Nitya Mehra’s Baar Baar Dekho is an amalgam. There are some good things. A lot of it is middling. If you plot it, the graph might resemble a sine wave but maybe not the same kind of peak. Or trough. They wobble here and there the way mathematician Jai Varma (Sidharth Malhotra) time travels and the way the film maintains different timelines. The time travel is just a device for Mehra. There is no what and how of it and there is really no need for it. Baar Baar Dekho isn’t the time travel film where you can come out and have a discussion about different tropes of time travel and different types of timelines resulting from them. It has a simple story at its heart and it ties itself into knots in its telling.
The beginning is promising and understated. It is quiet. Two births, far apart. Set to Jasleen Royal’s too familiar sounding but comforting Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, we see decades pass in the life of two families. It is a time capsule. Or several. But we also see how Jai and Diya (Katrina Kaif) are very different. Diya was born to Raam Kapoor and his English wife. Maybe it is due to this relationship (it is 1986), her family seems alone and alienated. Her birthday party consists only of Diya and her parents. Jai is in India and his birthday party is overpopulated where he is the odd one out. He hates noise. The kind of noise he likes happens inside his head – he is a nerd who writes equations on windows. He is a professor of mathematics. They meet as kids when Diya and family move to India. We see a lot of changes in a matter of minutes. It prepares us for the rest of the film where these minutes become days, years and then decades.
This magic is found lacking as the film progresses. Diya’s father even reduces this opening to mere words during a talk with Jai. That’s when you realize Baar Baar Dekho has gone off the rails already. It wants to spell out too many things and the most starkly annoying thing about it is that what it wants to spell out is only pop philosophy. The film makes its protagonist a thoroughly despicable man. In some ways it is even admirable, to make the pivot of your romantic film an unlikable man and work with it. It’s a wonder that Diya has fallen for him and this since their teenage years but that you can fill in under love is irrational column. But Jai makes a number of inexplicable decisions throughout the film and is repeatedly wrong footed. The story (writing credits shared between Mehra, Anuvab Pal and Sri Rao) wants itself to be Jai’s teachable moment but it is the most long drawn out moment one can think of. Make no mistake, his character is well etched out – there is a scene where Diya’s father gives him a grain of rice that is supposed to be rice art (it even neatly ties up with Diya having grown up to be an artist). He loses it among several grains and then collects all of it, carefully going through each with a magnifying glass to find the one. He is meticulous. He plans his future. Every single step. So much so that what he needs to be taught is to live in the moment. But his redemptive arc is a snooze-fest compared to how meticulously his character is written. Malhotra’s one note deer-in-headlights look doesn’t help either. Kaif’s accent and dialogue delivery are to be excused because Diya was not born in India. But how can you even get past it? Kaif looks like a million bucks and I keep waiting for that film where she crosses over to the Aishwarya Rai – another actress who made a career out of looking like a million bucks in her films – territory. A balance in her choice of roles where she need not be the greatest performer but at least comes across as sincere. Kaif has been around for more than a decade but she’s still not there, much like Jai who at one point is 60 and yet hasn’t learned his lesson.
The word amalgam to describe this film made me wonder. It is produced by Farhan Akhtar (with frequent collaborator Ritesh Sidhwani) and Karan Johar. Two filmmakers who deal with stories of similar class of people but with very different sensibilities. It’s suddenly not so shocking to encounter that disorientation in Baar Baar Dekho. There is a mix of that melodrama and vanilla philosophy from Johar, and there is also that low key-ness of Akhtar. Diya and Jai’s wedding has a snowfall theme and when Jai wakes up in Cambridge, there is real snowfall. Diya’s water breaks and when Jai runs out after the birth, confused, it is all sunny and blue sky. This is supposed to be his state of mind or is it a continuity error? Do we pin this according to the maker of the film? I don’t know. Mehra’s future (2023! 2034!) too looks like a never ending Apple keynote. There is so much innovation in what people are holding, what they are watching and what they are driving but curiously, the umbrella they use during rainfall has undergone no design change. The more things change, the more they remain the same? Or something. Jai Varma, like the audience, must be put on a strict diet of Red Bull.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)