Sunday, October 16, 2016

Baar Baar Dekho: Review

If there’s one thing Hindi films have become increasingly adept at in the past few years, it’s the use of musical montage to collapse time and convey information. Baar Baar Dekho opens with two babies being born: a girl in England, a boy in India. Then, accompanied by the low-key singing voices of Jasleen Royal and Prateek Kuhad, we’re given a whistle-stop tour of Jai and Diya’s childhood and adolescence. We see them become friends, comfort each other, fall in love. By the time the song is over, they’re grown up and in a relationship.

It’s no coincidence that Baar Baar Dekho begins this way. The idea that life is made up of a few key moments—as opposed to a multitude of largely mundane ones—is at the heart of Nitya Mehra’s film. When Diya (Katrina Kaif) proposes marriage, Jai (Sidharth Malhotra) agrees but is soon overwhelmed by the build-up to the wedding. He tells Diya he needs to concentrate on his academic career, breaks off the engagement and drinks himself to sleep.

When he wakes up, he’s somehow been transported 10 days into the future, with no memory of the intervening time. He’s married, on his honeymoon in Thailand with Diya. The next morning, it’s a jump of two years. They’ve moved to England; he’s a mathematics professor at Cambridge, and the two of them are having a baby. Their marriage also seems to be cracking apart. The next jump takes him 16 years ahead. His son picks him up, takes him to court. Jai assumes the boy is getting married but eventually realizes that he and Diya are there to finalize their divorce.

Like Adam Sandler in Click—a film Baar Baar Dekho bears some resemblance to— Jai attempts to alter his destiny by changing his behaviour: making more time for his kids, being a more attentive husband. Whether or not you find the film resonant might depend on whether you buy the idea that a life’s course can be altered by a dramatic change in attitude on one important day, or whether it’s the accumulation of years of hurt or joy that ultimately decides our trajectories. Personally, I found the film’s admonitions of Jai rather simplistic—especially the repeated suggestion that being a gifted mathematician (he’s solved Fermat’s last theorem!) and a good family man are somehow incompatible.

In her first film as director, Mehra moves everything along briskly but is unable to add her own visual touch to the impossibly bright and beautiful Dharma house style (the other producer is Excel Entertainment). She collaborated with comic Anuvab Pal—who may have had a hand in some of the more outlandish gags, like the weird throat-clearing doctor or the grain of rice inscribed with the Hanuman Chalisa—and Sri Rao on the screenplay, which builds to an emotional crescendo that’s pat but satisfying. Anvita Dutt’s dialogue-writing is another matter, mostly fortune-cookie trite (“The answer to the future lies in the past”) and sometimes, just plain silly (“I’m not useless. I’m Jai Verma”).

It’s only taken 13 years but Kaif has finally delivered something resembling a credible performance. She’s still an impossibly studied actor, unable to relax or save a bad line (“Maine tumhare dreams ko hamesha support kiya hai”) the way Kangana Ranaut or Alia Bhatt might. Yet, her feeling for Diya—who keeps putting her dreams on hold until she no longer can—is so palpable that it’s touching. Malhotra—so striking that there are multiple scenes with students gazing moony-eyed at him—doesn’t quite have the comic chops to enliven Jai’s disorientation. With that soulful, lost expression as his default mode, he does just enough; Kaif goes a little deeper.

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