The concept of an individual getting a glimpse of their future and coming back in time to correct the present has been repeatedly visited by Hollywood. It has not, however, been explored in contemporary Hindi commercial films so when Delhi boy Jai Varma (Sidharth Malhotra) wakes up one day after a fight with his fiancée Diya Kapoor (Katrina Kaif) to find himself fast forwarded in time and place to their honeymoon in Thailand, it is natural to expect an unconventional film.
And in the first half, that is what director Nitya Mehra’s Baar Baar Dekho is.
“With the benefit of hindsight” is how we often preface discussions about lessons learnt from our past. Imagine though having this “benefit of hindsight” in your today, in the moment, in your here and now?
That is what Jai gets and for the initial one hour of the film, his confusion, his regret over his mistakes, his desperation to return and fix what he messed up, and the suspense over how this will all turn out are enjoyable. His attack of commitment phobia in the beginning is abrupt and therefore unconvincing, but excusable because what follows is intriguing for a while.
Then the curse of the second half strikes.
Mehra, who seems so assured pre-interval, seems not to know how to keep her film going. The constant back and forth is fun pre-interval, but in the second half it becomes tiresome. And with the writing just skimming over Diya’s character, Jai’s fight to keep her in his life ultimately becomes his fight, not ours.
At several crucial points in the film, Diya asks Jai why he loves her and his changing response is projected as a marker of his evolution as a person, yet not once does he ask her why she loves him. She is, after all, not conceived as a three-dimensional human, but as Jai’s sprightly childhood friend who grows up to be his sprightly adult lover, no more.
The writing (story by Sri Rao, screenplay by Rao, Mehra herself and Anuvab Pal) gets so involved in the business of time travel that it invests less and less in character development, thus gradually making both Jai and Diya – especially Diya – people who are unworthy of our emotional involvement and time.
Still, the film is not without merit. Kaif and Malhotra both look stunning.
She remains a limited actor, but it is only fair to say that she is becoming more at ease in front of the camera with each passing film. Malhotra is a fine actor in possession of perhaps the most sensitive pair of eyes among the Hindi film heroes of his generation. He does his best to make something of the written material at hand here.
The strong supporting cast includes the ever-reliable Sarika as Jai’s mother and Ram Kapoor as Diya’s father. Their characters get the same cursory treatment accorded to Diya in the script, which gives them very little space to display their acting chops. Both are mere devices to facilitate Jai’s story rather than being individuals in their own right. The only satellite characters written with some degree of depth are Raj (Rohan Joshi) and Chitra (the feisty Sayani Gupta from Margarita With A Straw), but neither actor makes a mark here.
The real star of Baar Baar Dekho is its top-notch production quality.
Hindi films rarely get ageing make-up right, but this one does. Mark Coulier, Natasha Nischol and the rest of the prosthetics and make-up team (along with the lighting and camera departments) deserve kudos for their work on Malhotra and Kaif.
The film has been shot in Scotland, India and Thailand, and cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran turns every frame into a work of art, starting with that early moment when a tree fills the screen, the camera casually moves behind it and then returns to give us our first view of a young Kaif leaning against it. Spectacular.
The songs are unobtrusively woven into the narrative. 'Kaala chasma' accompanying the closing credits has foot-tapping appeal, but it is not half as hot within the film as it is as a standalone video.
For a film that aims at being a philosophical commentary on living in the present, focusing on the small joys of life and not resting your entire existence on a future you do not know, Baar Baar Dekho ends up being very limited in its exploration of this point and others. In fact it needs to be said that it is not half as rebellious as it seems to consider itself. Certainly it is unusual to see a Hindi film in which a hero apologises to his fiancé/girlfriend/wife (Sultan too did that recently – surprise surprise); it is just as unusual to see a husband point out that his career decisions affect his wife as much as they affect him and he has no right to make up his mind about some things without consulting her.
Yet ultimately, a man who could not bring himself to accept financial support from his wife’s father at the start ‘evolves’ into a man who still feels the need to underline his role as the provider who will set up a studio for his artist wife without pa-in-law’s monetary help. And in the end, the film becomes less about throwing ourselves completely into our present (good point, point taken) and more about underlining the essentiality of marriage as the natural goal of any romantic relationship. So what’s new?
Sadly then, Baar Baar Dekho does not have the courage or the questioning mind we saw in Shakun Batra’s Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) though both are Karan Johar productions.
Early in this film, Jai tells Diya that he wants more from life than their marriage, he wants a career which is unlikely to take off if he ties himself down to her. Because we see evidence all around us in real life that marriage ends or slows down most women’s professional journeys, we never discuss the possibility of it being a hurdle in the way of a man’s professional dreams.
After all, most wives follow their husbands wherever they are transferred, manage the home and children so that he can bag that next promotion and that next pay hike, and let their own ambitions take a backseat? It was curious to see a man expressing a fear we usually expect from a woman. This was an idea worth exploring but falls by the wayside as the film trundles along to a socially acceptable conclusion that would please a conservative audience.
If I had the power to go back in time and any power over Team Baar Baar Dekho, I would cajole or bully them into rewriting the second half of their script. In the present though, in the here and now, this is a film that starts off well but fails to sustain itself.