Befikre is in many ways your quintessential, escapist, larger than life Bollywood love story – set in an exotic foreign location, brimming with song and dance and a bunch of good looking people. And yet, it’s also light-hearted, and surprisingly restraint and refreshingly natural and just a lot of fun. The thing about mainstream Hindi cinema is, we don’t actually make rom-com’s in the traditional sense, but rather just love stories which happen to have a high dosage of both comedy and drama. Enter Aditya Chopra’s Befikre, which gives us just that: the bona fide Bollywood rom-com, carried entirely by the charisma of its lead pair, and one which will likely set the standard for the genre going forward.
Chopra returns to the director’s chair after an eight-year hiatus, breathing new life into an age-old genre and format, by injecting an unabashed joy, unbridled energy and lighter tone, whilst still maintaining the same base elements of the typical Indian love story. Chopra is clearly a director reinvigorated and reborn who proves he can make a film for today’s times, unlike a recent attempt by a certain Dharma CEO who failed abysmally, and I for one certainly look forward to his future projects.
Ranveer Singh is Dharam, a Dilli ka launda who moves to Paris to be a stand-up comic. Here he meets Parisian local Shyra, played by Vaani Kapoor. Neither is interested in getting into a serious relationship but rather just want to have a good time, and so begins their story. The film’s structure jumps between two timelines, one which introduces us to how they met and started seeing each other, and the other showing us a year later, where they’ve just broken up but continue to be in each other’s lives, and it all essentially unfolds from there.
What’s clear from the film’s outset is that the story and screenplay from Chopra, with dialogues from Chopra and Sharat Katariya, aren’t in the business of providing a modern commentary on love, but rather looking to show us a good time and provide plenty of laughs along the way. The result is a film that never takes itself too seriously, and one which also manages to maintain an easy, enjoyable flow throughout – an area where most films stumble, resulting in some mess of ‘first half was this and second half was that’.
What’s more, we as an audience are so used to films that are constantly building up to something, with scenes often feeling like a means to an end. Yet with Befikre, we are given an experience that really is about the journey, not the destination. There were points I found myself making no attempt to guess which direction the story would take or how it would get there, as I usually would, but instead, I was just in the moment, thoroughly enjoying the ride and relishing the amusing exchanges.
However, the film has its fair share of narrative issues, such as it gets slightly more laboured towards it close, leading up to a climax which perhaps could have been done better. Not to mention working a tad too hard at times to keep the comic energy high and pumping. Add to that, the typical issues of most Bollywood love stories – their entire lives seem to be about each other, with nothing else going on in their lives and all other aspects seemingly on hold. Moreover, Shyra’s character has a far more complete arc of the two, whereas Dharam is just to be taken at face value as this constant bundle of positive energy. His career as a stand-up comic too could have done with a smidge more attention.
One particular bone I do have to pick with the film is how it portrays France – as a liberal, lax, lustful land where just about anything goes with frequent suggestions that living an open-minded life on your own terms is all well and good in France – a morally shallow society. Yet, had they been in India, a nation of values, then none of that behaviour would fly. Whether intentional or not, this certainly wasn’t the right kind of message for any film to send.
In terms of performances, the role of Shyra is not at all an easy one to pull off, and one which not many actresses would have done justice to. Whilst Vaani Kapoor is clearly a very capable actress with a commanding screen presence, it’s very sad to see her performance so utterly let down by the more superficial aspects. Her odd facial composition coupled with her at times clunky dialogue delivery take away far too much from a sincere performance and mean she does take some getting used to.
Dharam, on the other hand, is Ranveer Singh unhinged and is no doubt his most carefree role yet. He’s a kooky, almost cartoon-ish character, and that’s meant in the best possible sense. Singh is a dynamite of charisma and is as always infinitely watchable, but there are points where he gets a bit too excessive. Nevertheless, with Befikre Singh continues his consistent streak of being a part of competent, enjoyable mainstream cinema.
In its music, Vishal-Shekhar offer up a fine, fitting soundtrack which works well in matching the film’s upbeat tone. There’s also something distinctly attractive about the choreography and picturisation of the many dance numbers of the film. This isn’t something I’d typically mention in a review, but this was an impressive element, especially the delightful dance-off at the end.
Befikre is by no means an easy film to carry off and land, given it relies a great deal on naturalness and restraint, things that don’t come easily to most Bollywood filmmakers. That said, you have to tip your hat to Chopra for his gutsy vision which has certainly pushed the boundaries of rom-com’s, and adult-leaning films. Though it was admittedly confusing to see how much the censor board was lenient with. I for one don’t assume to understand how that board functions in all its inconsistencies and double standard but I’m grateful they passed this through as they did with so many surprises.
In the end, the strength of Befikre lies in its simplicity, in how it doesn’t try to be any more than it needs to. The film makes for a fun-filled romp of a ride, through which Aditya Chopra clearly has a winner on his hands, I’m going with 4 stars