Cast: Katrina Kaif, Sidharth Malhotra, Ram Kapoor, Sarika, Sayani Gupta, Taaha Shah Badusha, Rajit Kapoor
Director: Nitya Mehra
Is it fate, or is it the big choices we make? Which one decides our future? Baar Baar Dekho, written by three people, including the film’s debutant director and a stand-up comic, seems to have figured out the answer to this existential question, and it’s quite simple and corny. The film doesn’t just share the answer with us. It makes us agonise over it by bestowing upon its male lead the power to vist the future at will. The interesting part of the answer, incententally, is that the question we often ask of life is itself flawed. Baar Baar Dekho opens with a lyrical montage about two children being born — Jai and Diya — how they come upon each other, bond and then pretty much become sweethearts. The film opens its mouth, quite literally, to propose marriage. Well, it’s from the House of KJo, so it’s best to get to the point quickly.
Wedding finery, gende ke phool, bonking baraatis, followed by dancing baraatis and in between all the hijinks we figure that he, Jai (Sidharth Malhotra), is some sort of a mathematical genius because, in A Beautiful Mind style, he scribbles equations on a glass window. And also because she, Diya (Katrina Kaif), keeps throwing questions such as, “Jaanu, what is the square root of 43 lakh?” in the midst of a cuddling session, to which he, in true Shakuntala Devi oh-what-a-yawn tone, replies. That he can calculate without having to count on the little squares of his fingers arouses her. This, in essence, means that Diya doesn’t just love Jai, but also shares his dreams and passion. He on the other hand seems focused only on himself — his life, his future, his dreams. He wants to study in Cambridge, write a thesis, and is getting physically sick and irritated at being subjected to rituals that’ll lead to domesticity.
Jai is selfish, has a tinge of ass**** in the way he treats Diya and her huggy, lovey-dovey daddy. Diya, however, treats his indifference as if he’s just socially inept. She keeps planting kisses on his cheeks, keeping the faith in their bond while he’s drifted away from the moment. For a bit it seems as if interesting characters are stuck in a trite and tested Bollywood shaadi film. But then something solemn happens, and then something strange. Apropos nothing, it strikes him — a super power, the same one that struck Henry DeTamble after an accident in The Time Traveller’s Wife. But since this is India, and we are with North Indians, the powers could have seeped into our hero courtesy only two things: the sacred red thread tied on his wrist by the gyaani panditji (Rajit Kapur), or the bottle of champagne Jai gulped down out of sheer confusion and frustration. Should he marry his best-friend and sweetheart, or dump her and dash off to Cambridge?
And there onwards, he lands, upon waking, in the future, again and again... These daily jumps in time are not like waking up 18 hours later after a bad bhang trip, but two years later and then eight, then 16… There’s some mathematical equation to it all that my mind beeped out. And no, these are not random days, neither are they mundane. These are days of significance, milestones in Jai’s future life. We see the future, but we don’t know the choice he made — and neither does he. This is partly the film’s brave conceit, but also its flaw. For long stretches, Baar Baar Dekho is cinematically dramatic but emotionally barren. Because we don’t know much, we think, perhaps, the film is an instructional video for boring Indian patriarchal men — Dekho, what your life will be like if you continue in your my-work-is-my-life ways. Or, perhaps, it’s a metaphor for what happens when you live your life on the fringe, never diving in, always in another place, always wanting something else, something more. Or, we simply don’t think at all and check who has SMSed us. It all seems meaningless till Jai takes a bus ride and figures what Yash Chopra revealed years ago in one beautiful song, Aage bhi jaane na tu…
Writer-director Nitya Mehra’s Baar Baar Dekho is pretty and while its screenplay could have done with some tinkering by those time-travel nerds, it chooses to simply rely on our abiding faith in dream sequences. Well done, I say. I firmly believe that Hollywood wastes a lot of time and energy in trying to make absolute bunkum seem logical. It’s a foolish exercise and no time should be wasted on it. Thankfully, a lot of effort did go into creating the future — how insane gizmos will evolve and rule our lives, how we’ll live, communicate, the ugly, Star Treky hairstyles we’ll wear, how characters will age. It’s all pretty and CGI driven. Yet, these futuristic visions in modern, quirky, abstract settings are interesting because they feed into the life lesson the film’s trying to deliver. The future is cold, impersonal and generates an uneasy, eerie feeling that lingered long after I exited the hall.
Nitya Mehra’s film succeeds in pulling us into the future and show us what life will be like if we stay aloof. And through the feelings generated by the future, it says, take a dive. Jump in. Good or bad, embrace it. This message, corny and delivered in a mushy package, makes Baar Baar Dekho a better film in retrospect, much like its story. Baar Baar Dekho, by a woman director, has a full female gaze scene, but, sadly, its two female characters lean almost entirely on the men in their lives. Thankfully, Nitya Mehra, while blaming the men entirely for the mess in the women’s lives, doesn’t take away the power of choice from them.
Apart from a disappearing bracelet in a crucial scene, I found her direction confident and smart. And it’s no surprise that, for once, Katrina Kaif inhabits a real character. Though gorgeous and so toned and svelte that she made me spill my coffee, she’s real and fun, silly and flighty. But also, always, very casually, stunning and perfect. Sidharth Malhotra is very charming in the Pretty Woman fidgety kind of way. And he he can act. Thankfully, he wears his cuteness lightly and that makes him even more sexy.