What’s Missing Amid All the Kissing

Pop Culture

What’s Missing Amid All the Kissing

Illustration: Juegen Dsouza

There are three ways to watch Befikre.

In the first, you walk in with sufficient awareness that two good-looking people are going to prance around madly, and without sufficient cause, in a mesmerisingly beautiful city. Predictably, they will fall in and out of love, and then, obviously, back in love. Nothing will make much sense, but you might let the film’s own joie de vivre – and a quick view of Ranveer Singh’s naked backside – carry you forward. If you choose this path, you might stifle a yawn or two, but will emerge relatively unscathed from the experience.

In the second, you decide that you know the formula above, but demand something more of the story, in return for which you’ll forgive many of the film’s leaps in logic, the flat jokes, and barely simmering chemistry between the leads. In this case, you’re likely to feel fairly frustrated as a few interesting ideas appear like fleeting meteorites in the night sky. You wish they were comets instead, but the moments pass, and the ideas don’t re-appear. Instead, you find yourself at the end credits, watching Ranveer Singh (Dharam) and Vaani Kapoor (Shyra) dance to a wedding song in front of Sacre-Coeur in Paris.

As the mandatory Punjabi song fades, you find yourself re-visiting the moments that piqued your interest. For instance, the mention of slut-shaming during a break-up is poignant, relevant, and powerful. For many men, it cuts too close to the guilty bone to be comfortable territory. Referring to Dharam’s “conquests” after their break-up, she informs him that he’ll need to work hard to become “mere level ka slut”. Instead of playing up this conflict prominently – of Shyra’s “vast experience” with men, compared to Dharam’s far fewer exploits – the film chooses to sidestep an important conversation.

On the contrary, Shyra’s “experience” is conveniently tucked away behind the comforting veil of “Paris ki ladki”. That really takes the pressure off Indian men: Phew, we exhale comfortably, we were right all along. The adarsh Bharatiya nari isn’t supposed to have these experiences. At least, not as many as we are entitled to.

Not only does the film ignore the conflict between an Indian male’s over-enthusiasm to prove his virility, and to simultaneously deny women the same agency over their bodies, it chooses to go in an infuriating direction. Early in the film, Dharam apologises for his comments, thereby establishing his basic “decency”. Then, in a stroke of madness in the climax, Dharam attempts to halt a wedding in progress by proclaiming that Shyra’s prospective groom must fear her sexual history, for she has been wild, and he hasn’t even got lucky with her yet. One can only hope that this jibe is a poor attempt at comedy.

The other prominent idea, or idea-and-a-half, that the film plays with – and then fails to carry through – is that of marriage and compatibility of partners. Both ideas are summarily dismissed by the time the climax rolls around. Beginning with a disavowal of marriage (previously tackled ably in Shuddh Desi Romance, which also starred Vaani Kapoor) the two leads eventually find themselves tangled in a web of well-worn sacred nuptial threads.

You finally settle on the inevitable fact that the entire thing must be a fever dream in which you endlessly yell “Dare!” like the protagonists and then try to escape the consequences.

The idea of compatibility is more interesting. Kapoor’s character meets a plain vanilla investment banker type, whose only attribute is niceness. The film picks up this thread, only to let it fray. Are you likely to be happier with someone whose faults you’re aware of? Or with someone who appears nice and boringly re-assuring? This too is sacrificed at the altar of marriage, because that’s what two lovers in Indian films are contract-bound to do. It’s all a muddle really, and you leave the film wondering if these ideas were actually there or whether you are imputing them to the film.

Soon, you begin questioning the title of the film itself, and wonder if there are deep secrets hidden within. It does not break any social conventions, or propagate new ones. There is no bold statement; no sex scene; just a generous smattering of kisses, and the inescapable dig at a gay character.

You wonder if, by Befikre, Aditya Chopra actually meant being able to direct a movie without having a sensible story, great music, or memorable characters on hand. You finally settle on the inevitable fact that the entire thing must be a fever dream in which you endlessly yell “Dare!” like the protagonists and then try to escape the consequences.

Borrowing directly from the movie, here are the “dares”, I played out in my head as they must unfold IRL:

A young woman says, “I dare you to live-in with me.” Endless laughter. Neither moves an inch. We weep ourselves into a tizzy by imagining the number of brokers and landlords who will turn us away. We console ourselves by saying at least we’ll be treated better than potential Muslim tenants. Oh, and we don’t even get to the part where at least two of our family members will suffer immediate cardiac arrests when the news is broken to them.

The same young woman: “I dare you to slap that policeman, and I will go on a date with you.” Broken bones, visits to hospitals, lifelong nightmares of being tortured in jail cells. A court case that drags on for years destroying my family. Occasional visits by policemen who just want to have tea with my family, and remind me that my parents are old and live alone, and that my young niece has just started attending kindergarten. No need to worry.

We turn to lighter things: “I dare you to live in Paris as a terrible stand-up comic for a year, and have a fancy apartment to yourself.” Silence.

Fade to black.