And the law of averages catches up with Ranbir Kapoor. In Abhinav Kashyap’s Besharam, he plays a car thief named Babli, though what he’s really playing is another iteration of the character that appears to be defining him on screen. At the beginning of the film, we see Babli making off with a car – he’s accosted by cops and he doesn’t sweat it. He bobs his head like a character in a Saturday Night Live sketch, and later, when he glimpses a gun, he picks it up and begins to shoot, oblivious to the moral implications, the consequences of what he’s doing. It all seems to be a game, like the football he plays with kids in the orphanage he was raised in. Like Sid and Kabir, the characters Kapoor played in Wake Up Sid and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Babli needs to wake up – and this will be achieved, as in those films, when he falls in love with a woman who’s also a grown-up.
The little twist in the character is that Babli is completely obnoxious – or as the title refers to him, he’s shameless. In a running gag, various women – and it’s always women, a neighbour in a terrace, a lady at a birthday celebration, the heroine (Tara, played by Pallavi Sharda) – keep calling him besharam, and he is shameless, the kind of chap who brings a flower for the girl he’s fallen for and, when she refuses it, gives it to her mother, saying it’s for her. Babli comes off worse when we look at him through Tara’s eyes. When he suggests going on a road trip, she asks her mother, “What if he rapes me?” This question, it is safe to say, has never occurred to a Hindi-film heroine, and it is to Kapoor’s credit that he plays this creepy and disgusting character with great gusto and physical energy. (Truth be told, he’s too much of a chocolate boy, too wholesome and endearing a hero, to make us think he’s really creepy and disgusting, but then who’s going to fund this film with an ordinary-looking hero, who looks like he may actually rape the heroine?)
And it is to Kashyap’s credit that, at least in the early portions, he allows his film to get as creepy and disgusting – in a humorous manner, because, of course, Babli is essentially a child – as its protagonist. Babli, half asleep, rams his morning wood into the hip of his roommate (Titu, played by Amitosh Nagpal). He stuffs Titu’s sock into his crotch, for “padding,” so he can make a better impression on women. His declaration of love to Tara incorporates a vasectomy scenario. He even participates in an utterly gratuitous shower scene where he keeps giving the audience glimpses of his arse crack. The most shameless scene in the film, however, belongs to Inspector Chulbul Chautala (Rishi Kapoor) – he’s married to Head Constable Bulbul Chautala (a screechy Neetu Singh) – whose relief from constipation is documented with near-scientific rigour. We hear not only the rrrip, but also the plop.
At some point, I began to think that this is how I’d describe Besharam to someone: “Imagine Mr. India transformed into a road movie while Anil Kapoor kept adjusting his crotch!” It isn’t a stretch to spot the Mogambo-lite villain, played by Javed Jaffrey, who follows his forebear’s footsteps, terrorizing all those little orphan children. And you can round off the similarities with a Calendar-like sidekick in Titu, and a career-minded heroine who hates the hero (before falling for him). This film, too, embraces slapstick with fervor. The action sequences are as likely to feature fearsome rocket launchers as a portly old man who simply takes a deep breath and blows the villains away. And a chase, mid-way, transforms into a love story – between dogs, as Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam plays on the soundtrack. (And so that things don’t get too cutesy, we still stick to the “shameless” agenda when Babli pees all over the memory of that number. He literally relieves himself in a mustard field, filled with all those pretty yellow flowers, while singing that song.)
But while all this sounds great on paper, something goes wrong in the transition to screen, starting with the songs. Kashyap proves, once again after Dabangg, that he loves the old-time song situations. There’s the establish-the-hero song. There’s the hero-and-heroine-face-off-at-a-wedding song. There’s the whole-neighbourhood-joins-the-hero-as-he-expresses-his love song. There’s the heroine-sees-the-hero-for-who-he-really-is-and-falls-for-him song. There’s even a mela song. But not a single tune (from Lalit Pandit) stands out, and these generically filmed music videos become exhausting to sit through. And the all-crucial relationship between Tara and Babli just isn’t convincing. (One of the film’s too-clever conceits is to pair this besharam with a woman whose last name is Sharma.) The actors strike no sparks together, and without that, we never see why such a class-conscious woman would fall for this slob, especially after what he puts her (and her brand new Mercedes-Benz) through.
The scene where she begins to fall for him is especially galling because the film stops being shameless, starts being sentimental. Suddenly, we have Babli tearing up, clasping his hands, and asking her to give him a chance. This is the problem when you cast big-name heroes in these parts – you can never let your movie be as shameless as it should be. The other mistake is casting this hero’s real-life parents – that’s a gimmick that might have worked in a more conventional film, one whose hero was an adorable orphan, but here, with this abrasive orphan, it blunts the edge. Besides, when you cast all these Kapoors, you have to milk it for all it’s worth. (It’s like how Sanjay Leela Bhansali had to feature a dance number with both Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit in Devdas.) And Kashyap can’t resist tipping a hat in salute to the Kapoors. Rishi Kapoor’s fuddy-duddy nature is acknowledged through a hit from Sangam. Ranbir Kapoor’s vehicle is named Rockstar. Rishi Kapoor dances to a song from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Maybe all this on-screen masturbation is just one more manifestation of this film’s shamelessness.
Copyright ©2013 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.