Sunday, February 26, 2017

Befikre And Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge—A Tale of Two Films

Befikre is Aditya Chopra's fourth directorial venture in a career spanning more than twenty years. The film is the story of Dharam (Ranveer Singh), a Delhi boy who works as a stand-up comic in Paris, and Shyra (Vaani Kapoor), a French girl who works as a tourist guide in Paris. The film tells their story as they go through different stages in a relationship from lust to friendship to love. The film is the director's take on modern day relationships, unlike his other films that have often sided with traditional ideas of love and sexuality.

The first time that Dharam meets Shyra is at a party in Paris. Dharam often goes to parties to meet girls. In Aditya Chopra's debut film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), the first time when Raj and Simran meet, Raj says he has seen Simran before, perhaps, at Robbie's party. Simran replies that she never goes to parties. Dharam and Raj go to parties, but Simran is not like Shyra. Dharam flirts with Shyra but she rebuffs him by saying that she does not like Indian boys. He jokes that he also does not like Indian guys because they smell of methi. In DDLJ, Simran asks Raj as to why does he call her Senorita. He does so because his ex-girlfriend was Spanish, and she left him because she did not like Indian guys. This dislike of Indian guys makes one think if Shyra is like Raj's ex-girlfriend. From these beginning moments in Befikre, till the end, the film constantly reminds one of DDLJ. Either there is a direct reference to a scene in DDLJ, or, something is changed like the role and the situation, but the context remains the same. The film becomes almost like a retelling of DDLJ
Later, Dharam and Shyra hook up for the night, and she leaves him in the morning saying she is not looking for a relationship. When she is about to leave, Dharam jokes that, "Ek Hindustani hi dusre Hindustani ke kaam aata hai." In DDLJ, this was the exact same dialogue that Raj uses to trick Simran's father when he came to purchase beer at his store. Dharam and Shyra start dating each other. In Ude Dil Befikre, we see them getting drunk and snogging all the time. There is a point in the song, when Shyra and Dharam see a mannequin wearing a red Playboy underwear. Shyra steals that underwear and gives it to Dharam. In DDLJ, after Simran gets drunk, she serenades on Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main. In that song, too, Simran sees a red sexy dress in a shop on a mannequin, and she wears it, like Dharam does in Befikre. There is also a moment when Dharam and Shyra do the steps of ballroom dance, quite reminiscent of Raj and Simran dancing the same in Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam. 
At some stage in Befikre, Dharam gets caught by the police for driving under influence, and he calls Shyra to help him as his wallet was stolen. Shyra pays his fine, and speaks to the officer in French to get Dharam released. In DDLJ, there was a similar situation when Simran lost her passport as she missed her train. She was planning to hitchhike a ride but she is questioned by the police for her identity papers. It is Raj who comes and saves her from getting arrested by the police officers. Raj and Dharam even have the same color car.
In her book Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Anupama Chopra writes, "Rebellion is a part of Bollywood's formula for cinematic romance. Every decade has a defining love story in which the lovers confront their parents (Mughal-E-Azam, Bobby, Love Story, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Dil). In DDLJ, Raj's dissent is unique. He rebels by refusing to do so. In a poignant scene, Lajjo gives Simran her jewelery—the only thing she owns—and tells them to leave. But Raj refuses. There are always two roads, he tells Lajjo, the right one and the wrong one. And though the wrong route is seductive in its ease, he will take the more difficult, correct path. Because, he says, he does not want to snatch or steal Simran. He wants to marry her with the approval of the family. He believes that their love will conquer all opposition." Raj wants to marry Simran with the explicit approval of her father. There is an exalted status of Simran's bauji as if his decision is the supreme and is all that matters. Parents play a critical part in DDLJ. Even for a month-long European trip, Simran had to literally pray to the gods. However, in Befikre, parents are mostly absent, or play a minimal supporting role at best. Dharam and Shyra casually tell her parents that they are going to be living together, out of wedlock, something impossible in the case of Raj and Simran. The conflict that the characters face in the film is not external, but driven by their own self, and their choices. In a moving scene in DDLJ, Lajjo tells Simran her life story, and begs her to forget the love of her life Raj and instead marry Kuljeet. She says, "Aaj main, teri maa tujhse teri khushiyaan maange aayi hun." In a similar setting in Befikre, Shyra's mother and Shyra bond over an aloo ka paratha. Unlike Lajjo, Juhi does not ask her daughter to forget happiness, but she tells her to find her own happiness, and hints her to not marry Anay. One mother is telling her daughter to not marry her lover, while the other mother is telling her daughter to marry her lover. While Lajjo reminded Simran of the shambolic state of the rights of Indian women, Juhi reminds Shyra of taking advantage of her being French. Apne French hone ka kuch toh fayda utha. 
Aditya Chopra's films have often portayed a conflict between tradition and modernity. It is quite interesting to see the film based on modern relationships names its lead character as Dharam, meaning religion. In Befikre, Dharam has a mother in Delhi, while his father is no more. It was the opposite case in DDLJ, where Raj was the son of a single father, while his mother had passed away. Raj's father Dharam Veer shares his name with Dharam. While Raj's father turns up to help his son, Dharam's mother never shows up, even at his only son's wedding. It is Raj who comes to India from Europe in DDLJ; it is Dharam who travels from India to Europe in DDLJ. Raj has a geeky friend Rocky, who looks a lot like Dharam's friend Mehra. There was a shot of Raj running with a ball in DDLJ; a similar shot is seen where Dharam runs with a ball in Befikre. Dharam keeps doing pairi-paina to Shyra's parents, like Raj used to do. At some point, Dharam sings, "Mere corn flakes me jo aaye," like Simran sang, "Mere khwaabon me jo aaye." The conversation between Dharam and Shyra often take place on a bridge; the important conversation between Raj and Simran during the palat scene happens on a bridge.
After a night out with Raj, Simran thinks she committed the ultimate sin of sleeping with a man before getting married. Raj says to her that he is not that kind of guy. He knows, "Ek Hindustani ladki ki izzat kya hoti hai." While DDLJ reminds us of the Indianness of Simran even though she has been brought up in London, Befikre emphasizes the Frenchness of Shyra. She does not identify herself as Indian at all. She believes she is French. She has no qualms in having pre-marital sex, and does not shy away from looking for casual hookups, which prompts Dharam to call her a slut (for which he later apologizes). Simran is embarrassed by Raj finding her bra in her luggage. Later, Raj sees her bra when he accidentally rips a piece from Simran's kurta, Shyra shows no shyness and readily takes off her shirt, showing her bra. Of course, Dharam and Shyra were a couple at that time, but it reinforces the film's idea of liberal sexual values of French women. The original script of DDLJ had Raj coming to bauji's shop to ask for a pack of condoms; it was later changed to beer as it was felt it was too much of a transgression; in Befikre, the lead character strips down giving the audience a glimpse of his derrière showing no inhibitions.
In Befikre, there is Anay, who is Shyra's other love interest. He calls himself an old-fashioned boy, and in his own words, he is a cliché but classic. This love for tradition reflects in his life choices, as he is an Oxford-educated investment banker, working in a hundred-year-old firm.He gets engaged to Shyra. In this context, Anay was much like Kuljeet from DDLJ, but a much nicer person than Kuljeet. Anay and Dharam become good friends, like Raj and Kuljeet. At some stage, Shyra sees Anay walking to his apartment. Dharam remarks that he is not going to turn. Shyra remarks, "Palatne ka wait to 90s me karte the," She was just checking out his ass. In DDLJ, this was the iconic scene where Raj looks at Simran walking back to the train, and says to himself if Simran loves him, she will turn back. Agar yeh tujhse pyaar karti hai toh palat ke dekhegi. A few moments later in Befikre, Dharam and Shyra are walking on the streets. Dharam hears a few dogs barking and gets scared. Again, quite like the way Kuljeet got scared after hearing the imaginary growling of lions in the jungle. Then, in a latter scene, Anay takes Shyra to an opera, which casts one's mind back to the opera singer in Ruk Ja O Dil Deewane in DDLJ. We see Shyra wondering if she is the kind of girl with whom someone can spend his entire life. Raj also remarked to Simran that she is going to spend her entire life with somone whom she has not seen. There is quite a similarity in the lines they speak.
My favorite scene in Befikre is the exact moment when Dharam realizes he is in love with Shyra. This happens when Shyra calls him to meet her. She informs him that Anay had proposed to her, and she wanted reassurance from someone she knew that she is making the correct decision. Dharam sees her walk by, and then, something strikes him. He realizes that he is in love. Then, we see imaginary Dharam and Shyra, singing Je T'aime and walking along with Dharam. They sing, "Ne dis jamais je t'aime. Kehna na yaar pyaar hai." Never say I love you. If one recalls, this is also the same way when Simran realizes she is in love. Raj and Simran say goodbye at the train station, and Raj tells her that he is not going to come to her wedding. Raj walks away, and then, something struck Simran that she is in love. Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko Toh Pyaar begins in which Simran imagines Raj to be everywhere. Dharam and Shyra sing to never say I love you but deep inside Dharam is in love; in a contrast, Simran and Raj sing that even if you refute a million times, you are in love. The lyrics are contrasting the two situations. One is saying to not fall in love, while the other is saying that you are falling in love.
When Shyra decides to get married to Anay, Dharam gets engaged to Christine because he also wants to get married, though he does not love her. Dharam and Shyra like each other; however, they are getting married to different people. Like in DDLJ, Raj agrees to marry Preeti, when Simran was getting married to Kuljeet. At Shyra's engagement party, Dharam plays the tune of Mehendi Laga Ke Rakhna on his saxophone, as Raj sang the same song at Simran's engagement. In the climax of Befikre, Shyra asks Dharam to break her wedding. On the wedding day, Dharam tries to break her wedding, and gets beaten up by Anay, and Christine's brothers. Somehow, Dharam and Shyra manage to escape from the wedding. Likewise, in DDLJ, Raj's whole purpose of coming to Punjab was to break Simran's wedding. A night before the wedding Simran asks Raj to elope. The next day, everyone is the family finds out that Raj is Simran's lover. Raj gets beaten by Kuljeet and his friends, and somehow, Raj and Simran manage to get together. While the climax of Befikre tries to be comical, the climax of DDLJ is more serious; however, both have the same things going on. The tag line of DDLJ was Come Fall In Love, and in Befikre, Dharam and Shyra literally fall in love in the end, and compare love to bungee jumping.
If all the above situations were not enough, there is one more reference. The poster of DDLJ has the film's title with a cap, and in another poster, there is Raj wearing that cap. There is a cap in Befikre, too, in the film's poster. In a reversal of roles, instead of the Dharam, it is Vani, who wears the cap in this one with the words Who Cares Mon Amour written on it, giving another throwback to the director's iconic first film. All the above points and situations appear to be repetitive but it is important to bring them out in detail, because Befikre is not only referring DDLJ, but in many ways, it is retelling the same story from a different perspective. DDLJ is the leitmotif of Befikre.
Befikre refers other films, too, including some popular ones, and some belonging to Aditya Chopra's own production house. Most notably, the name of restaurant that Shyra's parents own is called Indian Summer. This was also the English title of Yash Chopra's Lamhe. There is an early moment in Befikre when there is a chicken wings eating competition. There was something similar in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi where Taani and Raj had a competition of eating gol gappe. There is a dance between Shyra and Dharam, again, similar to the one in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. In Band Baaja Baaraat, Shruti and Bittoo promise to not fall in love while eating bread-pakoras. Jiske saath vyaapar karo, usse kabhi na pyaar karo. The break-pakoras are replaced by crêpes in Befikre when Dharam and Shyra say they will not fall in love. This celebration of break-ups, an Imtiaz Ali concept, is now getting as common as Nirupa Roy playing mother roles. Befikre is the third film of 2016 to celebrate a break-up after Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and Dear Zindagi. Shyra keeps saying that she is tired and wants to stay put. Bas theherna chahti hun, ek jagah rukna chahti hun. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Bunny faced a similar tiredness but he refused to admit it. Main udna chahta hun, daudna chahta hun, girna bhi chahta hun, bus rukna nahi chahta. There is another similar scene in Befikre and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani where the two protagonists in the two movies put their feet in water when they are confused about their life choices.
At one point in the film, it is seen that Shyra has an open copy of Chetan Bhagat's Half Girlfriend by her bedside. In Chetan Bhagat's own words,  "Half girlfriend, to me, is a unique Indian phenomenon, where boys and girls are not clear about their relationship status with each other. A boy may think he is more than friends with the girl, but the girl is still not his girlfriend. Hence, I thought we needed a term like half girlfriend." It would be too simplistic to relate this to the film's stroyline but there is a similar conflict between Dharam and Shyra to give a name to relationship. She was his girlfriend, and now is his friend. He is still jealous when he sees her with a man. They are something in between a couple and friends, like she is his half-girlfriend.
Half Girlfriend
In the opening song of the film, Labon Ka Karobar, there are multiple couples kissing each other. Some of these couples belong to different races, and some belong to the same sex. However, the theatrical version of the song does not have the gay kisses because the moral policing body led by Mr. Nihalani felt it would not be acceptable to the audience to see two men kiss. Besides the actions of the film certification board, one would expect a film on modern relationships to show a little sensitivity to homosexuality. However, the film caricatures it, like any other typical film. Dharam makes casual remarks stereotyping the gay community.
Befikre is a watchable film, with some great performances by its actors, especially Ranveer Singh, but by no means it is a film with revolutionary ideas. A lot of things that it wants to show have been done before. It is a revolutionary and a daring film for its filmmaker, whose films have always veered towards tradition. He is trying to make a point that he, too, can make a film based on modern relationships. In my other favorite scene of the film, Shyra explains the significance of the love locks bridge in Paris. Thousands of padlocks, tied by lovers, on the bridge were taken down as it made the bridge unstable. Shyra remarks that even the most romantic city in the world realized that no one can bear the weight of love. It is the same predicament faced by its filmmaker trying to make something different, but he is bogged down by the love for his own first film.

It was interesting that Befikre at many places calls Dharam as Dharma, which is also the production banner of Aditya Chopra's famous cousin Karan Johar. And, it also evokes Sooraj Barjatya's family drama Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! The holy trinity—Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, and Sooraj Barjatya—are known for their films seeped in Indian values. Last year, two of these filmmakers, Aditya and Karan, made a film on what they feel are contemporary relationships. The last pantheon of the trinity still more or less stands (though he tried an experiment in Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon). The icons of tradition are moving towards modernity. Their ideas of it are a little derivative but as they say, if one does not move with the times, there is a danger of one being left too far behind, which no filmmaker would ever like.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Pyar mein padna is like investing in mutual funds. Hum sabko lagta hai baad mein jab mature hoga na, tab return degaa. Joh hum nahi sochte hai woh yeh hai, ki investing in mutual funds is subject to market risk."
—Dharam, Befikre

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