Aditya Chopra’s new film, Befikre, begins beautifully. The opening credits appear over images of lip-locked couples in Paris. The lines of the song that plays in the background, Labon ka karobaar, suggest that these couples are literally starry-eyed romantics: Jebon mein bikhre hain taarein, khaali hua aasmaan. (The sky is empty because the stars are scattered in their pockets.) The kissing is French. The music is too. Swooning violins waltzing with an accordion. This stretch is the rom-com world’s equivalent of a scented bubble bath. It invites us to sink into what promises to be a relaxing romantic comedy, beginning with the first meeting of Boy and Girl. Instead, after the credits, a TV set crashes down on a pavement. In an apartment above, it’s the last meeting of Boy and Girl. They have a fight. She storms out. Chopra is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that this is not your average love story.
For a while, the film is a lust story. Dharam (Ranveer Singh) falls for Shyra (Vaani Kapoor). But he isn’t eying the altar – just her ass. He tells her, “You’re going to ditch me and go away, so until then, let’s savour the moment.” They have sex. She leaves the next morning and doesn’t leave a phone number. We seem to be watching a resolutely desi director’s stab at a taboo-breaking non-relationship: Last Tango in Patiala. Later, when Dharam pursues Shyra, she says she can’t get into a friends-with-benefits kind of arrangement with him because he’ll fall in love. He says he won’t, because falling in love is the end of fun. The director who made us wait three hours, in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, for the heroine’s father to allow his daughter to marry the hero now gives us the scene where the hero casually informs the heroine’s parents that he’s going to live in with their daughter. In this scheme of things, the Eiffel Tower isn’t a symbol of romance. It’s an erection.
It’s entirely possible to read Befikre as Chopra’s denunciation of his most famous film, starting with the gender switch: the boy is from India and is now abroad, the girl is a first-generation European. The girl gets the “palat” moment – it’s not what you expect. Dharam plays Mehndi lagake rakhna, but it’s not to assure the girl that he will carry her away – it’s quite the opposite, really. We get a lighter version of the scene where Farida Jalal urged Kajol to elope with Shah Rukh Khan – but here, the father isn’t against the match. The heroine herself is. (Though the conceit of the hero doing his best to be liked by the heroine’s parents stays. He keeps touching their feet.) Chopra even reinvents the taandav moment from his father’s films, where a frenzied bout of dancing served as a barometer of the heroine’s emotions. Now, it’s a pas de deux. It’s a barometer of both their emotions.
Conceptually speaking, then, Befikre is always interesting. The essence of the title (which means carefree) lingers like a scent throughout. The interval moment is the lightest in recent times, absolutely devoid of heavy drama. There is no “reason” for Shyra’s fear of commitment – her parents are the happiest, most well-adjusted couple in the universe. The plot is advanced through a series of silly dares – that’s how Shyra falls for Dharam, that’s how she agrees to be with him. And what could have been a huge thunder-and-lightning scene is played out like a pie fight. This isn’t Mohabbatein. This is the Marx Brothers.
But I didn’t buy a minute of it. I didn’t believe Dharam and Shyra would move in together. I didn’t believe they’d continue being friends after breaking up. I didn’t even buy Dharam and Shyra. Ranveer Singh tries everything. He does a killer imitation of Anil Kapoor’s dance moves from Ram Lakhan. He struts around in his briefs. He bares his butt. (This is one film where the hero is asked to take off more clothes than the heroine.) Vaani Kapoor speaks more than passable French, and she dances magnificently (though she seems more a dancer who wows you with technique rather than transports you with emotion). But the two together strike no sparks. They are as much caricatures as the film’s gay and lesbian characters.
Befikre is joyless, rhythmless. The back-and-forth-in-time narration may well have been part of the screenplay, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that it was more the editor Namrata Rao’s work, that she took one look at the rushes and decided something needed to be done to keep things at least minimally surprising. Otherwise, the film is terribly obvious. The “touches” are interesting to analyse, but they cannot make a movie. You need emotional investment. You need to care about these borderline-unlikable characters. It’s not a good sign when you keep wishing someone would make a love story around the heroine’s parents instead.
Befikre, finally, is further proof that the kings of an older romantic cine-verse have indeed abdicated their thrones. Just recently, we had Shah Rukh Khan play a supporting role in an Alia Bhatt starrer, and here too, we have a scene that says a woman is not a “slut” just because she has had many sexual partners. (That the man apologises, and acknowledges that it was less about her experience and more about his inexperience, was, for me, this film’s finest moment.) And just recently, Karan Johar’s film echoed the conceit from Rockstar that you need to feel great pain to make great music. Now, we have Aditya Chopra echoing the Matargashti song situation from Tamasha (two near-strangers cutting loose through song). And from Love Aaj Kal, we get the “breakup celebration,” the realisation that one can sometimes fall harder for (and become far better friends with) an ex, and also the poor placeholder-boyfriend and girlfriend who we’re meant to think actually stand a chance with Shyra and Dharam, who is just the latest instance of a man-child who becomes a man after meeting a very different kind of woman. Somewhere, Imtiaz Ali is punching a fist in the air.
- befikre = carefree
- desi = Indian
- the “palat” moment = see here
- “taandav?” = see here
- Rockstar = see here
- Tamasha = see here
- Love Aaj Kal = see here
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.