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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Film review: Bareilly Ki Barfi is a sweet ode to friendship

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s outrageous comedy of errors is set in Bareilly, a small city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh

Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi. Courtesy Junglee Pictures
Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi. Courtesy Junglee Pictures

Bareilly Ki Barfi (Bareilly’s Sweet) starts out as a film about Bitti Mishra, the main character portrayed by actress Kriti Sanon, but, somewhere along the line, it is her co-star Rajkummar Rao who steals the show. Not even Ayushmann Khurrana, who rates among the finest actors in Bollywood today, can match up to Rao’s inspired portrayal of a timid young man who slowly but surely finds his roar.

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s outrageous comedy of errors is set in Bareilly, a small city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Bitti is a modern young woman with traditional-minded parents – her mother is bent on getting her married; her father is a quiet sweet-shop owner who affectionately turns a blind eye to his daughter’s adventures. Ever rebellious and willful, Bitti finds it hard to sustain the liberated lifestyle she enjoys: she smokes, drinks and watches lascivious Hollywood movies, much to the shock of the people around her. Berated at every turn, she decides to run away, only to serendipitously come across a novel, titled Bareilly Ki Barfi, whose titular character appears to be based on her.

Wowed – and flattered – by the story, Bitti decides to stay. She wants to meet the author Pritam Vidrohi, since he waxes so eloquently about the very “unlady-like” qualities that deem her a misfit. What she doesn’t know is that the book is actually written by the lovelorn Chirag Dubey, the local printing-press owner, as a kiss-and-tell tribute to an ex-girlfriend who ditched him for another man. But there’s an odd twist: in a bid to keep his former lover from being identified and shamed, Chirag slaps the name and photo of his buddy on the book jacket.

This is the premise, then, of Bareilly Ki Barfi, and at first glance, it seems like a sloppy excuse for a love triangle. But Iyer Tiwari knew what she was doing when she cast Rao as Pritam. Always a pleasure to watch, the diminutive Rao lights up the screen with his outsize talent, and is hilarious as the timid, reluctant friend who is bullied by the streetwise Chirag into pretending to be a writer. Pritam starts out as a meek, whimpering mummy’s boy, who gives up his boring job as a sari salesman (the scene where he delicately wraps one around himself to make a sale is priceless), and takes on the persona of a foul-mouthed, leather-clad bully. The transformation is effortless, putting Rao at the centre of many uproarious follies. Khurrana, as the lily-livered Chirag, valiantly tries to keep up, but it’s hard to pay him much attention when Rao is brilliantly gobbling up every inch of screen space. Sanon is delightful, if miscast, as the bold-as-brass Bitti caught between two men: she looks too coiffed and perfect to be living in a sleepy corner of Bareilly.

Bolstered by a solid script – credit goes to Nitish Tiwari, who wrote and directed Aamir Khan’s 2016 superhit sports biopic Dangal Bareilly Ki Barfi serves as a colourful little vehicle for the three lead stars. Thanks to their chemistry, great music and a fine supporting cast, the film chugs along without any sluggish bits. Mention must be made here of Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Bhargava as Bitti’s long-suffering parents. They slip with astounding ease into their roles of a simple, gentle couple who are more than a little anxious about their obstinate daughter, and manage to elicit laughter from the audience every time they appear in a scene.

Arriving on the heels of a slew of big-budget Bollywood movies that bit box-office dust in ignominious fashion, Iyer Tiwari’s romantic comedy is like a breath of fresh air. Because, more than anything else, it offers an honest, wide-angle peek at what life can be like in a small Indian town, from the culture to the quaint colloquialisms. Bareilly Ki Barfi is just what the title claims to be: a sweet ode to friendship, love and loyalty, played out with genuine heart in a small town that boasts as much character as its quirky folk.

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