Carry on Ranbir
The flesh is willing but the spirit weak in Besharam, Abhinav Singh Kashyap’s unimaginative tribute to seventies Hindi cinema. Ranbir Kapoor’s carefree car thief Babli is inspired by characters played by Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan, but there’s a big difference between now and then. None of Kapoor’s predecessors had to shove socks into their underwears, adjust the area of their trousers around their crotches, imitate Michael Jackson dance moves, sniff the mattress used by their lady loves, and verbalise their sexual prowess. Kapoor’s bare back and a hint of whatever lies below it is viewed in a bathing scene that is sure to have a long afterlife on YouTube. Another seventies star, Ranbir’s father Rishi Kapoor, plays a constipated police officer who is seen in two painful sequences on the toilet pot, willing his intestines into action.
That’s about as shameless as Besharam gets. When it’s not trying to jolt audiences out of the stupor they are likely to slide into, Besharam turns over every cliché from the Big Black Book of Hindi Movie Plots section that lists “Robin Hood-inspired Thief Takes Good Turn After Heart is Stolen.”
It initially appears that Kashyap is trying to send up the conventions of popular cinema by tweaking stock characters and situations, but perhaps we are giving him too much credit. There is little here that hasn’t been seen before—the working class Delhi setting, dialogue that contains more Punjabi and Haryanvi than Hindi, a thief who’s stealing cars to help orphans, a cold-turned-gushy heroine (Pallavi Sharda), bumbling cops, an ineffectual arch-villain (Javed Jaffrey), a sidekick (Amitosh Nagpal). Tucked away between numerous songs are a handful of patches of well-written humour, in-jokes about the Kapoor clan (Neetu Singh also appears in Besharam alongside her husband and son) and forced ho-hoing Punjabi cheer. By the end of 138 minutes, Kashyap drops all pretence of making a movie, gets down on his knees and mounts a homage video to the Kapoor clan.
More than the parents, it’s Ranbir Kapoor who is the object of Kashyap’s adulation. The newly minted superstar has proved his potential to reduce grown male directors to slobbering admirers who can’t tell when his raffish charm is wearing thin or prevent him from replacing insouciance with indifference. Kashyap positions Kapoor in the centre of the frame whenever possible and lets the actor run all over the movie to the exclusion of other characters. It works to the extent that Kapoor is a star in the popular Hindi cinema mould and can command attention in the dreariest of moments, but even screen gods can’t convert water into wine.
Besharam released in theatres on Wednesday.