(An edited version was published in The New Indian Express)
The review of Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s first feature film, Nil Battey Sannata, began in these pages with an appreciation for the film passing the Bechdel Test. Not always a quality indicator, it was still rare and important that a film from Bollywood passed it. Tiwari’s sophomore effort, Bareilly Ki Barfi (written by Nitesh Tiwari and Shreyas Jain), doesn’t bother with it all that much. It’s a romantic comedy. A Bollywood tried and tested love triangle with two men falling for the same girl. The one line plot would probably put you to sleep in 2017. It is Tiwari taking a breather. The film even has a Raj and Simran reference. While the romance never reaches a higher altitude, Tiwari lets fly the comedy part. Thanks to the sporadically clever writing and having actors who know how to do comedy. Anees Bazmee would do well to take a lesson or two.
While Nil Battey Sannata dealt with a character living in the fringes but in constant struggle to breakout, Bareilly Ki Barfi, like Lipstick Under My Burkha few weeks ago, is set in the fringes between a small city and a metropolitan. It begins with a voice-over that says the town is small, the houses are normal except for the Mishra household that is abnormal. Abnormal not because the daughter of the house – Bitti Mishra (Kriti Sanon) – smokes cigarettes but probably because when her dad (Pankaj Tripathi who at the moment can do no wrong) runs out of them, he goes looking for Bitti. Except for the smoking, Bitti isn’t smothered by the “liberated woman” cliches because she isn’t one. She is independent both financially and socially but she is still the girl from Bareilly who is a willing participant in the arranged marriage process. Working in the electricity board office, she is hardened enough to listen to complaints all day but not from men who come with a checklist and know nothing about her. Her feelings towards the kind of men she meets is encapsulated in one line – khud ko pata nahin kya samajhte hain, samne wale ko kuch bhi nahin.
That’s a line she says to Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana) with whom she develops a friendship and the irony is biting when you consider what Chirag goes on to do with Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao). Khurrana plays the writer of a pulp novel for the second time this year in a romantic comedy but the problem is that Chirag never announced it to the world. That mantle was thrust on Pritam, the resident Bareilly simpleton. It’s not for nothing that Chirag, who can be the evil incarnate if he wants to, is named for a source of light and the innocent, loyal to a fault Pritam’s surname translates to rebel. Beyond this, the plot concerns of Bareilly Ki Barfi are minimal. The Bechdel Test might have made sense for Nil Battey Sannata but in this romcom, Tiwary is forced to depend on the Rao-Khurrana playoff. The film is fun when Rao has to keep switching between his real inner gullible self and the inner Chirag that he is impersonating. If Rao isn’t there to keep the proceedings alive, there is the ever dependable Tripathi who can make even a mention of the sweater he is wearing interesting. It’s hard to tell if he has paan in his mouth or the sweets his shop sells and that’s half the joke sold right there.
Tiwari keeps the tone light, almost too light. It’s like staying for the cool breeze and now it’s too cold to stay. She keeps challenging us on whom to root for. Chirag and Bitti’s friendship in the first half is sweet enough to root for. Later, Rao single-handedly makes you root for him with his performance. The film begins with colorful title cards accompanying almost no music. A muted beginning gets a similarly muted end. It’s still fun and a smile never escapes your face. But maybe for the first time in a romantic comedy, one wonders if some flab would have made it better.