They’re yuppies. Mohit (Ayushmann Khurrana) works in the airline industry. (In other words, he has a high-flying job.) Mayera (Sonam Kapoor) works in the financial services industry. (In other words, she’s into money.) They earn a lot. They spend a lot. In a terrific early scene in Bewakoofiyaan, Mohit shows Mayera his Gold card (with a three-lakh credit limit). Then she steps into a shop and buys shoes, expensive shoes, which she pays for with her Platinum card (four-lakh credit limit). There are many ways this scene could have gone. He could have become upset. She could have tried to distract him so he doesn’t see her card. None of that happens. She pays. He watches. He seems secure in his love for her – and let’s not discount the fact that she looks great on his arm – and if she earns more than he does, that’s fine. He may even be proud of her.
Then Mohit loses his job. He’s young. He probably did not anticipate this day, at least not yet, so there are no savings. His credit card is declined. There’s no money in the bank. He finds himself having to borrow money from Mayera. And this changes everything. Earlier, he dismissed her father (Mr. Sehgal, played by Rishi Kapoor) when the latter sneered that Mayera made more money than he did. “Kaise mard ho tum?” was the snide interjection left hanging in the air. Mohit dismisses this view as old-fashioned – but that was then, when he had a job. And now, after fruitless job searches (he’s picky), he’s possibly begun to feel the same way – especially when he sees Mayera continue to live a lavish lifestyle. He’s an MBA class topper and now he has no rent money and she’s buying Louboutins.
The film, naturally, sympathises with Mohit. But not, to its credit, by judging Mayera. The easy thing to do would be to wag a finger at her and say she should be more responsible (with her money), more considerate (to her boyfriend) – but Bewakoofiyaan takes the tougher road. Mohit may have begun to feel emasculated, but Mayera’s not the one holding the bloody knife. She works hard so that she can buy expensive things – brand-name clothes, tickets to a rock concert. And from others too she expects things, like birthday gifts. (Kapoor, to state the obvious, is ideally cast.) In another terrific scene, when he visits her on her birthday, she closes her eyes in anticipation of a gift. He hesitates. He has no money. Outside her home, he saw a rose bush and was about to pluck a flower when a dog barked and scared him away. So now he has nothing, and, improvising a little, he plants a kiss on her mouth. She opens her eyes and says “Bas?” This is a tricky scene to pull off. We’re used to all-sacrificing heroines, who’ve opted to wallow in misery with their husbands and lovers, but here’s Mayera, expecting something from a boyfriend she clearly knows is broke. She says it’s her birthday. He should have at least gotten her a flower. Surely that isn’t too much. And we agree.
Mayera is an unusual character for a rom-com – a princess-type that we don’t resent the slightest bit, not even when she says (in the slightly pouty tone of having made “adjustments” to her lifestyle) that she hasn’t bought a pair of shoes in two months. And we feel bad for her when Mohit says, sarcastically, that that’s such a sacrifice. Why, indeed, should she stop leading a good life because he feels entitled to a job that’s similar to the one he was fired from? This is new territory for a Hindi movie. This isn’t the Abhimaan-type scenario where the male thrashes about in self-pity and the female retreats to a corner, wounded. Mayera does feel bad for Mohit. But she’s not going to change her life (or her expectations) because of his problems. An earlier generation would have called her selfish. She’d have been played by Bindu. She’d have been the vamp. Today, she’s the heroine.
Bewakoofiyaan is many films in one. In its he-sinks-she-rises trajectory, it’s reminiscent of Abhimaan. It’s also the anti-Dil. There, the lovers said that love was the only thing that mattered, not money. Here, we get the scene where Mohit asks Mayera what she’d do if he’s reduced to waiting tables. She hesitates a little longer than she should, and tells him, with a too-hearty laugh, “Tum waiter nahin banoge.” But when they embrace we see the worry on both faces. He doesn’t want to become a waiter. She’s not happy having to consider the prospect of being with a man who might become a waiter. They both know that love has its place, but money is important too. She may not be as far along this thought as her father, a safari-clad government servant who couldn’t afford to send her to America, and who now wants her to marry into big money. She says no to the millionaires in her father’s file of prospective grooms. But it’s easy to say “I don’t care about money” when your boyfriend earns some sixty-thousand. When he earns nothing, you do begin to care about money.
These are unusual and messy strains in a rom-com, and after a while, you begin to wonder if this should have been a drama instead. Either the issues are too heavy for this type of film, or the handling of these issues is too light. The director is Nupur Asthana, whose previous (and first) film was the fun rom-com Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge. That was a simple story, and it was borne along by an exuberant cast and an easy style. Bewakoofiyaan is much more complicated and adult, and by reducing it to a rom-com, Asthana pulls her punches. She wants these issues in her film (the writer is Habib Faisal), but she doesn’t want her young target audience to go home depressed, so she does her damnedest to make us think that this is not a movie about what it is about. She wants us to think that it’s really a film about a guy who has to win over the girl’s father.
Early on, there’s an overreliance on Golmaal-style high-energy shenanigans intended to hoodwink Mayera’s father into accepting Mohit. In these portions, which include a needless detour into Mr. Sehgal’s transfer to the animal husbandry department, the man is exaggerated, like a cartoon figure. I did not see why Mayera had to put up with her father’s ridiculous tests to determine Mohit’s worthiness. This Meet the Parents shtick has no place in a film that’s about money and relationships in the modern day. Worse, we’re pushed into a subplot about Mr. Sehgal finding a job. It’s a nice thought to bring a parent into the picture – so many films, these days, have no use for authority figures – and Mr. Sehgal is worked into the breakup-montage song as well (with its whooping-loop enunciation of the film’s title), as if that event did not affect just Mohit and Mayera. But this track sidelines the main story about Mohit and Mayera.
It’s frustrating how big issues are raised and immediately brushed under feel-good carpeting. There’s a nice moment where Mohit snaps at Mayera in a nightclub, when she offers to buy him a rum-and-Coke, and when the bartender advises him to take the drink, Mohit snaps at him too. But he cools down almost instantly, and apologises to Mayera as well as the bartender. We see what a nice guy he is, and how terrible it must be for him to be in this position. But this mood is crushed by the song sequence that follows, where Mohit and Mayera sing and dance as if nothing happened at the nightclub. And the scene where he repays her “loan,” making a petty list of sums borrowed, should have been bigger. With no one to really blame but the economy, he’s lashing out at her, and we should have seen the welts rise. (Though I did like Khurrana’s look – unsure, surprised – when Mayera breaks up with him. He didn’t expect things to go that far.) When he was fired, he told a TV reporter, “Darr lag raha hai.” The only scene where we sense his desperation is when he literally begs for a job, but that moment comes and goes, and we’re back to whatever the rest of the film is peddling, sunshine and good cheer and the promise that a happy ending is just around the corner.
The film does the small things better than it deals with the big things. I liked the scene where a slimming belt is given as a gift, which shows how uncaring about personal space we are in general. I also liked the film’s tendency to make us wait for something to happen and then quietly subverting our expectations. Mohit keeps talking about his promotion, and when a supervisor goes around handing out envelopes, we think he won’t get it – after all, what quicker way to drama than showing how badly someone wants something and then denying them that very thing? But he gets it. After Mohit and Mayera have a fight, she turns to find the cook (a sweet presence, even if it isn’t much of a part) holding out a container with halwa – we expect Mayera to take the container and smash it on the floor, but she just begins to dig in. And when, after the breakup, Mohit finds himself waiting to be called in for an interview at a lingerie store, we think he’ll get the job – because it’s a job Mayera wanted him to take and he kept saying he’s not a lingerie guy but an airlines guy. What better way to make him eat crow? But he doesn’t get the job.
And the job he gets? Let’s just say it loops back to an earlier conversation with his girlfriend. This is a vital story. It goes where love stories don’t usually go. And then it chickens out. The ending feels rushed, as if a happy ending was written on the set at the producer’s insistence. And we feel cheated because we needn’t have celebrated her involvement in her career if she was going to treat it so thoughtlessly, and we needn’t have invested in his issues of money and masculinity if it was all going to be so easily resolved. So is love more important or money? A brave film would have said both. This one’s content to leave us in la-la land.
* Bewakoofiyaan = silliness
* “Kaise mard ho tum?” = What kind of man are you?
* MBA class topper = see here
* all-sacrificing heroines = see here
* “Bas” = Is that it?
* the Abhimaan-type scenario = see here
* Bindu = see here
* Dil = see here, 3:45 onwarsds
* “Tum waiter nahin banoge” = You’ll not end up a waiter
* Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge = see here
* Golmaal-style high-energy shenanigans = see here
* whooping-loop enunciation of the film’s title = see here
* rum-and-Coke = see here
* “Darr lag raha hai” = I’m afraid
* slimming belt = see here
* halwa = see here
* la-la land = see here
Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.