In the thick of night, the father Narottam Mishra (Pankaj Tripathi) opens the door for his daughter Bitti (Kriti Sanon), who has returned home after a jaunt with a male friend. He smells alcohol on her breath but shrugs it off. He even bums cigarettes from her when he exhausts his own stock. Then there is the mother Susheela (Seema Pahwa), who might call her a chudail (witch) for roaming around recklessly in the night but doesn’t appear to impose any curbs on her. Is this parent-daughter bonding for real or some sort of wish fulfilment, deliberate tokenism or a genuinely nuanced portrayal? We may keep arguing endlessly on it, we may even carp about the constant stress on having brought up the girl up “like a boy”; nonetheless it does feel refreshing and hatke. Be it Farooque Sheikh in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or Seema Pahwa in Dum Laga Ke Haisha or the Pahwa-Tripathi combine now in Bareilly Ki Barfi — the changing face of parenthood in Hindi cinema is worth a closer, more critical look, but that’s for another article.
Despite two seemingly progressive, non-interfering parents Bitti feels stifled. Because marriage is still the ultimate goal — both for her and her parents — and liberal young men are hard to come by. They want to know if she is a virgin. No such questions would be asked if she were a boy, says Bitti. She finds empathy in author Pritam Vidrohi who has created a character quite like her in his novel Bareilly Ki Barfi. She promptly falls for the idea of Vidrohi (which literally translates to rebel) without having met him. After all, he finds khoobi (goodness) even in her aib (flaws). But the author Vidrohi is actually a printing press owner — Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana) — who is battling his own love demons. And the real Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao) is a meek sari salesman who can’t quite string two sentences together. Confusion gets confounded, a case of mistaken identities follows but eventually all ends predictably well.
In many ways BKB is reminiscent of the middle class, comedy of errors that were built on trifles — Sai Paranjape’s Chashme Buddoor or Katha, Basu Chatterjee’s Chhoti Si Baat or Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chupke Chupke and Kissi Se Na Kehna. What continues to be in the spirit of these classic comedies is the odd fun with the wordplay and some nicely realised moments, like the love games in the boat ride where a suicide spot is pointed out by the boatman — “Yahan 72 aashiqon ne jal samadhi li hai” (Here lies the grave of 72 doomed lovers). What has changed is the relocation of the romedies, from cities to small towns, perhaps because that urban, middle class of the films of yore has transformed too radically to be the backdrop for such stories any more.
So you have the small town packaged in all its panoramic grandeur and Eastman colour. Visually Lucknow and Bareilly can be as fetching as Switzerland. If you are looking for acute social realism then this Bareilly is not for you. It is meant to be a backdrop for some romance and fun, for consumption in urban multiplexes, meant to surprise urban viewers in whose imagination small towns continue to be “conservative” rather than spaces whereas in reality, a “sexual revolution” could be in full swing.
It’s the parents, along with a host of other characters around the lead protagnists, who inject life into BKB. The so-called supporting cast is key to BKB, as in countless other films of late — be it Chirag’s friend or Vidrohi’s mom. Rao is a hoot and brings the house down with his chameleon turn and comic timing — simpering simpleton one minute, full of swagger the next; a role that could have become a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor. Tripathi is mesmerising with his seeming effortlessness in inhabiting the role of the idiosyncratic father. Hear him talk to the fan, assessing the suitor for his daughter — “even if good for nothing he would at least be able to swat flies in the sweet shop” — and it’s hard not to smile indulgently. Pahwa’s mother feels like a carry forward of the sex-advisor mom of Dum Laga Ke… but she still makes things absolutely fresh and riveting, specially when she tries to hook a suitor for her daughter with a glass of sharbat. You can’t look at the natty Sanon when Pahwa shares the frame with her. In fact, it’s the lead pair who render things utterly plastic — Sanon seems planted into the milieu than belonging to it while Khurrana is oddly low key and colourless despite having been at ease in a similar setting in Dum Laga Ke…
The mediocre music and song-n-dance routines bring in the typical filmi touch to the film trying hard to fight it but still wanting to remain within it. Although a likeable film, BKB is one that could have but doesn’t quite fly.