I am a Frenchman who lived for seven years in India and most of the Hindi I’ve learnt comes from the songs of Bollywood movies. I may not be the best person to explain the benefits of demonetisation, but when it comes to talking about love (so French, no?) – mera dil, aashiqui, sanam, mehboob, meri zindagi, meri jaan, name them all – I am a bit more comfortable.
So when, back in Mumbai for one month, a romcom filled with new songs and set in Paris was released, I jumped at the opportunity to connect mera dil with mera desh.
The recently released Befikre certainly does not have a revolutionary storyline. Dharam (Ranveer Singh) goes from Delhi to Paris to work as a stand-up comic artist in a club catering to Indians. In Paris he meets Shyra (Vaani Kapoor), a second-generation Indian immigrant whose parents own a chic restaurant. They click, make love, fight, break up and eventually patch up at the end of the movie to live happily ever after. This isn’t anything new under the Bollywood sky. But Aditya Chopra’s movie is a light and enjoyable romantic comedy lifted by the charm and vitality of its actors, especially Ranveer Singh, for whom we feel an immediate empathy.
Of interest to me was also to see how Paris was portrayed in a Bollywood movie. Would Aditya Chopra challenge the stereotypes about the French capital and France? No need to waste your time thinking: the answer is no.
Befikre depicts France as a beautiful postcard. The cinematography is superb and the lighting adds to the magic. Not a single lamppost, bridge or cobblestone is missing. We do not escape one monument, one small street, one café. It is well known that Paris is romantic, French is the language of love and we keep kissing endlessly in every corner. It’s a wrap.
I was, of course, surprised by a few details: the Lido music hall girls have a bit more clothes in the movie than in reality, we are not very fond of peanut butter sandwiches, and I am not sure anybody would dare slap a policeman (though some would probably like to thank Ranveer for that).
The movie is definitely a love letter to the city and good publicity to seduce tourists. The postcard glitters like the Eiffel Tower. Of course, we do not expect Chopra to make a Ken Loach movie. But unfortunately we are not kissing 24 hours a day, and not everyone dances under the bridges; sadly, some also sleep there.
Bollywood meets the French way of life
What interested me slightly more was the way Chopra confronts certain aspects of the French way of life. In France, the attitude towards love and sex is certainly more “befikre”. It is not unusual to make love on your first date. Too fast maybe, because you can’t trust your partner who could even steal your wallet (unlucky Dharam! This never happened to me).
We enjoy greater freedom with our attitudes towards sex and the body. We are not easily shocked by nudity. The roar in the audience in Mumbai when we got a glimpse of Ranveer’s muscular and waxed bottom reveals a lot about how different it is here.
Women, as depicted in the movie, can freely choose or reject a partner, make the first move, or, like Shyra, check out the bottom of a man walking in the street. No moral judgment will be passed on them.
Then we see Shyra on the eve of her wedding, wondering, with a comforting paratha, whether marrying Anil is the right decision. Her mother reminds her that she is French and must take advantage of her citizenship to make her own choices without any pressure from the family or society.
Does that mean that the French do not respect any commitment or have no feelings? No. True that when we live with someone, we don’t necessarily marry. Also true that we can marry a same sex person, and that if we marry it’s not always for life – though that could happen too. We probably jump into a relationship more easily knowing that there is a risk factor. It may not work, but we are ready to follow a track, not knowing where it leads.
I would say we generally agree with Chopra’s view at the end of the movie: “If you think non-stop about the safety of love and how long it will last, then you may be left thinking. But if you take the leap, then you may fly and it may work!”
Is Chopra subtly trying to make his audience question set ways of thinking? Is he offering a choice that lifts the burden from the shoulders of some Indian women? I would be interested to discuss this thought with today’s young Indians.
Befikre doesn’t have enough drama and floods of tears, and the few songs in French may not appeal to Indian audiences. But I greatly enjoyed the movie. You may not become “befikre”, but you may look at love a bit differently.