbeknownst to him, it resulted in a child. Jazz takes the news as well as you’d imagine someone who calls himself Jazz would take it – but like young Nicholas Hoult inserting himself into Hugh Grant’s carefree life in About a Boy, Tia is sweetly persistent.

Tia turning out pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby, and receiving the news at the same time they confirm Jazz is her father, is a touch gimmicky. And too much is made of Jazz’s hard-nosed business dealings as a real estate agent aligning with his man-child behaviour; we know he’ll eventually have to fix one to right the other. But the material is made most palatable by Khan – unquestionably the best Hindi film actor when it comes to playing urbane, quick-witted types – and Alaya, who keeps Tia’s wholesomeness from grating even though she’s made to say things like “Maine itni khushi pehle mehsoos nahi ki (I’ve never experienced happiness like this before)".

Tabu turns up late in the proceedings as Tia’s hippie mother. It’s an amusing cameo – she calls Jazz a sambhog-addict – though there’s a strange scene where she pretty much forces herself on her co-parent. Having set itself up nicely in the first hour, Jawaani Jaaneman finds itself with little to say in the second. It seems to regard single people in their 30s and 40s – anyone who isn’t into “old school love", as Jazz’s hairdresser friend (Kubbra Sait) puts it – as unmoored and unhappy: a conservative slant to an otherwise open-minded film.

I’ll end with a plea. It’s time for Indian film directors to stop inserting musical stings before punchlines. If it’s funny, they’ll laugh. The music is a sign you think they won’t.

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