'Carefree' ('Befikre'): Film Review | Dubai 2016

CAREFREE - Still - H - 2016
Dubai International Film Festival
Predictable outweighs cute.

Bollywood star Ranveer Singh meets his sexual match in modern girl Vaani Kapoor in a Paris-set Yash Raj rom-com directed by Aditya Chopra.

You can feel writer-director Aditya Chopra, who is also chairman of Bollywood mega-shingle Yash Raj Films, pushing back the industry’s sexual frontiers in the romantic comedy Carefree (Befikre) — at least in the uncensored 132-minute version that had its gala premiere at the Dubai Film Festival in the presence of live-wire Ranveer Singh and his sparkling co-star Vaani Kapoor. Opening with a kissing anthology longer than Cinema Paradiso’s ending and featuring matter-of-fact bedroom scenes, lesbians and even a micro-glimpse of Singh’s bare bottom, this is a very modern film by Indian standards. By Western ones, it's no news and much too predictable, though it has its charming and entertaining moments and some energizing dance numbers.

Die-hard Singh fans will dig him in an unrepressed clownish vein, and everyone can enjoy the thoroughly delightful Kapoor. They may not have much romantic chemistry, but are more like parallel talents in a make-believe French universe of free love, hearts and flowers and padlocks on the bridge. Though far from Bollywood's most memorable mind-blowers, it may set hearts racing at home and in Mideast markets, which now account for some 30 percent of Yash Raj’s revenues. Dialog is a fast-moving mix of Hindi, English and French.

Indians will see it as a social update to Chopra's 1995 breakthrough mega-hit Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride) in which Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol fell in love while vacationing in Europe and fought parental opposition to marry. Here it’s another story. Parents have no say in questions of living together and marriage, and if they do get some advice in edgewise to their daughter, it’s to follow her heart and marry the goof who makes her laugh, not the young millionaire who adores her. This being a Bollywood comedy, it’s obvious whom she’ll choose.

The story of Dharam (Singh) and Shyra’s (Kapoor) romance is told in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, beginning with her moving out of their apartment after a furious argument. Though the outcome is known, the fun should be in how it comes about, via bickerings and breakups and makeups.

So back to the beginning. Dharam (Singh), a boy from New Delhi, has just arrived in Paris to work in his brother’s night club as a stand-up comic. He’s stunned to find himself surrounded by so many gorgeous French girls, but soon discovers they’re not as available as they seem. His hot female roommate, for example, has a live-in girlfriend, and even he isn’t naïve enough to believe his brief fantasy of a threesome will ever materialize.

He meets Shyra (Kapoor) in an outdoor bar on the Seine. She's a whirlwind dynamo who was born in Paris of Indian parents and raised with French mores. After a sensationally sexy dance together, bed is the logical next step. But in the morning, she leaves without giving him her phone number. Reason given: She’s just out of a relationship and not ready to start a new one.

By the next song-and-dance number, which express all the craziness, anti-conformism and childishness they have in common, they decide to move in together. Their pact is no sentimentality — love means never having to say “I love you.” Their mutual misperception that they're in lust, not in love, leads to the foretold breakup, and afterward to being “just friends.”

After giving vent to his hormones, Dharam settles on blond model Christine, mainly to get back at Shyra for dating a “boring banker” who proves to be anything but, when they get drunk on a triple-date in a karaoke bar. Proof of the failure of the Dharam-Shyra pair to ignite is the appeal of this laid-back, self-ironic banker as a far better husband for her. How to resist a man who proposes at a candlelit dinner for two on top of the Eiffel Tower? Alas for both of them. As their relationships progress, Dharam and Shyra still refuse to admit their feelings in words, but the dancing, set to Mikey McCleary's jumpin' music, says it all.

Dancing in deglammed skinny jeans and sneakers, the lovely Kapoor never makes a misstep in the central role, showing her talent as a comedienne in scene after scene. Portraying an over-the-top kook who frequently takes his shirt off and exhibits his muscular bod, Singh runs humorously wild — picture a Ben Stiller-ish sex obsession inside the body of Thor — turned loose on Paris, and you get the idea. A short scene of Dharam romping through a hotel in red-paillette underwear, with Shyra beaming at his side, offers a classic moment.

Production company: Yash Raj Films
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor, Elisa Bachir Bey, Julie Ordon
Director, writer, producer: Aditya Chopra
Screenplay: Aditya Chopra, Sharat Katariya
Executive producer: Bharat Rawail
Director of photography: Kaname Onoyama
Production designer: Anne Seibel
Costume designer: Natalie Yuksel
Editor: Namrata Rao
Music: Mikey McCleary
Casting: Pierre-Jacques Benichou, Shanoo Sharma
Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Cinema of the World Gala)

132 minutes