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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Bareilly Ki Barfi
Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon, Rajkummar Rao and others
Rating: * * *

Bitti Mishra has a dull job with the electricity board, but is supposedly ‘different’ because she smokes, break-dances (badly!) and watches pirated English films. Bitti (Kriti Sanon) is too forward for a place like Bareilly and is constantly rejected by potential grooms. Why she, for all her boldness, subjects herself to this ritual humiliation is not explained.

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s 'Bareilly Ki Barfi,' makes for an interesting watch not only because of its silly female protagonist, but also one of the male leads. Based on Nicholas Barreau’s novel 'Ingredient Of Love', which is inspired by the classic 'Cyrano de Bergerac', the plot has been suitably Indianised by Nitesh Tiwari and Shreyas Jain, set in the unremarkable UP town of Bareilly (famous for its bamboo, not barfi).

Javed Akhtar’s droll voiceover makes Bitti’s parents (Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Pahwa) sound more “not normal” than they actually are. Bitti's father runs a sweetmeat shop and is an indulgent father, while her mother can only think of her wedding.

When running away from home, Bitti comes across a novel 'Bareilly Ki Barfi' and is shocked to find that the heroine is a mirror-image of herself. In trying to trace the author, she meets printing press owner Chirag (Ayushmann Khurrana). He had written it himself as therapy for his broken heart, but put his friend Pritam Vidrohi’s (Rajkummar Rao) photo on it. She befriends him as a ‘postman’ for the letters she sends to her new crush, to which he replies pretending to be Vidrohi.

She insists on meeting the writer, so Chirag is forced to present him, but before that he transforms the mild-mannered, stuttering sari-salesman into a rogue-ish dude. He hopes Bitti and her family will be put off by the loudmouth hooligan-type, but, much to his surprise, they are bewitched.

The rest of the story is about how the knotty triangle plays out, but it takes much too long to get to the inevitable end; by then it has only Rajkummar Rao’s fabulous performance to keep it afloat. Without underlining it too much, what the writers and director explore is the skewed idea of masculinity; why women tend to prefer bad boys while friendzone-ing the nice ones. Ayushmann Khurrana just barely saves his character from being a weepy wimp.

Bareilly Ki Barfi, reminiscent of the films of Basu Chatterjee and Sai Paranjpye, is sweet and funny, with some of the most delightful dialogue written in recent times. It is a relief to see filmmakers turn to telling stories set in small town India after needlessly glossy globe-trotting disasters. If only the female protagonist had some more shades… and spice.

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