Befikre (2016)

befikre

Easily the best thing about Aditya Chopra’s Befikre is Paris, and thankfully the characters spend plenty of time wandering past significant landmarks and meandering through lane ways full of beautiful buildings giving the city ample opportunity to shine. It’s not that the rest of the film is that bad – it’s just not that good. At its best, Befikre is funny and both Ranveer and Vaani are full of life and energy, but the plot is nonsensical, the dares that are used to further the love story ridiculous and there are so many WTF moments that the farcical ending is no surprise. And to cap it all off, it’s such a shame that a film set in the ‘city of love’ contains so little actual romance.

The opening sequence shows numerous couples kissing over the credits but what starts as possibly sweet and romantic moves to voyeuristic and just a little bit creepy as it goes on for that little too long. Any thought of love is also quickly dashed when we first meet Dharam (Ranveer Singh) and Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) as they’re in the process of breaking up. Neither one appears as an attractive character during the ensuing slanging match, while Dharam in particular seems to be typical of the chauvinistic man-child so often portrayed in Hindi cinema. Despite all the drama, the break-up is actually quite funny, at least until Dharam does the unforgivable and calls Shyra a slut (more of that later) before she finally leaves.

The film quickly moves back a year to when Dharam and Shyra first meet and their ’love’ story starts.  Dharam is a stand-up comedian who has moved to Paris to appear at a club run by his friend Mehra (Aru Krishansh Verma). Sadly Dharam isn’t funny at all as a comedian but he is quite amusing when he’s hanging out with Shyra. Initially Shyra doesn’t want a bar of him and is quite happy with a one-night stand, but a silly game of dare results in the two heading out together on a date and the relationship develops from there.  Both Shyra and Dharam resolve never to say “I love you’ and to keep things light and carefree with no commitment, but despite this agreement, Shyra ends up moving in with Dharam. The relationship moves forward through a series of ever more ridiculous dares, all of which would have resulted in arrest and possible jail time if, for example, anyone really did hit a policeman or perform a striptease in a library. Of course Dharam and Shyra are never seen to have to deal with any repercussions from their actions, some of which are a little too risqué to be easy viewing and despite all their antics there is never any sense that the two are anything other than friends-with-benefits. It’s Paris for goodness sake – where’s the wining and dining, the romantic walks through parks and along the Seine? Sadly for Dharam and Shyra it’s all night clubs and bedrooms with little else between – no wonder their relationship eventually breaks down so spectacularly.

The film moves back to the present day where Dharam and Shyra meet up again by chance and renew their friendship. And this time they are strictly friends as Dharam is happily working his way through a number of French women and Shyra is content with her single life. But then she meets Anay (Armaan Ralhan) and everything changes. Shyra embarks on a mature and adult relationship which seems to be happily heading towards commitment, but even here there are cracks in the screenplay. Who leaves their possible fiancé at the top of the Eiffel tower and runs off to ask their friend for advice? Would anyone seriously still be waiting for an answer after that? And while the easy camaraderie and friendship between Dharam and Shyra suits them much better than any romance, how can two people who parted on such bad terms ever develop the easy relationship shown here? At least Dharma apologises for his slut comment, accepting that it was inexcusable and less about Shyra and her previous lovers and more about him and his immaturity. Finally a small step (OK, maybe less of a step and more of a toe-dip) in the right direction, and rightly applauded by the audience too.

What keeps the film going are the performances from Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor. No matter that there is zero sparkage between the two of them, they are both so energetic that it’s just possible to overlook the idiotic dares and juvenile behaviour and enjoy the craziness of two OTT people rampaging their way through Paris. This works better when they are friends rather than lovers, but for the most part their scenes together are funny and full of joie de vivre once they move past the bedroom antics. I love Ranveer Singh when he hams it up and exaggerates every possible expression and gesture as he does here. Similar to his roles in Kill Dil and Gunday, here he’s loud, brash and looks to be totally enjoying every minute as his enthusiasm colours every frame. He has great comic timing throughout and his one-liners had the entire cinema in stitches, while once again he sparkles through the songs.

Not to be outdone, Vaani Kapoor is equally buoyant during the flashback sequences while the evolution of her character allows her to be more reserved and restrained in the second half of the film. Vaani expresses a range of emotions well and her wavering and indecision about commitment is very well done in the latter half of the film. She also fits well into the European-Indian styling she is given and at least in the second half of the film does deliver some French-style sophistication during her romance with Anay.

Despite the ridiculous storyline I did enjoy most of Befikre – although nothing could make me enjoy the ending, not even Ranveer. It was a real pleasure to see Paris as the backdrop for the film even if more could have been made of its reputation as a city for lovers. While both Dharam and Shyra are irritating during the flashback sequences, for the most part their friendship is more accessible and I did find a lot of the humour very funny. Most of the audience were laughing too and the general atmosphere was pretty upbeat in the cinema. The songs from Vishal-Shekhar are great and suit the overall mood of the film and of course the whole film looks stylish, but Befikre really needed a much better story-line and more depth to the characters. The end result is a romantic comedy that basically has no romance despite the best efforts of Ranveer and Vaani. Worth watching for the beautiful views of Paris and the exuberant Ranveer Singh who really can make anything engaging!

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Jab Tak Hai Jaan

Jab Tak Haai Jaan is a slow, deliberate romance with lush visuals, improbable events and attractive people that persist in their beliefs long after a period of reflection and reconsideration is warranted. A typical Yash Raj film in many respects, with the notion that love is all you need, it sheds some of the YRF dated coyness when exploring a modern romantic relationship. Maybe it’s affection for the Yash Raj heyday or sadness for the recent passing of Yash Chopra, but despite some issues with the story, I found the style appealing and almost timeless.

Shah Rukh Khan is Samar Anand, an introverted bomb disposal expert who chases after death. Katrina Kaif is his first love, Meera, a rich girl caught between being dutiful and being happy. Anushka Sharma is Akira, the ambitious young journalist who stumbles across Samar and decides his story must be told. Samar’s early romance is revealed via a diary Akira finds. I really liked the way the plot was constructed initially but when the love stories intersect Aditya Chopra unleashes all the daft medical and action plot twists he could fit on what was left of the post-it note he wrote the screenplay on. But until that all started to unravel, I was caught up in wondering how it would be resolved and who would get the happily ever after ending.

In some respects Shah Rukh was more convincing as 28 year old livewire Samar than Katrina was as his 21 year old girlfriend. That is less evident in stills so I ascribe that more to his energy and performance than just makeup and styling. Samar was too good to be true as he navigated life in London and juggled multiple menial jobs, being everyone’s friend. But the floppy-haired puppy enthusiasm was punctuated with some sarcasm and smoulder that gave him more bite. Shah Rukh’s dancing in Ishq Shava exposed his weakness in current dance styles. I thought it could have been choreographed and shot better to support the illusion of his youth.

The 38 year old Samar in 2012 was a different man, and I could see why a bright young girl like Akira would be attracted to him. He was worlds away from her usual flighty boyfriends and had an intensity that matched her own drive. The stubble, rougher haircut and a more determined physicality made soldier Samar a more daunting and attractive presence. He portrayed the transition of a man in love from the first flush of hope to the cold anger of a passion denied. The romantic scenes between Meera and Samar are quite frank and acknowledge the physical relationship without being sleazy. There were many opportunities for Shah Rukh to overact and he took very few of them. Samar is a perfectly unreal hero but Shah Rukh puts the heart in his character.

Katrina was disappointing after some good performances in recent films, and lacked warmth and expression. I could understand Meera’s character but rarely felt much for her. Meera and Samar were very convincing as the newly in love who imagine they are too cute for words but are actually a bit sickening to everyone around them. They lived in a bubble of romantic fantasy. Katrina as the 10 years older Meera was more effective as her reserved demeanour and greater fabric to skin ratio gave her more substance. Her decision making was still flaky and for someone who is supposed to have such a strong religious affiliation her lying to Samar was questionable. I was raised a Catholic so the idea of giving up something to show God you meant business is quite familiar. While I don’t share the belief I could recognise it as something people I know do as a matter of course. Only not to such a filmi extreme.

Anushka was let down by some truly stupid behaviour by her character but leaving that aside, her acting was excellent. Her warmth and rapport with SRK was lovely. They had some nice scenes talking about love and what it meant to them, and a believable affection developed between Akira and Samar. She spends time following Samar about on his work – defusing bombs! as if! – and of course she falls for him. Akira was a modern city girl with a career on her mind and not a chiffon sari in sight. I did wish she would wear more appropriate clothes in some scenes as she seemed to live in micro-shorts regardless of climate or custom. Mind you, Anushka has the legs for it. As the ‘other woman’ corner of the triangle, Anushka gave Akira a real sense of possibility, of being a viable alternative to the past love in Samar’s life. She spoke up for what she wanted in life and love.

The final section of the film is loaded with so much improbable melodrama and outright WTFery that the love story is swamped. I don’t want to get too spoilery but can anyone imagine a scenario in which a suspected bomb is found in London and a brown skinned man muttering about Semtex and fuses is allowed to casually wander in and assist the police? The drama could have been heightened without all the silliness and sidetracks.

The supporting cast occupy so little of the story that if you don’t take to the Big 3, there is little respite. Rishi and Neetu play small but important roles, and Akira has a fun fanclub of soldiers in the Bomb Disposal Squad. Anupam Kher is mercifully restrained as Meera’s dad.

The scenery in Ladakh and Kashmir is superb and one of the reasons I would recommend a big screen viewing of this film. London is presented as a beautiful and slightly magical city, the perfect backdrop for a fairytale love. There are nods to YRF classics that enhance the vintage filmi mood and it’s all a bit dreamlike.

Musically this is a bit disappointing but I think that is more to do with the placement and the picturisations than the actual songs by AR Rahman. Saans is reprised several times (happy as I am to gaze at SRK in a wet t shirt, or less) and Heer was a non-event. There is little dancing, and what there is lacks good choreography (or suitable dancers). I just don’t think a ra-ra skirt or a silly hat compensates for not doing the steps justice.

I must be getting nostalgic in my old age. Despite all the faults I found much to sink into and enjoy in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. See it for a charismatic and committed performance from Shah Rukh, the bright and beautiful Anushka and the lavish visuals. Do stay for the tribute to Yash Chopra over the closing credits.

Heather says: I’m a Shahrukh fan, so of course I was going to enjoy Jab Tak Hai Jaan no matter how ridiculous the plot, but what surprised me was just how much I absolutely loved it! Sure, there were problems with the story, mainly due to the dodgy medicine and bomb defusing Temple mentioned, but Yash Chopra really did have a gift for displaying human emotions and portraying love as a grand and enduring passion without forgetting that love can also be small, petty and selfish. The classic Yash Chopra motifs are here; a love triangle of sorts, separation and sacrifice and that’s what makes it come together so well for me.  Of course it helps that Shahrukh was back on form with effortless transitions between the happy and jovial Samar during his relationship with Meera and the more silent, reflective and stoic soldier when he meets Akira. The little flashbacks to his previous character with the occasional joke work perfectly and his chemistry with Anushka was great.  Not so with Katrina who was stiff and wooden despite the promise of the earlier scenes.  I don’t think either her styling or the character helped, but she just wasn’t convincing as Meera and she’s another actress I’ve added to my ‘must not be allowed to cry in a film’ list!  Anushka on the other hand was scintillating and looked incredibly beautiful. Her life and energy was infectious and her part of the story (apart from some dodgy Discovery Channel moments) worked very well.

As Temple says, the film looks magnificent is worth watching for the scenes in Ladakh and Kashmir alone. But more than that, there are solid performances and a return to classic Bollywood romance that can’t help but enchant. Sadly it is the end of an era, but with Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Yash Chopra has proved that he really was the ‘King of Romance”.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi requires some determined suspension of disbelief. A prematurely middle aged man marries a bright, lovely young girl immediately after she experiences a family tragedy. He loves her on sight, she doesn’t see him at all. He changes himself to become a man she could love. But he does it in an extreme way. He masquerades as another man, utterly different from his everyday self, and starts to woo her. What happens if she recognises him? What if she prefers the ‘other man’? How can he get himself out of this situation? And who will win the big dance competition?

I’m not telling.

I really like this film. It has excellent acting by Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, and characters I could empathise with or understand, even when I didn’t agree. I know some people object to the premise that she doesn’t recognise her husband immediately. Personally, I think that if you suspect every man who looks vaguely like your husband or boyfriend is him in disguise, you probably have bigger issues than the film does. Aditya Chopra hits some false notes including a ridiculous sumo wrestling interlude, but it’s really a story about people not gimmicks so I can turn a blind eye. There is ample entertainment in the romance, humour (please note I am not using the C word), dancing and music.

Surinder Sahni works at Punjab Power (motto: Lighting Up Your Life) and lives all alone in his family home, a huge ornate house. He is an unassuming man who has fallen into a rut. Until he falls for Taani. Seeing her disappointment on top of her grief he wants to do something to make her happy, or at least stop her from giving up on happiness. Surinder is considerate as well as shy and doesn’t presume on his new wife. He sleeps in the attic room and calls her Taani-ji, so painfully polite. Suri doesn’t do macho or overbearing – he is atypical for a romantic lead. In his own beige way he tries to show his feelings, hoping his actions will speak for him. He sees her laugh watching movies and tries to understand the appeal of filmi heroes but he is worlds away from that flashy style. This is one of my favourite Shah Rukh performances. He plays Suri as mostly subdued, with a shy romantic streak blooming as he dares to dream.

The expression on his face when he sees the tiffin Taani has prepared for him is priceless. Shah Rukh strikes the right blend of physical comedy and heartstring tugging pathos as Suri.

 

 

Suri’s flamboyant hairdresser friend Bobby (Vinay Pathak in excellent form) helps with a makeover. The idea is Suri will go watch Taani at her new dance class, and then surprise her with the new look. But he can’t stop himself from trying to get closer to her. And so Raj is born; vulgar, extrovert, inappropriate Raj Kapoor who can say and do things that Suri won’t.

Shah Rukh doesn’t play Raj as cool – he is a nerd’s idea of a cool dude and always that bit off key. I’m not surprised Taani didn’t recognise him. He has terrible fashion sense and constantly over-accessorises (thanks to Aki Narula). There are some delightful moments of Raj getting cocky, only to have Suri’s panic leak through when he doesn’t know what to do next. Raj becomes Taani’s dance partner for a competition – another touch of fate or divine intervention. The relationship has a rocky start but Taani can’t help eventually responding to Raj’s simple warmth.

He helps her reconnect with life in a way that Suri’s patient hands-off approach doesn’t. Shah Rukh portrays two quite distinct characters, and I could see Raj growing and becoming more of a second skin over time.

Raj is a drug that Suri cannot kick. When Bobby challenges him, Suri admits he can’t stop. The deception escalates and as Raj he taunts himself over his failure. This dark tone of self awareness and self delusion made Suri’s deception seem more real.

He created a mask and resented being trapped behind it. As Suri he wants Taani to see the real Suri, and fall in love with him as he is. As Raj, he is spontaneous and affectionate. But what happens to Suri if Raj succeeds in winning Taani’s love? And if Suri kills off Raj, what will that mean to Taani?

Taani is the apple of her father’s eye, and about to marry the man she loves. A few tragic minutes later she is married to Suri and relocated to Amritsar. At that time she may not have cared much for her future as she was traumatised and grieving. Anushka has a natural and happy quality, but she can turn that off in an instant, and she portrayed the conflicting emotions and loyalties very well.  Taani rarely looks at her husband, and certainly doesn’t see him so I could believe she didn’t recognise him in disguise. The more Suri tries to engage her, the more she blocks him out. She’s not a crying whinging wet dishrag though – Taani is a spirited woman and even does a Dhoom style motorbike stunt. She really comes to life when she forgets herself in things that had been her pleasures in her old life, especially dancing.

She resents feeling indebted to Suri even as she appreciates his generosity, but is making the best of things. Taani doesn’t have friends in Amritsar apart from Raj, who refuses to not be allowed to be her friend, so he is her only confidant. She comes to a crisis point, and I think it was as much about wanting to actively live again as her attraction to Raj.

Taani finally allows herself to love and to reconnect with life. While Anushka is very pretty she seems real, not a plastic beauty, and I found her convincing and appealing. I also had severe wardrobe envy when I saw Taani’s clothes, especially her lovely embroidered dupattas.

The theme of a couple brought together by God is always present. The presence of religious observance and ritual in their lives helps give that more resonance as it seems like a genuine belief not just a dramatic conceit. The gold of the temple at Amritsar is picked out in  Taani’s dress, the yellow tiffin, Suri’s car, the new bedsheets and flowers Taani leaves in his room. For him, Taani is divine love and she is lighting up his life.  The corny picturisation of Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai can’t detract from the message of seeing an aspect of divinity in the one you love, or who loves you.

I really like that it shows Suri seeing himself as Suri, but Taani sees only Raj. The tension in the bizarre love triangle is well maintained even in lighter moments. I think that the inherent acknowledgement that some characters were not always behaving well made it more palatable and less WTF, so the resolution is oddly satisfying. My eye-rolling muscles barely got warmed up, I just went with it and enjoyed the unravelling.

Whether it is the bustle of Amritsar, Suri’s majestic old house, Taani’s clothes, the framing or the use of colour, Ravi K Chandran makes it look stunning and it’s a total pleasure to watch. This traditional sounding song is over the opening titles but not on the soundtrack, and it is a beautiful start to the film.

The Salim-Sulaiman soundtrack is mostly excellent and Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics seem to match the story very well. Haule Haule is beautiful, and the choreography is perfect uncle-in-love style. Retro tributes are now old hat, but the clever lyrics made up of film songs and titles and the vocal by Sonu Nigam lift Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte. Shah Rukh really gets the style of the Hindi film greats he mimics, particularly in the Rishi Kapoor segment. Lara Dutta is miscast as Helen, but Rani as Neetu more than makes up for that. I much prefer the songs Vaibhavi Merchant choreographed. Shiamak’s style is too reminiscent of 80s TV variety shows and I’ve seen enough of that to last me. Dance Pe Chance and the dance competition numbers are not memorable, although I appreciated Anushka and Shah Rukh maintaining their characters in the dances so they worked as drama rather than as songs. But so much colour and movement can’t be a bad thing.

See this for an unusual romance, good songs, beautiful visual design and of course the lovely performances by Shah Rukh and Anushka. Just remember to suspend that disbelief! 4 stars!

Heather says: I am quite ambivalent about this film. On one hand I do really like Shahrukh’s ebullient Raj and most of the time I like his characterisation of the more reserved and introverted Suri. But on the other hand there is much of the story that I don’t like, and I’m not very impressed with the character of Taani despite Anushka Sharma’s best efforts.  Taani seems a very superficial character and the few personality traits she is allowed to display switch on and off depending on how much comedy Aditya Chopra wants to include in the scene. When she is allowed to be cheery and feisty I quite like her, but most of the time she is too one dimensional and is only there as a reason for Shahrukh to play dress-up.

As far as the story goes, I don’t like the way that Taani is pressured into marriage with Suri at such a difficult time in her life. However even worse is the direction the story moves in later on, when Suri decides to make his wife choose between Raj and himself. It’s manipulative, very unfair and just plain wrong. I don’t see how such a plan can possibly demonstrate true love and I think Taani would be much better to leave Suri and Raj altogether!

What I do like though is the character of Bobby Khosla and I think that Vinay Pathak did a great job with his role as Suri’s friend. There are a few scenes near the beginning where the character of Suri is initially developed that are also quite sweet and hold a lot of promise but unfortunately I don’t think the film ever delivers on these. While both Shahrukh and Anushka bring everything they can to their roles, ultimately it’s the story that lets it all down in the end. The songs are great and I love Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte, but for the rest, it’s not a film I particularly enjoy. I think it’s worth watching for Shahrukh, who does have some excellent comedy moments and he at least seems to be enjoying himself. The rest is disappointing. 3 stars.