One of the fables in Panchtantra involves a jackal who turns blue after tumbling into a tub of indigo and pretends to be someone else — someone superior than his original form. But his natural instincts soon betray him and he starts howling like a true blue jackal at the first opportunity he gets.
Filmmaker Aditya Chopra reminds of that jackal as I watch his latest offering, Befikre. Although in the note explaining his inclination to make the film, Chopra expresses a desire to get out of his comfort zone and speak the language of modern-day relationships, Befikre’s DNA screams YRF (Yash Raj Films).
And not just because Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor’s floor-her-with-your-moves approach is straight out of Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif’s Ishq Shaava sizzle in Jab Tak Hai Jaan or Ranveer’s attempt to impress her by taking on a chicken wings challenge like SRK’s golgappa contest in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi or a dance off right before the climax just like SRK-Anushka or the archaic let’s make each other jealous by getting married on the same day pact of Mujhse Dosti Karogi to even eating out of Chinese takeout in the hospital room like Karisma Kapoor and SRK in Dil To Pagal Hai.
The problem is not so much in Befikre’s recycled imagery as it is in Chopra’s hypocrisy of making it look as though he’s busting long cherished myths, one he only created, like the Palat philosophy, when the upshot is unfailingly, unchangingly the same –Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
No matter how casually his characters treat sex or bare every inch of their extraordinarily fit bodies, –there’s even a blink-and-miss shot of Ranveer’s naked bum — Chopra is too much of a romantic to pull off flippancy as the face of love.
For his Paris-based confection, the director borrows the ‘dare’ ruse in Yann Samuell’s lusciously cynical French romance, Jeux d’enfants to colour the camaraderie between his two leads. In the absence of extremism though, it’s jarring and juvenile.
Dharam (Ranveer Singh) is a stand-up comic hailing from Delhi whose humour is more Kapil Sharma than Kanan Gill. He sounds and behaves like Band Baaja Baaraat’s Bittoo minus the clever, crackling dialogues. Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) is a Paris-born desi tour guide with a strong aversion for all things Indian because her mom packed aloo parathas in her tiffin box.
Befikre begins with the sound of a thrashed TV set and two bickering people no longer in love. She wants to leave. He wants his T-Shirt back. She promptly takes it off. She does that a lot, I learned over the course of its 132 minutes.
Before the duo reach the stage of celebrating their break up, a trend that seems to be favoured by Hindi films following Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Dear Zindagi, a flashback to the year before lets us in on the mandatory meet cute.
Back when Dharam sported slightly longer hair and Shyra had hers tinted bright orange, the couple bumps into each other at a party and bond over his ‘wicked sense of humour.’ Which is –Indian men smell of methi (fenugreek)?
Comedy is all about wit and timing. But the rhythm of these attributes in Befikre, like Vishal-Shekhar’s banal soundtrack, lacks both Frenchness (it could be set anywhere in the world) and fizz.
Meanwhile, Shyra dares Dharam to slap a cop to test if he’s worth her time. Unlike Jeux d’enfants where this perverse pleasure stemmed from a strange childhood obsession that gets dangerous with every passing challenge, the only purpose it serves in Befikre is to set off Dharam and Shyra’s already active libido.
Their affection shows urgency but not passion unless new age love is wolfing down a person like profiteroles. Chemistry is not the only problem in Befikre; it’s the cosmetic nature of Dharam and Shyra’s relationships. They never rise above people sharing a frame. They never become a pair.
Ranveer’s best efforts to infuse the scenes with a raunchy charm or mock them wilfully for effect befitting his Deadpool fanboyism are let down by a script that’s too bland to rejoice in it. Although Ranveer’s co-star matches his electrifying energy on the dance floor, Vaani is dreadfully stern in a performance wanting in warmth or whimsy.
If Befikre’s sole objective is to prove Aditya Chopra’s not a prude, he only embarrasses himself by going overboard with two sexually explicit characters who might even be more fond of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge than he is.