Nitya Mehra’s directorial debut takes tips from Harold Ramis’s comic classic Groundhog Day in trying to re-imagine the Bollywood romcom. Jai (Sidharth Malhotra) has been seeing Diya (Katrina Kaif) since they were eight, but it seems that apart from sashaying in slow motion against soft-focus backdrops, they haven’t been doing much talking. When it comes to taking the vows, Jai dithers. The whole of North India is at his wedding but where is the place to catch a breath, he complains while standing on the lawns of a mansion that could house a few hundred people.
After a spat with Diya and a drunken night, Jai wakes up in successive phases in his own future. He can see what is to become of his relationship, and not all of it is pretty. Can he stop time and alter his seemingly inevitable fate like Bill Murray from Groundhog Day?
Mehra tries to elevate shopworn material by making her characters seem deeper than they actually are. Baar Baar Dekho is catnip for audiences who love movies with lovely faces and bodies and empty heads (Malhotra and Kaif fit the bill), chartbusting soundtracks (like this one), foreign locations that they can visit vicariously (Thailand, England), and luxury sets that let them escape the heat and dust of the real India. There isn’t one bad-looking frame in this movie, which has been shot by cinematographer Ravi K Chandran to resemble a 141-minute video for Architectural Digest.
The casual chic extends to the storytelling style and the direction of the actors. There’s no place for hysterics in this perfectly designed world, and when Jai tries to make sense of his situation, he looks mildly bewildered rather than disoriented. The dialogue is conversational, the characters act naturally, and stand-up comedians try to give the material some edge (Anuvab Pal has co-written the self-important screenplay; Rohan Joshi attempts to portray Jai’s friend Raj). Sleek sentient gadgetry marks the distant future (Twitter will still be around, it seems), while the material and physical surroundings available only to a privileged few mark the present.
East and West
But Baar Baar Dekho doesn’t want to be dismissed as frivolous fare about the minor creases on the brows of the uber rich. The film doesn’t want Groundhog Day’s cheerful anarchic sense of fun either. Thus Jai is described as a bright mathematician with a brilliant future at the University of Cambridge, while Diya is a “modern artist”. It’s telling that both characters blend Indian and Western motifs in their work – he is pursing Vedic mathematics; she is making collages out of traditional portraiture.
The movie’s heart is similarly dual-faced. It wants to be seen as a departure from sentimental Hindi film romances, but it doesn’t want to let go of the messy bundle of emotions these films tap into. With a tighter screenplay, sharper dialogue and more accomplished leads, Baar Baar Dekho could have been that hybrid between Hollywood and Bollywood genres, but it is neither here nor there, neither of the present nor of the future. Mehra has a fashion catalogue writer’s eye for beauty, but this movie needed a Mills & Boon writer’s heart to make its fantastical premise work.