No big massive full summary coming for Befikre! Partly because Dear Zindagi exhausted me, partly because my sense is that my commentators aren’t as interested in a massive discussion of this movie, as they are of other movies. But mostly because I don’t think it is analyzable, to take it apart would be to destroy it.
When I was watching it with my friend last night (alone in the theater, which is the dream! So we got to see it on the big screen and comment to each other the whole time), she described it as “A traditional story in alarming wrapping.” Which is true! The actual story, when written out, is exactly the same story you would have found in any Indian film ever. Straight up love triangle, with some modern gloss. So, you ready for the whole light plot in a few sentences?
We start with a break-up. Ranveer and Vaani are living together, big fight over him coming home late and her waking him up early and so on, until finally he says the unforgivable and throws in her face that before they got together she was a slut sleeping with every man in Paris. And she walks out. We flash back and forth between their present day and when they fell in love, for the rest of the first half of the film. The day he arrived in Paris, they spent a wild day together and then he tracked her down at her job and convinced her to date him, they quickly fell into lust, spending every minute together going on crazy adventures, and finally moved in together because they wanted more time together. 6 months after the break-up, they bump into each other at the grocery store and are minimally decent to each other. A few months later, she sees him on a date and tells him they can at least be civil. Some time after that, he calls her for help because he needs bail and she is the only person he can call on in Paris. And finally, he calls her on the one year anniversary of their break up and they swear never to fall in love again but to be friends. After a year of friendship, he helps her decide to marry the perfect and perfectly nice guy she started dating, and he impulsively proposes to his own sexy blonde girlfriend. And her nice guy fiance suggests a double wedding. But the two of them have had another big fight, when she disapproves of his engagement because he isn’t ready, and he throws in her face that she isn’t over him yet. And finally, on the day of the wedding, during the ceremony, Ranveer makes a big scene, giving a speech about how Vaani is slutty and wild and loose and she doesn’t belong with her groom, she belongs with him! It turns into a massive hilarious fight between the two brides and their bridesmaids and the two grooms and everyone else. Ranveer and Vaani run off in the confusion, and he proposes to her and she says yes.
You know how I know this movie is perfectly put together? I missed the first 4 minutes and the whole thing fell apart. See, my friend and I were trying a “new” movie theater, and we spent 20 minutes trying to figure out the parking garage (how to get in, how to park, how to get out again without being run over). So we walked in just late enough to miss that opening fight scene. And the whole movie doesn’t work without it. Or at least doesn’t work as well.
(Getting out of the parking garage was like this, but with huge suburban SUVs trying to run you over)
We kept waiting for it to get melodramatic, wondering if they would really get back together, wondering if they ever felt anything real for each other, wondering if Vaani Kapoor can act. And all of those questions are answered in the first 4 minutes!
The fight is handled so lightly, so suddenly, and after it is over, you see both of their faces immediately regretting it. It sets a tone for the rest of the film that this is a couple that break-up in anger and is repenting in leisure. We are just seeing the intermission in between their break-up and their getting back together. Plus, we get to see both the actors and the characters show some real depth in the little regret moments. Vaani in particular, her reaction after Ranveer calls her out as a slut, it tells us that this actress can really act. And that this character has depth, we can relax about all the shallow superficial stuff she is doing in the flashbacks, because she will grow on us.
See, every moment in this movie is like that! It all has to be there, or it doesn’t work as a whole. There is nothing extra. Although there are a few things missing. For instance, we jumped awfully fast from them agreeing to share a good-bye drink on the anniversary of their break-up, to them being best friends. We also didn’t get enough scenes with Ranveer’s one friend in Paris. They brought him in when Ranveer needed a sounding board, but that wasn’t until the end, which means we saw him once at the beginning, and then not again until post-interval. And we also jump awfully fast into Ranveer deciding to marry the blonde woman. I wish she had gotten a little more of a personality (or maybe I’m just taking it personally because I am also a blonde woman).
If I had to cut anything, it would be the big sangeet dance number. Ranveer and Vaani are on the outs, but for the sangeet they are challenged to do one more dance off. And their dance goes through their happy athletic challenging first meeting and passionate relationship, to their friendship, to finally now, when there is a kind of wistful love. Ending with an embrace in which their lips are trembling with the desire to meet.
I can see how this sounded good on paper, but in execution, it is TERRIBLE! The choreography is just odd looking. And, more than that, unbelievable! It starts off with a kind of “okay, they have always been in synch like this, I guess they could improvise a routine together on the spot” feeling. But then it quickly moves into “oh there is NO WAY they could do that without a ton of practice!”
The whole point was to get them to that moment at the end when they almost kiss. But it would have been so much better to do that with a simpler dance routine, not this epic set piece. Just have them do a modified version of their earlier dances, and then a simple waltz or something, something tender and sweet.
Maybe this is an Aditya thing? Look back over his whole filmography, all 3 films, he does tend towards these western style athletic-y dances. There was that little bit at the end of “Ruk Ja” in DDLJ.
And “Rhythms of Mohabbatein”
And of course all of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was just building up to that climax:
It worked okay in DDLJ and Mohabbatein, and it worked so well in Rab Ne that I start to cry every time I watch it, but here…I don’t know. It feels like he is forcing it.
But that is the only scene I would change! Everything else fits together like clockwork. Even the songs. Especially the songs. They all work much better in context than they did as trailers. All those selfish young people in love songs are a lot less disgusting when they are seen after we already know that they will break-up and grow up and become good friends.
But the song that really blew me away on all levels was the “Je T’Aime” song. First, just technically speaking, it did something I don’t think I have seen quite like that before. Ranveer is sad and walking through the streets. And dancing around him are younger versions of himself and Vaani, singing about how they will never be in love. I don’t know how they integrated the two visuals, but it is seamless!
And then there’s the integration of the French and Indian aesthetics. In terms of the choreography, and just the style of song, dancing around a fountain, a lamp post, in a park, it is very much in the tradition of western musicals. Like An American in Paris and the “Our Love is Here to Stay” song.
Or The Bandwagon’s “Dancing in the Dark” number.
Those are two of the most famous and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of others. A boy, a girl, a simple dance duet in a public space at night. Heck, I haven’t seen it yet, but based on the posters it looks like the new release La La Land will have another one of these!
It’s an image that works, because it is so, I don’t know, evocative of how love changes everything? It’s a cheap date, two people in a park, and yet when you are with the right person, it turns into a fabulous magical dance moment. Just the two of you, alone in a starlit world. Adi takes that image here and slight tweaks it, giving us the two of them in love and happy, dancing around Ranveer, showing how he has lost touch with that magic, is remembering it but can no longer be part of it.
Adi is using a western tradition, but not in a “hey, look at me! I’m WESTERN!” way. He is using it because it is the best way to evoke this feeling in this moment. And the reason it is the best way to evoke this feeling in this moment is because the entire film is built on Western emotions. And also Indian emotions.
My friend who I saw it with and I were having a fight on the way home (we always fight about movies, it’s our favorite thing). She was saying that it didn’t matter at all that they were both Indian, the movie is stating that they are French and that is it. I was saying that it did matter, it was a part of their special connection. And finally she suggested that what she meant was for once the “Indian” was just one of multiple identities that they could choose to take on or off. And that’s it exactly! Not just with the characters, but with the film as a whole.
The central love triangle plot, old friends with a special connection, new people get engaged to them, conversation right before the wedding, followed by a huge scene at the actual ceremony, and then an elopement, that was in Mujshe Dosti Karoge, Socha Na Tha, Neal n’ Nikki, and dozens and dozens of others. Including Love Aaj Kal, which is almost the exact same movie as this, down to the poor blonde rebound woman who never gets a personality beyond “blonde and easy”.
But this is just one of multiple identities the film can choose from. It is also a French farce, with whimsical images and slamming door moments. And it is an American kind of rom-com too, with the misunderstandings and confusion and one-liners. It’s everything! All at once!
But at the heart (and this is where my friend and I differ), I still think it is more Indian than anything else. “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani” and all that. Because that’s what the characters are to start with, although they may have some French gloss on the surface. Vaani is constantly teasing Ranveer about being a “Delhiwalla”. And he is! He is big and loud and emotional. And he also touches her parents’ feet whenever he meets them and makes sure there are Indian snacks hidden away for them at her wedding reception. Things go wrong when he tries to reject that, when he acts mature and tells her she should marry the other man so she doesn’t know how he feels, when he tries to be mature and impulsively proposes to his own girlfriend. He needs to embrace his inner Delhi boy.
Although he also fits well in France. And we get a few quick outlines of how that works. He mentions that his father “was” in the army, implying another Punjabi soldier martyr, and his mother is back in Delhi. I’m getting a feeling of a guy who was always a little spoiled and allowed to run wild by his mother, and has no real roots to hold him at home. But now he is in Paris and he can grow new roots. Which might be why he is the one who clings to Vaani more than the other way around. He is pursues her until she gives in, he only half-jokingly suggests that they get back together 6 months after their break-up. And taking a date to her parents’ restaurant, is that really an accident?
And Vaani needs this because she needs to embrace her inner Desi. There is a scene that is a bit on the nose late in the film. Vaani is nervous the night before her wedding, and we see her struggling to make something in the outdoor kitchen. Her Mom (her parents are both chefs, presumably that’s why they ended up in Paris) finds her and pushes her aside to cook for her, noticing that she is making a Paratha. And Vaani explains that she stopped eating her Mom’s parathas because they smelled funny and no one would sit next to her at school. So she switched to peanut butter sandwiches and started making friends. But when she was sad, she would crave a paratha and sneak into the kitchen to make one for herself.
That, alone, is a lovely description of the second generation immigrant experience. Your ethnic identity becomes something that is special, kind of a “secret”, something that evokes love and home and family. But not something that is part of your day to day life or talked about in public, or even apparent in public. And then the film has to kind of ruin it by having some lines directly underlining it about how she is French, but also Indian.
That’s Vaani’s struggle, she is too French at the start, to quick to reject the idea of love and romance and all that old-fashioned stuff from Hindi films. And then by the end she has become to Indian, thinking she needs to marry the nice Indian boy and dedicate her life to him. But, she doesn’t have to! She can have both, the support and love she craves, in a “carefree” and frivolous and illogical way.
That’s not the biggest statement of the film on ethnic identity though. That comes much earlier. On Vaani’s first date with her “perfect” boyfriend, he invites Ranveer to join them and they spend the night at a Bollywood karaoke bar (there is one near me, but I have never been, because I can’t sing. And I’m white and it would be weird). They sang all kinds of songs that I can’t remember now. And then we see the three of them arm in arm striding down the Paris streets shout-singing out “Lekar Hum….Deewane DIL!”
See, THIS is the immigrant experience. Trying to force a little bit of your home, of your culture, into the alien land where you are. Singing as loud as you can so people will see you and recognize you and acknowledge you.
And that’s what the end song of the film is about. This is one of the few films to be shot entirely overseas, by the way. No fantasy songs that take them back to India, no opening scene of Ranveer leaving India, it’s all in Paris. But it’s a Paris story with an Indian heart beating at the center of it. (also, I totally called this song as being over the end credits)
(Oh, and it opens with the Labon Ke song that was the first one released, only for theatrical release they cut all the same-sex kisses. Interesting!)