Sunday, February 5, 2017

Befikre: Review

Befikre begins with "Labon Ka Karobaar" – literally, the business of lips – a musical number that would appear to double the number of kisses that have ever taken place in Hindi cinema. It’s a Benetton advertisement’s-worth of making out: kisses cutting across race, age, sex. And there’s more kissing to come in the film – chaste pecks, fairly carnivorous attacks, sloppy ones that make you want to avert your eyes – most of it accompanied by swoony camera movements. A kiss, no matter how much Aditya Chopra would want you to believe, isn’t just a kiss, it’s an event.

Having introduced one major theme (in France, people kiss a lot), the film immediately sets about establishing another (relationships are messy). Dharam (Ranveer Singh) and Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) are having a knock-down-drag-out fight that ends not with her throwing a TV out of the window, surprisingly, but with him calling her a “French slut”. She leaves, and the film jumps back a year to show us how they got together in the first place. You know how it goes: two Indians meet in a European city, hook up/make out, decide later that they’ll just be friends. Cocktail had the carnal version, Tamasha the chaste one. More worryingly for Befikre, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil explored similar territory little over a month ago.

While the copious smooching (and a split-second shot of a bare behind) will probably be cited as evidence of Befikre’s progressive outlook, there’s more substance in Dharam unexpectedly apologizing for his slut remark. It was my inadequacy that made me judge you, he tells Shyra. You expect such a sentiment from Ranbir Kapoor, a star with an unusual propensity for exploring weakness, not so much from the cocksure Singh.

For the first hour, Befikre goes back and forth in time, tracking the pair’s progress from hook-up to live-in couple, and returning periodically to their uneasy present. Watching Singh and Kapoor try and out-brazen each other is amusing at first (there’s a whimsical scene, built around a cornflake, which takes place in a department store) but eventually, I began to wonder when the stakes would be raised, if there were to be stakes at all. Complications do surface, but Dharam and Shyra, with their dares and their rebellion and their annoying energy, are more t-shirt slogans than characters in whom one can emotionally invest. For a film about relationships, there’s little insight offered into why we behave the way we do in love and lust, just a reiteration of that old chestnut: former lovers can’t be friends.

Befikre is set entirely in France, and doesn’t seem to have any qualms about resembling a glossy travel ad, building scenes around the Eiffel Tower and the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont Bridge. At one point, it’s announced that the characters are headed to the “exclusive region of Picardy”. This love of all things French is matched by the film’s disdain for all things Delhi. Whenever Dharam says something unfortunate, Shyra retorts with “Kar di na Dilli waali baat (There’s that Delhi thinking again)”. I’m surprised that a film with such a monumentally shoddy (and casually cruel) final set-piece can afford to point fingers at anyone else’s thought process.

When the Befikre trailer released, a friend told me she was worried Kapoor would be playing a version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She isn’t, and there’s a directness to her gaze and her speaking voice that suits the forthright Shyra. If there’s a manic pixie in the film, it’s Singh, who preens and struts around like he’s on uppers. They’re well-matched, these two actors, and it’s unfortunate that the material they’ve been handed is so slight. A parting plea: could Bollywood directors reign in the self-referencing? There are three explicit nods to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which only serves to remind those who aren’t charmed by self-homage that Chopra’s reputation as a director rests almost exclusively on a film made 21 years ago.

This review appeared in Mint.

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