December 09, 2016
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor, Armaan Ralhan
Director: Aditya Chopra
Leaving the cinema at the end of Befikre, having spent two hours and ten minutes in the company of its shallow protagonists, I felt exhausted. Just flat out drained watching how much of an effort the film makes to appear effortless. How hard it tries to give the impression that it’s not trying at all.
Bollywood doesn’t do romantic comedies very well. What starts out light and frothy inevitably ends up in mawkish melodrama. Mercifully, writer-director Aditya Chopra avoids these traps, keeping the film’s tone consistently breezy and seldom seguing into rona dhona. Delhi boy Dharam (Ranveer Singh) and Paris-born Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) haven’t even known each a few hours before they’re swapping saliva and slipping between the sheets. But not for one moment does their shared chemistry burn up the screen. For all the kiss-kiss-wham-bam, the sparks are missing.
It’s been 12 years since the iconic sitcom Friends winded up, and god knows many of us are addicted to its reruns. But Chopra appears to suffer from an unhealthy obsession with the show, lifting scenarios and modeling his leads after those characters. In his very opening scene, he borrows from that famous break up between Ross and Rachel where he demands his shirt back from her.
But Dharam’s standup comic character is actually inspired by Joey from the sitcom – the stag who hits on every woman, and doesn’t believe in commitment. On the surface, tour guide Shyra seems tailor-made for him – she isn’t looking for a relationship, is always up for a dare, and the two decide early on that they’ll never say “I love you” to each other.
The pair lives it up in Paris, singing, dancing, wolfing down waffles and beer until they do fall in love. The problem is that the script doesn’t quite know what to do with them. They flit from one scenario to the next – French kissing endlessly, going through a breakup, becoming friends a year after the split, going on double dates, getting engaged to other people in a very Love Aaj Kal kind of way. But none of this ever seems to touch us. Dharam and Shyra just come across as fake.
What’s even more tiring is that the two strip down at the drop of a hat – to their underwear, to g-string bikins, to wrapped-up bedsheets, and in Ranveer’s case, even going bare bottom in one scene. They also must be the world’s most nimble-footed standup comic and tour guide – they hip-hop, tango, salsa and waltz like they’re competing in the finals of So You Think You Can Dance.
The typical Yashraj tropes are all here – eye-watering foreign locations, a conversation that links parathas to following your heart, Punjabi parents who watch benevolently, a Bollywood karaoke session, and yes, self-referencing the studio’s films endlessly. Just one moment in all this seems clever – when Shyra turns the palat scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on its head.
The rest of Befikre is sheer silliness, especially an Anees Bazmee-style climax scramble in a church. Vishal-Shekhar’s infectious tunes and the glossy cinematography are easy on the ear and the eye, but the film ultimately wears you out.
Ranveer Singh does everything he can to elevate the material with his unputdownable energy, at times running the risk of overdoing it. Vaani Kapoor (who might want to have a word with the cameraman for shooting her most unflatteringly) goes for spunky but it’s hit and miss.
What the film lacks is genuine feeling. Yes, even the frothiest of rom-coms need something real to keep you invested in its characters. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Befikre. Aditya Chopra may have made one of Hindi cinema’s most enduring love stories, but this is a soufflé that sinks like a stone.
(This review first aired on CNN News18)