Friday, December 9, 2016

REVIEW 450: BEFIKRE


Release date:
December 9, 2016
Director:
Aditya Chopra
Cast:


Language:
Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor, Armaan Ralhan, Julie Ordon, Ayesha Raza, Akarsh Khurana, Aru Verma
Hindi with a bit of French


First let’s get this out of the way: Ranveer Singh has a cute bum.

A flash of derriere on screen is no big deal in some parts of the world, but in India where the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has so far deemed the display of certain desi body parts a non-desi, un-kosher activity, here is a surprise. Singh gives us a clear look at his wonderfully firm backside as he runs into a hotel room to make love to his girlfriend in Befikre.

And the Censors have not scissored out that shot! Nine years after they sought to preserve our collective innocence by chopping out a glimpse of Ranbir Kapoor’s bottom in Saawariya’s towel dancing scene, mere Bharatvaasiyon, they have risked ruining our sanskaar with the sight of a man’s bare behind! A moment of silence please, at this great honour bestowed on Indian adults by the CBFC. A moment to express our deep gratitude for this acknowledgement of our maturity.

Thhoda zyaada ho gaya, na? You get the point though? Okay then, I’m done with mocking the Censors. Now onward to the review.

Director Aditya Chopra’s Befikre stars Singh and the girl from Shuddh Desi Romance, Vaani Kapoor, as lovers-turned-friends Dharam Gulati and Shyra Gill. He is a Delhi boy who has just moved to Paris to perform as a stand-up comedian at his brother’s nightclub there. She is a Parisian of Indian origin, a tour guide who occasionally helps her parents run a restaurant.

Dharam is perennially horny and a (sometimes creepy) pile-on, Shyra is not interested in commitment but is up for a roll in the hay. They are two people perfectly suited to each other’s wants and needs at the point in time when they first meet. The film takes us through the year between their hook-up and eventual break-up, and what follows.

Viewed entirely from the surface, Befikre is fun. C’mon, of course it is. Singh, as we all know, is a delightful bundle of energy and an absolute charmer. Like him, Kapoor is not a conventional pretty face, but like him she too has an arresting presence that makes her extremely attractive. She also has one of the loveliest voices I’ve heard on a new Hindi film heroine in a while: soft and delicate, like cotton candy.

An insensitive dare involving begging and a fleeting rape joke from Dharam require a separate – long – discussion. Set those aside, and his shenanigans are by and large amusing. The duo also play off each other well.

Combine the lead pair with Vishal-Shekhar’s foot-thumping music (not counting the decidedly ordinary Khulke dulke / Ishq ki bungee), an unusual blend of Hindi and French in Jaideep Sahni’s breezy lyrics and Vaibhavi Merchant’s infectiously lively choreography, and you have an entertaining package in place.

I scrutinised the entire end credits but could not find a mention of Kapoor’s fitness instructor and dance teacher. Could someone give me their names, phone numbers and the money to afford them, please? During an extended dance sequence between Shyra and Dharam, at one point she faces him with both legs wrapped around his waist and bends her torso backwards dipping her head deep towards the ground, then raises herself up ramrod straight again, her legs still around his waist, without any assistance from him, purely on the strength of her abs. If that was not camera trickery or a product of special effects, here’s an aside to salaam you for your muscle power, Ms Kapoor, and you for your imagination, Ms Merchant.

(Spoilers ahead)

The heart and soul of the film though leave much to be desired. How many times will Bollywood re-visit the story of a commitment-averse individual or couple who are buddies, find what they think is love in the arms of others and finally realise they are meant to be with each other instead? Films like Kunal Kohli’s Hum Tum (2004, produced by Aditya Chopra) and Imtiaz Ali’s Kal Aaj Aur Kal (2009) had novelty value and depth. Ayan Mukerji’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and even Ali’s Tamasha (2015) added new dimensions to the discussion. Befikre is entertaining at a superficial level, but at the end of the day it is nothing but old wine in a glossy new bottle.

So yeah, the couple have lots of sex and make their own decisions unlike the sanskaari ladka-ladki who bowed to the girl’s despotic desi Daddy in Chopra’s debut film, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), 21 years back, but these are significant changes only if you assess the director’s filmography in a vacuum without the context of everything else that Hindi cinema has done since 1995. Besides, ultimately this film – like most Bollywood films – is designed as reassurance for conservative viewers that marriage can be the only acceptable conclusion to a relationship between a hero and heroine (especially if they have had sex).

Despite the generous dose of smooching between the leads, Chopra cannot camouflage his underlying conservatism. Note that after Shyra and Dharam break up, we see her in only one romantic relationship, and she does not sleep with that guy. Dharam, on the other hand, remains sexually obsessed, sexually active and has a long-term involvement with a French hottie.

Note too how lightly Dharam and, more important, the film take white women. They are nothing but bodies and sources of sex for him, creatures you proposition, not human beings to be taken seriously like the desi kudi he slept with.

None of this should come as a surprise if you look back at the extreme regressiveness of DDLJ. The difference between then and now is that, for the most part Befikre is not regressive. What it is is a film pretending to be subversive, revolutionary and evolved, when all it does is endorse a status quo.

That’s why Aditya Chopra’s fourth film as a director (his first in eight years) is watchable for its packaging alone and not for what lies beneath. Even Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor’s boundless verve, all that kissing, unbridled sex and tiny Western clothing cannot mask the story’s traditionalist core.

Rating (out of five stars): **

CBFC Rating (India):
UA
Running time:
132 minutes 47 seconds

This review has also been published on Firstpost:


Poster courtesy: Yash Raj Films


Saturday, December 3, 2016

DEAR ZINDAGI AND MENTAL HEALTHCARE / FILM FATALE: COLUMN PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU BUSINESSLINE

DE-STIGMATISING THERAPY

Dear Zindagi’s patient-doc sessions – debatable and unconventional though they are – mark a rare effort by a usually indifferent Bollywood to normalise mental healthcare

By Anna MM Vetticad


This is not a review of Dear Zindagi. I wrapped up that job on the day of its release. This column is devoted to one aspect of the film: the portrayal of mental health.

Those who have seen Dear Zindagi would know that Alia Bhatt plays Kaira, a talented cinematographer who harbours a deep-seated resentment towards her parents. She is also so afraid of being hurt in romantic relationships that she withdraws from each one before the man she is dating has a chance to first back out. When sleep goes AWOL from her life one day, Kaira turns to a clinical psychologist — Dr Jehangir Khan, played by Shah Rukh Khan — for relief.

As an American TV serial junkie and Hollywood buff, I am used to watching therapy sessions on screen. They have ranged from the realism of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, where Sergeant Olivia Benson gets help after being abducted and held hostage by a violent sexual predator, to the comical money-mindedness of Dr Linda Freeman in the Charlie Sheen-starrer Two And A Half Men, and the OTT unprofessionalism in Anger Management starring Sheen with Selma Blair.

Hindi cinema, for the most part, has alternated between ignoring/avoiding mental fitness and swinging wildly to the other end of the spectrum with harmful caricatures, ignorance and the insensitive labelling of mental illness as “paagalpan (lunacy)”. In that context, Dear Zindagi is gigantically significant.

In a nation where a “dimaag ka doctor” is widely seen as a doc for extreme situations, here is a woman in therapy despite displaying no visible signs of what Indian society might consider a health problem. She is not apparently severely depressed, she is highly functional and a successful professional to boot, she is lively, she appears to be enjoying life, and her issues with her parents are likely to be seen as non-issues in a culture that requires us to canonise and deify our madres and padres.

Of course she also does not bear any of the physical symptoms Hindi cinema has traditionally dished out to audiences: wild hair, unkempt look, flailing arms, screaming or complete silence. The seeming normality of Kaira is, to my mind, what makes Dear Zindagi almost revolutionary in the Indian social context.

This brings us to the patient-doctor sessions in Dear Zindagi. If your vision is not clouded by SRK’s sexiness as Doc Jehangir (forgive me for the frivolous aside), it should be clear that what is depicted here is not conventional therapy. For one, Jehangir’s informality with an emotionally vulnerable youngster may make for fun cinema but could cause misunderstandings in the real world.

Now, since I have not been to a therapist myself, I have spent the week speaking to friends who have, and to psychologists and psychiatrists. One friend tells me that if anyone made a film literally recounting her conversations with her therapist, “it would be the most boring film in the world”. Others agree. Instead of the banter between Kaira and Doc Jehangir, imagine a narrative that foregrounds long monologues from a patient with occasional interventions from a professional listener who actively stays in the background. Such a film would almost certainly occupy a less commercial, less mass-targeting space in Bollywood despite SRK and Bhatt’s mammoth star appeal.

The question we must confront then is about the pluses and minuses of a trade-off between authenticity and cinematic licence to make a popular film on a hitherto untouched subject. No doubt Dear Zindagi de-stigmatises therapy and the quest for emotional well-being sans sermons. The film’s resulting entertainment value gives it the potential to reach a large number of people. Is this positive a sufficient excuse for any inaccuracy in the portrayal of those sessions?

Writing for the website Scoopwhoop, Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Sonali Gupta objects, among other things, to what she sees as Jehangir in Dear Zindagi suggesting solutions to Kaira. She says: “We don’t want clients pursuing therapy in the hope that therapy is a quick fix, where therapists give advice and enlighten you with wisdom. As I always say, there is no right or wrong, it is the client who chooses his path and leads the therapy process, while the therapist plays the role of facilitator.”

Gupta has initiated a crucial debate. Without for a moment presuming to know more about therapy than a therapist would, consider this though: My takeaway from this film as a viewer was the opposite; for me a lasting memory from Dear Zindagi is of the doc pointing out to Kaira that it was she, not he, who arrived at her answers.

It is possible other viewers may see it differently and start visiting clinics with incorrect expectations, thus adding to the patient misconceptions that therapists have to clear. Yet the film would prove worthwhile if it aids even one individual in overcoming their mind blocks against therapy, while simultaneously generating public discussions, which in turn may prod Dear Zindagi’s writer-director Gauri Shinde, or perhaps another filmmaker, to work harder at making that next script even closer to reality yet equally entertaining.

Until then, Shinde will hopefully acknowledge this criticism while accepting the well-deserved kudos coming her way for dragging therapy away from the realm of old-style Bollywood “paagalkhanas (lunatic asylums)” to a non-intimidating space that you and I and Everyperson might enter without fear.

(This article was first published in The Hindu Businessline’s BLink on December 3, 2016.)

Link to column published in The Hindu Businessline:


Related Link: Anna M.M. Vetticad’s review of Dear Zindagi


Note: I’m happy to inform you that Film Fatale has won the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award 2015 for ‘Commentary and Interpretative Writing’. You can click here to read all the Film Fatales published in 2015 (and from the launch of the column in February 2014): 
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/author/anna-mm-vetticad/article6316861.ece Thank you dear readers and Team Hindu Businessline for your constant support. J Anna

Photograph courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/DearZindagi/