It is difficult to imagine Aditya Chopra directing a more successful film than his debut blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, a saccharine love story which remains an important part of pop culture 21 years after it turned Shah Rukh Khan into a Bollywood superstar. But in a recent note, Chopra said he wouldn’t make a Raj-Simran love story if he were to release his first film today.
“Befikre” (Carefree) is meant to be his leap forward, from stories where family and traditions were barricades in the path of true love to today’s time when the real hurdle is in the mind of the two protagonists, and a committed relationship is not always a priority. The story might be Indian, but Chopra chooses to base it in Paris, which in his mind must embody the kind of bohemian society where you can kiss with abandon and live-in with a partner without blinking an eye, because God forbid any of these things should happen in India.
“Our daughter brings so many men home, but we don’t ask her questions. After all, this is Paris, not Patiala,” Shyra’s (Vaani Kapoor) father tells Dharam (Ranveer Singh), as if promiscuity depends on which city you live in. Indeed, Chopra’s opening montage is of various couples indulging in long, passionate kisses on the streets of Paris, and most of the film is dedicated to Dharam and Shyra’s lip-locks and romps in bed (with each other and other people).
There is barely a story here (credited to Chopra), and the fact that the director chooses to oscillate his narrative between flashbacks and the present day adds to the confusion on screen.
Dharam is a stand-up comic from Delhi who finds success talking about his love life in a Paris club, and Shyra plays guide to clueless Indian tourists who are visiting France for the first time. They start off being in love, then break up, then settle into a friendship, and then move on to the clichéd “confused in love” phase - the cornerstone of every romantic film.
Chopra and dialogue writer Sharat Katariya manage to infuse some freshness in Singh and Kapoor’s exchanges, but those moments are far too few to count. They barely share any chemistry and over-act throughout the film as if to compensate for the flimsy script.
Chopra, the maker of one of Bollywood’s most enduring love stories, wanted to move with the times, but he didn’t quite get a hold of the Dharam-Shyra generation as he did the Raj-Simran generation. His leap of faith falls short, and in J K Rowling’s words, he ends up getting “splinched”.