Bareilly Ki Barfi And Every Daughter’s Dream Dad

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Bareilly Ki Barfi And Every Daughter’s Dream Dad

Illustration: Cleon Dsouza

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modern update on Saajan and Mujhse Dosti Karoge!, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s effervescent Bareilly Ki Barfi revolves around a love triangle garnished with a side of mistaken identities. Ayushmann Khurrana, as Chirag Dubey, a jilted lover with a mean streak, continues his broken-hearted tirade from Meri Pyaari Bindu (he even finishes writing a book in this film). His frenemy in the film, Rajkummar Rao, once again gives Bollywood a masterclass in how to effortlessly slip into different versions of the everyman: a meek saree salesman and the gali ka gunda. Both vie for the affections of Bitti, played by Kriti Sanon.  

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But the real star of Bareilly Ki Barfi, is its opening sequence that holds a refreshingly lovely premise: the tender and pally equation that can be shared between a father and a daughter. In the scene, Narottam Mishra (Pankaj Tripathi) asks his wife Sushila (Seema Bhargava) if she knows where his cigarettes have vanished. Busy with her prayers, she refuses to humour him, and instead asks him to go about his usual business without it. But, for Narottam, his morning business is synonymous with that elusive cigarette. Desperate, he pleads with his wife to ask their daughter if she has a fag. “Woh peeti hai,” he tells her matter-of-factly, without any judgement.

Bitti, as it turns out, doesn’t have a cigarette, nor has she bummed one off her father, but she does immediately borrow a smoke from a neighbourhood uncle. It’s evident that Bitti’s upbringing, much to her mother’s distress, has been casual, more “suited” to that of a boy’s. This distinctive exchange also illustrates how her father has not let her gender dictate his opinion of her habits.

Narottam Mishra then, is an atypical Bollywood father. On paper, he’s a mild-mannered confectionery-shop owner with a puffed mouth, perennially trying to keep his paan from spilling out. He is also the father of a daughter too rebellious for her own good, who smokes in the open, drinks whisky straight from the bottle, spends afternoons rejecting suitors who question her virginity, and evenings break-dancing her way through life. Bollywood parental protectiveness prescribes that he promptly throw his weight around and curb the independence granted to her while growing up, so as to make her toe the line of what a “sushil” ladki ought to be like.

But Narottam does no such thing. He adores her, trusts her, supports her, sympathises with her, and more importantly, accepts her the way she is.

In contrast, female leads in Bollywood have almost always had unapproachable father figures whose decisions they’re taught to respect, and whose existence they’re conditioned to be scared of.

Narottam’s muffled progressiveness especially stands out in a setting where small-town mentalities of fathers are rarely that lenient. It’s a stark contrast from the testy relationship Bitti shares with her mother, who is hell-bent on finding a suitor for her, and hardly spares a moment to remind her about her inadequacies. It’s not that Narottam doesn’t worry about his daughter not getting married, or isn’t concerned about her roaming the streets drunk at night. But instead of grounding her, or forcing her to marry a boy he deems fit, he allows her to make mistakes and take her decisions. It’s ultimately a kind of parental love Bollywood has rarely afforded female leads.

But Bollywood has seldom had a problem establishing this kind of fatherly connection with male leads. For instance, in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Bunny’s father is the epitome of thoughtfulness. He blindly believes in his son’s potential and supports his dreams of travelling the world, no matter how far-fetched they may seem to others. He is just as likeable as Raj’s cool dad in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the kind you can share a drink with and divulge the vagaries of your heart to; and the one who’d defend you against the world despite your dismal academic results.

In contrast, female leads in Bollywood have almost always had unapproachable father figures whose decisions they’re taught to respect, and whose existence they’re conditioned to be scared of (barring a few exceptions). In Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Amrish Puri was the kind of father who wouldn’t approve the man her daughter was in love with, solely because he couldn’t come to terms with the violation of the expected behaviour out of her. Similarly in Mohabbatein, Amitabh Bachchan wore the badge of strictness proudly on his sleeve, even at the cost of losing his daughter.

Bareilly Ki Barfi

Rajkummar Rao, once again gives Bollywood a masterclass in how to effortlessly slip into different versions of the everyman: a meek saree salesman and the gali ka gunda.

Image Credit / Junglee Pictures

Even in films like Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Gurgaon, Dear Zindagi, Dil Dhadakne Do, and as recently as in Lipstick Under My Burkha, the daughters of the family — although loved and pampered — are asked to exist within their boundaries, and follow the script that their fathers have laid out for their future. The satisfaction of watching Amitabh Bachchan as the tantrum-throwing father respect his daughter and her independence in Piku, is rare.

It’s also why Narottam treating his daughter as the “man of the house” in Bareilly Ki Barfi stays with you, despite his limited screentime. “Samaj hai,” he offers apologetically at one point. “Hum toh nahin maante par rehna toh iss samaj mein hi hai.” It could have been an unremarkable scene. But, with Narottam in the picture, it achieves a kind of poignancy that has been hitherto unexplored. Similar to what Anupam Kher’s friendly dad act managed to achieve in DDLJ years ago, Pankaj Tripathi’s quiet acceptance of his daughter in Bareilly Ki Barfi eventually makes him the father every daughter wants to brag about.

After all, it is indeed all about loving your family.

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