Director Nitin Kakkar’s Jawaani Jaaneman offers a distinctive scenario as far as man-woman relationships in Hindi films are concerned. It reimagines numerous stereotypical romantic comedy junctures – the meet-cute, the misunderstandings, the commitment phobia, the guilt trips and even a hurried ride to the station before she leaves forever. It’s Saif Ali Khan brand of cinema at its peak and the only difference is that the woman in question here happens to be his daughter. Of course, it is a tightrope that Kakkar is walking as he has to divert us from the film’s lightly sexual tone in order to get into the accidentally incestuous zone (films like Helicopter Eela fell prey of that). And boy, he does that with aplomb. Jawaani Jaaneman, despite its obvious flaws, is a modern urban dramedy with a bunch of crackling performers holding the fort.

Set in suburban London, the film is interestingly desi in its intent. The characters – unanimously – speak faultless Hindi even though they’re born and brought up in cities as Dutch as Amsterdam. While senior members of the protagonist Jazz’s (Saif Ali Khan, flawless as always) family is refreshingly progressive in matters of relationship and parenthood, the film also positively endorses ideas of family and companionship. However, I must add that it takes ample time for us to warm into Jazz’s bizarre chemistry with his daughter Tia (newcomer Alaya F, an absolute charmer). Their initial interaction, specifically, is mood-kill thanks to the strange sexual energy that clouds the sequence. However, the vibe settles down quickly and we get to witness some actual camaraderie develop between the two. Brownie points to the duo for rising above the screenplay’s unexciting sketches to lend personality to Jazz and Tia.

The first-half is an easy watch thanks to the interspersion of refined Saif Ali Khan humour although with a needless dose of Punjabi-ness which even the actor does not know what to do with. However, the writers (Hussain Dalal, Abbas Dalal) do falter massively at the interval point scene which is disconnected from the proceedings thus far and is clearly not as clever as the film want it to be. Jawaani Jaaneman also wants to project its ageing leading man as extremely desirable – which he is – but wouldn’t it have been more realistic if we were to see his scores dipping? Not exactly when it comes to downing tequila shots though.

That said, Jawaani Jaaneman tries to approach womanhood from a more realistic perspective. Jassi’s hairstylist-friend Rhea (Kubbra Sait) is as old as him and her expectations from a relationship are far from carnal. While the contrast is that of a man-child being tamed by a wise, independent maiden (a staple in Khan’s films), there is a lot of honesty in the way Sait’s appearances pan out – which comfortably makes her my favourite character in the film. Tabu’s eccentric Ananya, who surfaces only towards the last act, is rip-roaring fun. Complete with shades of irreverence which Tabu pulls off in her characteristic style, this small yet engaging character deserved a better culmination for sure. There is also the ever-so-delightful Kamlesh Gill (as Jazz’s landlady Mrs Mallika) who becomes an important cog in a crucial subplot. Watching the gin-and-tonic-loving octogenarian develop a bond with the young Tia had me desire for a little more of their screen-time. The twist in the tale that surrounds a demand from her is also neatly packaged onto the film’s core conflicts.

The male characters barring Khan are surprisingly flat. Kumud Mishra exists so as to pull a contrast vis-à-vis his happening little brother. Mishra plays the boring, traditional, fat, family man who seems to be okay with the ‘mansoorat’ (ugly) label assigned to him. Tia’s boyfriend Rohan (Dante Alexander) is an attempt to elicit quirk but he does not fly the way Tabu does. There is also Chunky Panday whose character sketch is something that everyone seems to be clueless about. For a film that does not really judge its characters all through, I really wonder if that hospital scene involving Panday was required at all – for its faint endorsement of the traditional family setup.

DOP Manoj Kumar Khato incorporates several fun tracking shots, handheld movements, swift pans and tilts as if to make us an active intruder in Jazz’s private abode. The same can be said about the editing (Sachinder Vats, Chandan Arora) which is an adequate mix of carefully picked frames. While the songs are hardly anything to write home about, the background score (Ketan Sodha) consummately elevates the drama throughout.

As Jawaani Jaaneman ends, we observe how it leaves a positive – though not very articulate – insight on how modern families ought to function. As we see about four generations seated at the dinner table, we realize how the values can remain astutely the same even though the dynamics can vary diametrically for each. And above all, Jawaani Jaaneman creates a new universe for fun Bollywood cinema centred on parenting and, that too, headlined by one of the previous decade’s most charming romantic stars. Welcome back, Saif Ali Khan.

Rating: ★★★

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