Casting is everything in Jawaani Jaaneman, an official remake of the Argentinean comedy Igualita A Mi (2010). Who else but Saif Ali Khan to play a fading Lothario who proclaims that monogamy and family are sure signs of death but secretly dyes his hair and needs reading glasses?
Alaya F, making her debut, is also in good shape as the product of a liaison many years ago in Amsterdam between Jazz (Khan) and Ananya (Tabu). Some of that famous Amsterdam weed has embedded itself into Ananya’s brain cells, and Tabu is superb in an extended cameo as a hippy-dippy type who focuses on keeping her chakras perfectly aligned in between spliffs.
Kumud Mishra plays Jazz’s beleagured brother Dimpy, Farida Jalal is their even more beleaguered mother, and Kubbra Sait is Rhea, the hairdresser who ensures that Jazz appears young and still with it. Finally, there’s Chunky Pandey as Rocky, Jazz’s hunting partner in the matters of sexual conquest, alcohol and clubbing.
With this perfect cast in place, director Nitin Kakkar, working with an adapted screenplay and dialogue by Hussain Dalal and Abbas Dalal, spins a delayed coming-of-age yarn that is often hilarious and insightful about men who insist on being men. Jawaani Jaaneman deftly maintains its breezy tone throughout its 119-minute duration, and except for a late-reel weakening of resolve, straightens out its swaggering hero with minimum fuss and maximum fun. Jazz is a vain egoist who shirks responsibility and refuses to accept the inevitable, and Jawaani Janemann delivers Jazz his just desserts without making him, or, us, choke.
The setting is London, where, presumably, the movie’s freewheeling attitude towards marriage (not needed to produce children) and conventional family structures (a necessary evil) can play out without the burden of traditional Indian morality. Jazz is an all-too-familiar male specimen – he spends more than he earns, parties compulsively, and invites any available woman into his boudoir. Jazz isn’t merely living beyond his means but trying to beat the clock, and he gets a rude reminder of his fading youth when he meets Tia. Jazz is momentarily startled by how young Tia is, but recovers quickly enough to invite her home. The lights are dimmed, wine is quaffed, and Jazz is getting hot under the collar – until Tia tells him that he could be her father.
In an added layer to the familiar idea of a playboy being reformed by living proof of his wantonness, Tia is pregnant. Jazz has gone overnight from nightclub regular to dad-plus-grandad, and Tia gets the brunt of his ire.
The movie’s cleverness is built right into the title, which refers to the slinky hit tune from Namak Halaal (1982) that includes the lyric that the hunter will soon be the hunted. One of Saif Ali Khan’s own best-loved songs is Ole Ole from Yeh Dillagi (1994), in which he played a dandified heartbreaker. Ole Ole pops up in Jawaani Jaaneman in a remixed version, and is used as a doubled-edged marker of the distance between the source material and the new movie and Khan’s continuing evolution as an unconventional leading man.
Khan has mastered the trick of shining in a lead role without eclipsing his co-stars. He is as comfortable in his own space as he is sharing it with the vastly younger Alaya or his other co-stars. Khan’s comic timing has rarely been better, and he is equally convincing when it is finally time to wisen up. Tabu¸ billed as a “special appearance”, makes sure that not a second of her limited screen time goes to waste.
A sub-plot concerning a housing redevelopment project doesn’t quite fit as snugly, and appears to exist only to create false tensions between reluctant father and eager daughter and give Jazz a stab at redemption. It’s a blip in an otherwise smooth and smartly directed movie that is a family drama pretending to be a romcom. We told you it was clever.