Friday, September 22, 2023

‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’: This Barfi is yummy to the last morsel

Himalayan Paths

By Subhash K Jha (23:04)

Film: “Bareilly Ki Barfi”; Cast: Ayushmann Khurana, Rajkummar Rao, Kriti Sanon; Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari; Rating: ****(4 stars)

Early in the plot, we are told that the film’s heroine Bitti is no Sati Savitri. Thank God for smalltown mercies! In fact she adheres to another kind of stereotyping that Hindi cinema has lately embraced. You know, the smalltown girl who is hip and happy, sassy and sexy, rides two-wheelers and smokes whenever she can get her hands on a cancer stick, and when a prospective groom asks her if she is a virgin, Bitti retorts, “No, I am not. Are you?”

Ah, long live the virgin bride.

Bitti is from the same feisty school of small-town rebellion as Kareena Kapoor in “Jab We Met”, Kangana Ranaut in “Tanu Weds Manu” and Alia Bhatt in “Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya”. In fact what Bitti thinks to be streaks of rebellion (breakdancing, watching ‘angrezi’ films, etc etc) is nothing but a sign of decadent feminism.

And director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari knows it.She lets Bittu fly free. Even if it’s just a flight of limited coverage, it is still worth that soar towards the sky.

Before “Bareilly Ki Barfi” ends, Bittu, played with endearing vivacity by Kriti Sanon, must choose her life partner. It’s a toss-up between Chirag, the nakedly selfish foxy suitor who can’t bring himself to say those three magical words to Bittu (no, not “What the fuck”) in spite of his overweening brashness, and Pritam Vidrohi, the timid kind compassionate loser who sells sarees to bored housewives and lives his life on the crushed dreams of his existence like a daredevil walking on glass.

That Chirag and Pritam are played by Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao is an exceptionally happy circumstance for the film. Akin to Farooq Sheikh and Naseruddin Shah playing Deepti Naval’s suitors in “Katha”. A seemingly routine romantic triangle which has its antecedents in Sai Paranjpye’s “Katha” and Basu Chatterjee’s “Chit Chor” and even the Sanjay Dutt-Salman Khan-Madhuri Dixit potboiler “Saajan”, is transformed into a magical journey into small town whims and habits and romantic quirks in the bylanes of Bareilly.

Tiwari, who earlier directed that endearing film on female literacy “Nil Battey Sannata” carves a charming tale of a fey self-declared wild child and her two suitors. It is a film strewn with splendid moments framed in vistas of unrehearsed bustle by cinematographer Gavemic U Ary who shoots the characters, major or minor with equipoise and empathy.

Iyer’s storytelling is simple and brimming with uncluttered emotions. She doesn’t try to impress us with her knowledge of human feelings and failings. Instead she allows the three main characters to lay down their own feelings which they put down piece by piece exposing more of their personality than they would want us to know.

The writing and the dialogues sparkle with warmth and sunshine. Though the narrative pace slackens considerably after a point, we never lose interest in this oft-told tale that acquires an all new vigour through the terrific dialogues and performances.

While Rajkumar Rao’s double-identity heroics bring the house down, Ayushmann has the tougher role as he emerges a slimy opportunist most of the time until he undergoes an abrupt and unconvincing “hriday parivartan”. Kriti is spunky and in-character even in the scenes where she is not the centre of attraction. And Pankaj Tiwary and Seema Pahwa are absolutely delightful as her parents.

There is a sequence where Tripathy, a diehard supporter of his daughter’s dumbed-down rebel act, laments that parents spend half their lives craving to see their daughters get married and then dread their going away. The sequence threatens to grow emotional. But is quickly taken off the tearful radar.

That is the spirit in which this film moves. The director allows us to invest our feelings into the characters without demanding an emotional attachment from us.

Yes, there are potholes in the romantic journey. But at the end, you will come away with a smile as Bitti walks into the sunset (in a manner of speaking) with…

Ah now that is the question.

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