Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani - Ranbir and Deepika

Deepika Padukone has achieved a lot in a career spanning over 15 years, but she has given back the same to an industry which can rarely boast of iconic characters. When we think of Bollywood, we think of romance, drama, great locations, good looking men and women running around our screens and most essentially, entertainment. Indian cinema has been defined by its melodrama and grandeur through the history of cinema. However, very few characters written for Hindi cinema have individuality. Consider the case of some of Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic characters – Vijay, Jay and the various repetitions of the same name. The definition of iconic was a trend of a certain kind of character and not the character themselves. It is the same when we talk of iconic roles played by the three Khans. Most of Shah Rukh Khan’s characters which have stood the litmus test of how iconic they can be are similar in nature. Rahul from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is not too different from Raj in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. It is even worse, when it come s to women.

In an industry dominated by trends such as the damsel in distress, the comic heroine, the fallen angel or the mother figure, Padukone’s diverse filmography have gifted us iconic characters over the ages, where each is different from the other. She stepped into Bollywood as Shantipriya, a yesteryear heroine with a tragic downfall and went on to play a cosmopolitan woman with a lonely heart within in Cocktail, an independent woman frustrated with her father in Piku, a complete masala pulp-fiction heroine in Goliyon Ki Raasleela- Ramleela and a nerdy girl next-door in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. What intrigues me most about Deepika Padukone is that she can step into the shoes of a Bhansali heroine in the day and a Rohit Shetty heroine at night and play both with utmost ease, such that the names become an integral part of pop culture today.

One such character is Naina Talwar – a name which has become a part of popular culture since the release of the ever successful Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. YJHD is not only my favourite Deepika Padukone film, but also my favourite character played by Deepika. The essence of Naina lies in her timidness, where she hesitates to step into a train at the last moment because she has never done something like this before and yet, have the courage to let go of the man she finds herself falling in love with, simply because she did not want to interrupt his career. YJHD is rather considered to be one of Padukone’s most successful works rather than one of her best. Her work in Ramleela, Piku, Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani and Tamasha are definitely be strong contenders. However, if we talk about characterisation and impact, Naina Talwar ranks high.

 

It feels like Naina as a character was written keeping in mind the shortcomings and insecurities of every other girl, the feelings that all of us have had to deal with one way or the other. In one particular scene, Naina finds herself out of place in the midst of a bunch of her friends who are clearly extroverted and free with each other. She decides to go to bed early because she has nothing to contribute in the conversation. These little moments are somehow extremely relatable and Padukone manages to portray simple emotions with utmost ease on screen. This is probably why she was the perfect match for Naina, who does not have much to say but a lot she thinks about. Padukone’s ability to master subtlety on screen is what makes Naina so loveable today.

As already mentioned, Bollywood clearly lacks layered characters, especially when it comes to women and particularly in masala movies. However, YJHD does not fit into this trend, since it gifts us with some brilliant characters who have more than one facet to their character. Padukone’s Naina is a carefully written character. While some may argue that she is a typical Hindi film heroine, who falls in love with the wrong guy, it is also important to notice the way she deals with her emotions. When Naina realizes that she has fallen in love with Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) she decides to take a step forward and let him know. This is the same girl who hesitated to go to a party and decided to study instead. As Bunny points out, it is Naina’s courage that made her stand out. When she realises that the declaration of her feelings might stop Bunny from pursuing his dreams, she lets it go. When her feelings resurface after years, she still handles it in quite a mature way and keeps the practical realities in mind, including the fact that Bunny’s nature itself is not one to settle.

Of course, in the perfect Bollywood style, every story must have a happy ending. But the happy ending did not seem too impractical and kept the feel-good vibe intact, which makes the film so special. Bunny had already lived much of his dream when he decided to come back and settle, understanding the value of human relationships. While Naina broke out of a cocoon to embrace who she is, Bunny realised that sometimes a cocoon and a feeling of comfort is what is essential to feel in life. While Naina learnt to enjoy her life, Bunny learnt to strike a balance and include others in his decisions. Padukone’s portrayal of Naina, including her chemistry with co-star Ranbir Kapoor, her wardrobe (which became a rage when the film released) and even her quirks and mannerisms made her nerdy girl-next-door so believable that sometimes it was hard to not feel for her. Naina’s sense of settlement, responsibility and practicality is something that we hardly ever see in Bollywood women. Naina has every stereotype that is expected of a Bollywood heroine – a good wardrobe, chemistry with the male lead, perfectly built body and the ability to break into a dance randomly. Yet, she has things that other characters do not – the relatability, a mind that aligns with our everyday worries and the courage and belief that it is okay to be different and yet fall in love.

While it is a tedious task to play a character like Malti or Piku or Leela on screen, it is equally difficult to create a personality in a character through performance as Padukone did in YJHD. Her performance adds to Naina’s personality and makes a person out of a character perfectly shaped in writing. In one of the most memorable scenes from the film, Naina and Bunny talk about their own views of life and how each of their experiences are different. While Bunny talks about California ki dhoop, Naina talks about Bombay ki baarish. The scene is pretty simply crafted. There is not much scope of elaborate acting or much dialogue of substance. Yet, the carefree vibe of the two characters is what makes it so watchable and loveable. It is as though you root for either Naina or Bunny and yet understand both their point of views.

Somewhere in the midst of Naina taking the risk of climbing a mountain all alone, her unbelievable enthusiasm in winning a mere sangeet competition, her ability to jump into the life she has always wanted and letting lose a part of her personality she was never able to explore before, we all found ourselves. We have always been either the girl who was unable to sing along despite knowing lyrics to Jumma Chumma De De or the one who was not able to express her love for someone. Yet, we have always perhaps wanted to be the one who aces a Badtameez Dil or manages to take off her glasses and jump into a Holi party. Padukone gave us both, and much more.

Naina Talwar: How Deepika Padukone Breathed Life Into The Modern Bollywood Heroine, Film Companion

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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