Daring To Take Risks: 'Befikre'
Aditya Chopra has made it clear that he isn’t chasing numbers with his next directorial venture nor has he created a screenplay that is ‘intense, dramatic and emotional.’ The implication of the last statement is that Chopra’s screenplays to date have been both dramatic and intense. How is this the case, when he wrote Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Rab Ne Bana di Jodi and co-wrote Dil To Pagal Hai, Mujhse Dosti Karoge, Bunty aur Babli and Aaja Nachle? Although all these films have some dramatic moments, they cannot really be classed as intense films. Certainly Chopra was responsible for creating Veer-Zaara, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Mohabbatein which can be positioned further along the spectrum but his films generally, are not heavy. Apart from alluding to the lightweight romantic genre of his new film, Aditya Chopra has mentioned the fact that he is departing so drastically from what viewers expect, that the venture might be considered risky.
Why has he made these statements? To prepare viewers for change? If so then it might not be such a bad thing. I still remember the anguish of those poor souls who went to see Dhobi Ghat expecting 3 Idiots or the disgruntled worshippers of Shahrukh-Kajol who found themselves watching a car-fest - Dilwale. Expectations are powerful motivators but when they aren’t met they can be powerful deterrents. Underlying Aditya Chopra’s public statements which invoke the aura of his legendary father - Yash Chopra - there is perhaps the knowledge that many people expect another Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The benchmark could potentially be set too high so Chopra is telling us he has taken a detour and isn’t - on this occasion - competing in the 100 Crore Club dash.
Aditya Chopra’s creative output thus far cannot be described as risky. His films in fact are more conservative than those of his father. Chopra Senior directed some bold works in his time - films about angry young men, films with confronting social messages and some which took viewers outside their moral comfort zone. One was songless. Aditya Chopra’s first effort as a writer - Parampara 1993 (co-written with Honey Irani) was a failure but contained the elements with which he would work in subsequent films. The conflict between tradition and modernity has been a favourite theme - one which he has resolved tactfully so as not to alienate a large part of the audience. Chopra embraces tradition even when he points out its destructive potential. Stern patriarchs could be ‘won over’ - persuaded to change. The lengths taken by his young protagonists to allay conflict has often been extreme. In a final shoot out in Parampara the character played by Aamir Khan takes the bullet so that the traditional cycle of violence can be broken. In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge Raj takes a heavy beating so that the patriarch will consider breaking an arranged marriage. In Mohabbatein the authoritarian principal’s daughter commits suicide to herald in change. Reconciliation rather than conflict has been Chopra’s mantra with love winning over enmity. To this end, the screenplay of Veer-Zaara was a coup because he was able to create a love story between an Indian and a Pakistani without recourse to violence or vilification. Although typically the protagonist suffers physically to bring about change.
Will Befikre forgo a much loved theme? Or will Chopra navigate it with a little more bravado? One thing is certain - these days it is possible to make a successful and light-hearted film which gives tradition the slap in its face that it sometimes deserves. (We have only to watch Bahl’s Queen -2014) It’s interesting to note that although conservative with regards to the films he has directed, Chopra has produced more adventurous narratives involving ‘live-in’ relationships, commitment phobia, immature males who need to grow up and assertive females. Perhaps Befikre will draw on these ideas.
When the word ‘fresh’ is applied to his current project, I hope it’s not a case of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath-water’. Hopefully the film will be grounded in some kind of Indian reality and not just take place in ‘cool-land’ focused on ‘cool characters’ having a ‘cool romance’ which might involve a bit of ‘cool angst’. However, much like his father, Aditya Chopra seems to have a practical approach to the creative process. He has repackaged ideas to make them more appealing or to simply give them a new lease of life. For instance there’s the story of a lack-lustre husband who wishes to spice up his marriage by joining a dance class. Taken from Aaja Nachle (but maybe inspired by Suo’s Shall We Dance -1996) this idea was developed into Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Or take the structural similarity between Veer-Zaara and Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Both are structured retrospectively, as a young woman discovers an idealized love story in the past. She establishes a relationship with the hero of that story, then acts as a catalyst in uniting him with the woman of his dreams. A key twist pre-climax appears in both films. For his latest film Chopra may have decided to break completely with the past or he may have decided to reconfigure ideas that we’ve already observed in his films. Although this second approach might seem regressive, I believe fresh stars, contexts and new directions can revamp ideas or preoccupations that are already familiar through the director-writer’s previous work.
One aspect which needs to be ‘toned down’ (or perhaps removed) for modern audiences is Chopra’s preoccupation with monologues - particularly those addressed to God - where characters are compelled to make requests, oaths or promises. It’s clearly a device to heighten emotion and focus the narrative but tends to appear contrived and heavy handed. And Chopra has used it in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mujhse Dosti Karoge, Dil To Pagal Hai, Mohabbatein, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
Light romantic films like their more dramatic counterparts need to tap into the fantasies, concerns and emotions of their audience. Where Befikre is concerned I don’t mind if I see Vaani (or Ranveer) wind blown and pensive at an open window gazing into an unknown future…I don’t mind if they pass each other multiple times in the street and don’t recognize that they are made for each other… I don’t even mind if they share matters of the heart through the walls of adjoining change cubicles. Aditya Chopra’s films have entertained me. I hope his risk (which might mean pitching to a narrower audience) will still deliver a film that resonates and entertains.
About the author:
In November 2003 I picked up a program for Australia's first Indian Film Festival, saw Dil to Pagal Hai and was hooked. Since I'm from a non-Indian background my new-found interest was a lonely one. None of my family or friends were as enthusiastic about Bollywood as I was, so I took to chatting on forums and writing. My articles have appeared in Australian magazines and international journals. I've also reviewed films online.