Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon, Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Seema Pahwa, Rohit Choudhury, Swati Semwal
Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Bareilly Ki Barfi is what you’d get if you took Saajan and gave it the Basu Chatterjee or Sai Paranjpye treatment. It’s a sweet, inoffensive romantic comedy based on a slim premise, but buoyed by strong performances, the unmistakable charm, and texture of small-town India, and garnished with moments of crackling humor.
Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari transports the viewer to the bustling by-lanes of Bareilly where we meet our protagonist Bitti Mishra (Kriti Sanon), a free-spirited young girl who could well be a distant cousin of Kangana Ranaut’s character Tanu from the first Tanu Weds Manu film. Bitti is the complete antithesis of the small-town girl as depicted in most Hindi movies. She sneaks off and smokes cigarettes, rides pillion with the boys in the neighborhood, and routinely puts off prospective grooms by refusing to play the coy virginal cliché.
One of the small joys of this film is the relationship between Bitti and her father, a sweet shop owner (Pankaj Tripathi), who has raised her with all the freedom he’d give to a son. Unlike her permanently exasperated mother (Seema Pahwa) who is having a hard time reconciling with her rebellious spirit, Daddy Dearest lets her fly. A voice-over by Javed Akhtar describes the family as a zany, eccentric bunch but the irony is that in their very oddities and contradictions they’re your average Indian family.
The plot kicks into motion when Bitti chances upon a pulpy novel and discovers that the feisty heroine is a lot like her. Thrilled that there’s someone out there who understands and appreciates her kind, Bitti becomes obsessed with tracking down the author, a fella named Pritam Vidrohi. For this, she enlists the help of printing press owner Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana), who, in fact, is the real author of the book.
You see, Chirag banged out the novel while struggling with heartbreak and bullied his friend Pritam (Rajkummar Rao) into putting his name and photograph on it. Now clearly smitten by Bitti, Chirag forcibly coaches the mild-mannered Pritam into behaving like an arrogant oaf in order to repel Bitti and clear the path to her heart for himself.
The film’s script, by Nitesh Tiwari and Shreyas Jain, bubbles with situational humor and terrific one-liners. The writers evoke a strong sense of place, rooting the story and the characters in a landscape that’s both rich and real. For a film so specific in texture, the casting of the supporting players is crucial, and Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Pahwa shine as Bitti’s parents, while Rohit Choudhary is very good too as Chirag’s devoted best friend Munna. Yet the plot itself is thin and frankly predictable; hence much of the film feels stretched, particularly in the first hour. Too much screen-time is committed to establishing Chirag’s growing feelings for Bitti. We get it.
Bareilly Ki Barfi really takes flight with the arrival of Pritam, whose transformation into a boorish lout gives the film some of its best moments. Rajkummar Rao is in superb form and pretty much chews up the scenery each time he’s on the screen. His performance is in all in the little touches: the accent, the body language, slipping from the soft-spoken Pritam to the obnoxious ‘rangbaaz’. He’s got it all down to the last detail.
Ayushmann Khurrana holds up well too, although it’s a familiar role for him, having played both shades of Chirag – cunning North Indian ‘fixer’ and doomed romantic – a few times already.
At the center of this love triangle is Bitti, and it’s easily Kriti Sanon’s most fleshed-out character yet. She’s sincere and throws herself into the part, but the rawness shows. The accent and the lines don’t roll off her tongue quite as naturally, and Kriti never feels entirely convincing as the small-town-bred firecracker.
There is a lot to enjoy here but the script contrivances rankle. This is a movie that works on account of the trimmings: the acting, the clap-trap dialogues, and the authentic texture of the world that it’s set in. If only there was more meat to the main dish. Nevertheless, Bareilly Ki Barfi is appropriately sweet and not a bad way at all to spend two hours. I’m going with three out of five.
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