By Rohit Vats, Hindustan Times
Aditya Chopra made hearts bleed and lovers cry with his debut film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge 21 years ago. In between DDLJ and Befikre, he directed only two films: Mohabbatein (2000) and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008).
It’s interesting given his status as a top-billed filmmaker. Though his production house Yash Raj Films has been releasing similar films year after year, the director in him remained in pursuit of stories that could strike a balance between uninhibited millennials and the generations that savoured Yash Chopra brand of romance.
In Mohabbatein and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Chopra was in search of a perfect world where youthful romance and traditions could go hand in hand. He made two different worlds meet on a neutral ground where both could have equal chances. If Raj Aryan and Narayan Shankar battled it out in a secluded school in Mohabbatein, Surinder Sahni and Taani Gupta had a face-off at a dance competition in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
So, it doesn’t surprise when Chopra chooses Paris as his prime location in Befikre. It’s convenient. A Delhi flirt and a French-born Indian had to be given a neutral venue to show off their wild sides.
Even though we have grown up on a staple diet of Switzerland, New York, London and Paris in our films, the opening collage of people kissing on the banks of Seine soothes our hearts. It feels Chopra is going to make us privy to a story about unbound love and carefree youth.
In the background, soulful ‘Labon ka karobaar’ features all sorts of couples - from gays to school kids to traffic cops - tenderly kissing each other. It’s a city where they know how to share a passion. It’s a big party celebrating unchained emotions that are above class and creed.
But Paris is not devoid of non-conformists. Dharam Gulati (Ranveer Singh) and Shyra Gill (Vaani Kapoor) are two of them. Same yet different they both long for family values and Chopra makes sure they say it on-screen in as many words.
They casually sleep together, fall in love with multiple partners, get out of it with similar ease and still affirm their faith in the institution of marriage. This way, there is a possibility of keeping every set of audience happy. It’s mainstream filmmaking after all.
Dharam hails from Karol Bagh and is a familiar Delhi boy. The kind who works out tirelessly to fit into a skintight t-shirt, or who waxes his chest but forgets about armpits. The charming guy is a bit sexist too, but that doesn’t count for much in Bollywood. Slut and ‘chudail’ are part of his casual conversation and he knows he has a way with women.
Our heroine is in between odd jobs and wants to live a life that can be an extension of the songs she dances on with Singh.
But, they have Punjabi roots and that calls for a throwback to Chopra’s very own DDLJ. If you still don’t get it then somebody will mention ghee-drenched ‘aloo ke paranthe’ and ‘maa ke dupatte ki mehak’. In short, Befikre begins on a promising note and slowly turns into a film that’s been made and released several times before.
Dharam is a stand-up comedian without a single notice-worthy joke. One of his friends has called him to Paris because his restaurant wants to attract Indians living there. Not a smart investment. And then he decides to seek inspiration from his break-up. It’s better to force a song than stale humour.
In between the scenes of making-out on a busy road and stripping inside a library, Chopra also presents his classic yet clichéd theory. The apologetic tone presses for the audience’s affirmation in established Bollywood trends.
We always know where this is heading. The fast pace and exotic locales of this 140-odd minute film help us in zooming past the repetitive scenes. Singh also knows the weight on his shoulders and his energy is contagious. It’s difficult to imagine anybody else as Dharam. But he is capable of more.
Where is the intensity that was intentional? Maybe, this generation doesn’t feel betrayed or cheated. But you know what, the pain of not being together is what makes love a dreaded emotion.
They are not asking for any relationship advice. They are only letting us know their decisions. And that’s fine. They are intelligent and smart enough to take control of their lives. But, are they also not confused? The audience would have liked to lend an ear to their casual dating problems. But we are kept at a distance by the writer who never gets deep into the lives of Dharam and Shyra to figure out what made them the people they are.
They are ready to fly, but something is holding them back. What is that? Glamour tinted glasses will never let us know.
Befikre values entertainment as much as you want those Rs 100 notes these days. Be sure of getting entertained by Ranveer Singh’s charisma and Vaani Kapoor’s French. But, don’t wish for more.