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Befikre Review: A Victim Of Its Own Legacy

The film feels like it's made by a director wanting to prove he still belongs, which is why nothing looks very comfortable. In his quest to appeal to the new generation of moviegoers, Aditya Chopra ruins a perfectly watchable film

Rahul DesaiRahul Desai

December 9, 2016 | 10:12 AM

FC Rating

★★★★★
film-companion
Befikre Review: A Victim Of Its Own Legacy

Director: Aditya Chopra

Cast: Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor

Aditya Chopra has always been an interesting director. You’d think he deliberately takes nothing less than five years between each film – Befikre is his fourth in 21 years – so that he can communicate his grand visions to every new generation of moviegoers. It’s almost like he contrives to mark seismic shifts in pop culture with a film; each designed as more of a reminder than a representation of (unerringly Indian) romantic love.

But every one of them (DDLJ, Mohabbatein, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) actually uses love as a device to address the dichotomies of evolution. It single-mindedly pivots around a tussle between tradition and modernism, between old-fashioned values and new-age longing (lazily characterized by lust these days).

Both sides end up learning a little, even though this storyteller generally favours progression; brash Raj takes away Simran, but not before embracing the essence of Punjab da mitti; love-guru Raj Aryan convinces bitter Narayan Shankar of his follies, but not before respecting his fierce heritage.

With Rab ne Bana Di Jodi (2007), though, Chopra’s melancholy sets in; he changes sides and begins to search for a fast-fading orthodoxy in an increasingly advanced age. Here, simpleton Surinder Sahni wins the battle of identities and the heart of his younger wife, but not before discovering the value of Raj-style expression. Tradition (moustache) trumps vogue (clean-shaven).

Aditya Chopra continues being wistful about desi-ghee-drenched ‘parathe-waala pyaar’ with Befikre, now using his setting (Paris; the figurative melting pot of romance) instead as his favourite old-versus-new chasm surrogate.

He continues being wistful about desi-ghee-drenched ‘parathe-waala pyaar’ with Befikre, now using his setting (Paris; the figurative melting pot of romance) instead as his favourite old-versus-new chasm surrogate. Both the protagonists (Ranveer Singh as Dharam, Vaani Kapoor as Shyra) are painfully 2016, as we’re repeatedly reminded by their fetish for “bold” dares. Despite being born to Indian parents, Shyra calls herself French (read: modern), and so you know immediately that when Dharam’s loud-mouthed Delhi crudeness (read: tradition) doesn’t work out for her, it’s only a matter of time before old becomes gold again.

Chopra even retains a few devices from Rab Ne – an eating competition triggering their initial fondness, and a dramatic dance performance used as a crucial epiphany-realizing sequence. 

Everything else – the kisses, live-in relationship, liberal Punjabi parents, Paris-porn, beautiful bodies and bronzed skin – becomes a frothy front to guide us into the motherly arms of homely love-is-friendship terminology. Chopra even retains a few devices from Rab Ne – an eating competition triggering their initial fondness, and a dramatic dance performance used as a crucial epiphany-realizing sequence.

This film presents itself like more of a glossy musical; we repeatedly see the two dancing to the film’s catchy playback songs on empty Parisian streets, reminiscent of ‘90s foreign-location song shootings with bemused onlookers staring at our tackily-dressed stars.

The first half is actually fun to watch; the banter is energetic and everyone is frightfully luxurious (given their humble professions – he is a standup comic, she is a tour guide).

The background score too slowly changes from ecletic-fusion-french to unabashedly Indian, subject to the characters’ inevitable transformations. The first half is actually fun to watch; the banter is energetic and everyone is frightfully luxurious (given their humble professions – he is a standup comic, she is a tour guide).

That is, until Mr. Chopra begins to feel a little left out. When an immature Dharam, at one point, declares that he decided to propose (against his inherent nature) because everyone else is getting married too, I couldn’t help but imagine the director doing the same thing with the tone of his film: everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? It seems like he hastily throws his hat in the ring of conflicted-Ranbir-Kapoor-manchild-romances to prove that YRF love isn’t just surface-level anymore.

It’s obvious that Chopra’s trying to show us that he now understands the new-age physicality of love.

That’s probably Befikre’s biggest problem. It feels made by a director wanting to prove he still belongs, which is why nothing (except Singh’s throwaway lines, half of which sound improvised) looks very comfortable. This isn’t his kind of voice, and it often shows. For instance, you could sense his proud touch in the opening credits of Dil To Pagal Hai: a charming montage of crewmembers with their real-life partners, scored to the lovely Ek Duje Ke Vaaste.

But here, his “modern” tribute to that sequence – a montage of Parisian kissing couples (scored to the hummable Labon Ka Karobaar) – looks pretty awkward, almost at odds with his sensibilities. It’s obvious that Chopra’s trying to show us that he now understands the new-age physicality of love.

In this quest to appeal to a generation already a bit wary of this emasculating trend, Chopra ruins a perfectly watchable film.

And I think I know why. Aditya Chopra, much like his late father, deals in nothing less than the immortal-romance brands, the kind that just exists without question in his universes. Lately, however, as has been evident by the impassioned legacy of Imtiaz Ali (and now Karan Johar with his angst-ridden Ae Dil Hai Mushkil), love’s contemporary existentialism – the hows and whys of feelings – is the flavour of the season. Befikre is where Chopra misguidedly joins the bandwagon.

In this quest to appeal to a generation already a bit wary of this emasculating trend, Chopra ruins a perfectly watchable film. His actors become chatty and self-aware, literally explaining their change in temperaments to each other, so that we understand the whims of their unexplainable equation.

And again, we see a darned break-up anniversary celebration – Hindi cinema’s annoying clarion call to millennial coolness. Brought into existence by Love Aaj Kal and overstated further in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (peppy song, though), this silly ploy makes me wonder if there are other less-literal ways of visibly subverting the pain of separation. There has to be. There are surely other ways to behave progressive; this is just so showy.

Similarly, there has to be another way to demonstrate the disarming ‘genuineness’ of otherwise-lofty characters; masala-Bollywood-karaoke in foreign pubs (and ‘filmy’ references of any sort) is getting old.

Most of Befikre looks derivative, especially when Vaani Kapoor is required to act (conflicted) towards the end. It’s here that Chopra loses all pretenses and dusts his hands off the alleged “depth”, fashioning a ridiculously airheaded Priyadarshan-style climax that makes absolutely no sense in context of the intensity leading to it.

I get it. Life can be funny. But seriously, nobody worth their romantic salt celebrates break-ups, and nobody cares for bratty indecisive couples that don’t care about the consequences of their flaky actions. If I did care, even fleetingly, it was perhaps because the film managed to keep up with Singh’s exhaustive stamina for a bit.  

I hope Aditya Chopra stops wondering about what his audiences would like. As a prolific producer for so long, these ways have begun to seep into his own filmmaking – of which he doesn’t get much practice in any case. Perhaps if he starts using his stories as a medium of personal expression (and not just repackaged vision), we might see more than just flashes of greatness.

Befikre could have been definitive. But it is by no means a thematic risk, like some of his previous post-DDLJ efforts. I do believe he has a distinct way of exploring the concept of love – one that isn’t limited to throwbacks and nostalgia. Perhaps he could begin by embracing the philosophy of his own title, and throw caution to the wind.