A director makes his fourth film in 21 years and his first in the last eight years. So how does he maintain the connect with a GenY and the pan-Indian audience, whom he has always managed to connect to in his earlier ventures? Wisely, Aditya Chopra (also the principal writer) chooses not to outclass his earlier ventures in budget, mounting and cast and keep to the basics in a smaller film. His smash debut “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (1995) does not happen every day—and most definitely, cannot be made to happen. All Chopra can attempt is an equally sincere film—and something possibly better than his subsequent directorials, “Mohabbatein” (2000) and “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” (2008).
The shrewd veteran knows that there has been a paradigm shift in the audience and yet that while everything has changed, the basics of entertainment have not. He keeps traditional values intact in a modern, global way (by setting the film in Paris with a young man having a single parent back home in Punjab), the emotional undercurrent strong and a continuous and dominant light tenor that simply does not fall into lachrymose hyperventilation. It looks, therefore, as if the very carefree (“befikre”) first half is designed just for the youth connect, paving the ground for the normal YRF pan-Indian sensibility that also wins over NRIs. Smart!
Self-consciously, the film even mocks at Chopra’s past work by stating in a sequence that the famous “DDLJ” situation of “Palat,” where the girl or boy will turn back after a platonic “Bye” if they do have mutually romantic feelings, is something that went out in the ‘90s!
The social setting is on par with the times—we have a French citizen Shyra (Vaani Kapoor), born to Indian parents settled there as restaurateurs. Shyra has completely French and contemporary values but yearns for an aloo parantha when in an emotional crisis. We have a Punjab da puttar Dharam (Ranveer Singh) who comes to Paris to make his life (as a standup comedian in a friend’s pub called “Delhi Belly Bar”) who never thinks of calling his widowed mother from back home for his wedding.
Finally, Chopra uses the back-and-forth narration for unfolding a love story that is made up of two friends who never realize that they cannot spend their lives without each other. The film begins with their angry break-up, and the lass throwing his television out of the apartment window into the street below.
But though, in that sense, the hero and heroine are confused about their true feelings for each other, they are not the losers whom we have seen glorified in endless such ‘wannabe-with-it’ outings like “Tamasha,” “Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu,” “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil,” “Dear Zindagi” and the likes—in a long line. Neither do they pass on their angst / confusion / misery to harmless families and friends who are close to them, nor do they wallow in their grief. In short, they are individuals who, at heart, remain “normally abnormal” youngsters who have a ball of a time, till it’s time to settle down with the objet d’amor, when life turns upside down and becomes an unsolvable puzzle.
So there is that thin line demarcating the irritating and weak human beings of all that kind of films and the delightfully wonky and headstrong characters we meet him. Eleven years ago, producer Chopra tried to go very mod even for that era with “Salaam Namaste,” but while that film failed to make a real mark in India and did well only in a couple of metros and overseas, over here, he goes a step ahead now. In one respect only, “Befikre” loses out to that rather more serious film—the screwball climax lacks the magic of the earlier film’s howlarious end.
Yes, there are many scenes and lines that may not find favor in the ultra-traditional Indian interior centers, but then, that is precisely why Chopra has packaged the film essentially as something for the young and carefree, taking a confident step into a bold zone, and having a modest budget to match the fact that the story will appeal to them, but will have to try and find resonance elsewhere.
In the classic “wrong man-wrong woman” leifmotif of the rom-com, there will naturally be a bit of a drag, but over here, it is an entertaining drag of not more than 10 minutes in a 129-minute film.
The director injects his film with a youthful cast and crew having a peppy vibe. We would love to know the names of the brilliant actors who play Shyra’s parents—for years now, YRF has been bringing amazing young and old actors in key roles or cameos about who we never come to know by name! They should devise an end-credit means by which this lacuna is rectified. Armaan Ralhan is good in his role and correctly neurotic in the climax as the banker who almost weds Shyra.
The camerawork by Kaname Onoyama is scintillating, and Mikey McCleary gives a deft retro yet youthful touch to the background score. Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics are fabulous—with the right blend of youth and substance and the music by Vishal-Shekhar keeps the film together by harnessing its very spirit and getting influenced by its essential core simplicity, enhancing Sahni’s superlative lyrics.
“Befikre,” in its leads, is a triumph of perfect casting. Ranveer Singh is astounding, even while largely being himself as Dharam, and without him, the story and the film would not have even taken off. Extreme shades of emotions are carried off by him in a supremely natural and effortless way, showing how evolved the man has become in a mere six years.
Vaani Kapoor is a revelation—she actually matches and at the same time, complements Singh. Their chemistry almost reaches the levels of SRK and Kajol in “DDLJ.”
Speaking of that epic, in a sequence in that, Chopra had Anupam Kher stressing how Indians were Indians even if they lived abroad and adopted to that culture and clothes, and here, he goes many steps forward. Because, while as an entertainer, the film is a complete winner, if the country’s more traditional and orthodox audience accepts it, it will be a step forward for mainstream Hindi cinema. In a nutshell, the movie impresses in the 2016 context that Indians may leave India, but India will never leave Indians, in the most positive sense of the term.
And three dozen cheers to that!
Yash Raj Films Presents “Befikre”
Produced and directed by: Aditya Chopra
Written by: Aditya Chopra & Sharat Katariya
Starring: Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor, Armaan Ralhan, Eliza Bachir Bey, Julie Orden & others.