(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)
Aditya Chopra’s Befikre begins with an eye-view of birds. Love birds to be more precise, nested in every part of Paris one could imagine, kissing with gay abandon. There are people young and old, on wheelchairs, little people, police officers and kids. No gay kissing though. That is later played in the film for laughs. I wonder why considering Chopra has stuck to his title almost religiously. It is by now a cliche to situate a romantic film in Paris. And Chopra knows that. He comments on it himself. The Eiffel Tower, a tired symbol of love ogling at every lover from its heightened sense of self-importance, makes its entry only about three quarters into the film. That in itself is a commendable achievement.
Chopra is trying his hand at a long list of new things with Befikre. He’s made his share of serious romance but this is the first time he’s handling romantic comedy. There is a lightness of touch that is heartening. This is his first shot, albeit a few years late, at modern romantic relationships as defined by Bollywood several times the past decade. This is the first time he’s attempted a sort of non-linear screenplay though it’s only for one half of the film. The storytelling in these parts, even if engaging, is awkward. He puts text on screen for the helpless among us – this is now and this was a year ago. He keeps cutting back and forth and the repeated texts can really test ones patience. Befikre is also the first time he’s turned to homages, a device dear to his good friend Karan Johar. There are homages to the self – can you guess it – with references to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, in the form of music and also in a throwaway shot of Dharam (Ranveer Singh) running with a ball and players on a field chasing him – the way Raj Malhotra was introduced in that film. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, the film that caught everyone’s fancy a year before DDLJ, is referenced multiple times. This is probably just me but I also caught a feeble homage to Dil Chahta Hai, the first film of its time to use the gaze of the modern complicated relationship to look at Indian romcoms.
While Dil Chahta Hai was mature in its gaze and its content, Befikre is not as consistent. It still wants to retain its Indian-ness or whatever you want to call it that the Chopras always circle back to in their films. There is a terribly written conversation between Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) and her mother towards the end of the film about Shrya’s French upbringing, aloo paratha and dupattas. A relationship that begins with a fling leads to the realization that everything was just to satisfy the baser instinct. It then takes a turn for the worse, becoming an idiot plot where the concerned parties only have to express their love. The dressing for all this is a French setting, lots of kissing and sex, a few games of truth or dare where dare is the only option and Armaan Ralhan becoming the new Rahul Khanna. He plays the perfect cliche (investment banker), who is chivalrous (although he refers to his woman as an investment, which is okay because that only makes him real) and too good to be true. If this was such a risky film (as mentioned by Chopra in the PR gimmick announcing the film a year ago) then why not go all the way? Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu did all of this way better and also had the riskiest ending for a romcom.
To Chopra’s credit, the film follows its title and never takes itself too seriously. Also Aditya Chopra’s films have never had Befikre’s funny and witty lines, which I suspect here is Sharat Katariya’s sleight of hand. They have the best man delivering them in Ranveer Singh, who has done a role of this sort one too many times. But it is his infectious energy coupled with Vaani Kapoor’s abandon that makes the film immensely watchable. They both have an undeniable chemistry that makes for this heady concoction- at least during its consumption- that is Befikre. It’s not just the skin show but there is also a modicum of grace in the way she has let go here and her ability to contort her body into any form she wishes. Not since Hrithik Roshan have we had such a dancer. Unfortunately, it is Aditya Chopra’s stories that cannot shape shift to fit into post-Dil Chahta Hai, post-Imtiaz Ali, post-Shakun Batra grammar of Bollywood.