Besharam (“Shameless”) was likely sold to investors using the following equation: Ranbir Kapoor + antics = super hit. The equation will probably prove correct, but that doesn’t mean that Besharam is a great movie.
Writer-director Abhinav Kashyap is so confident in Ranbir’s ability to charm audiences that he offers only the barest hint of a plot. The movie starts with a brutal scene of a gang led by Bheem Singh Chandel (Javed Jaffrey) blowing up a police van with a rocket launcher and siccing an attack dog on an officer. The gangsters disappear for forty-five minutes, until they hire Babli (Ranbir) to steal a car for them.
In the interim, we get to know Babli, a mechanic who supplements his income by fencing stolen automobiles with the help of his best friend, T2 (Amitosh Nagpal). Their profits fund the orphanage where they grew up and still reside as adults. The head of the orphanage, Masterji, knows that Babli and T2 are crooks, but he takes the money anyway, while expressing hopes that the younger boys will grow up to find legitimate jobs.
Babli meets a beautiful woman, Tara (Pallavi Sharda), who’s unimpressed with his sleazy come-ons. Spurred by the challenge, Babli pursues Tara, only to inadvertently steal her new Mercedes on Chandel’s behalf. Having hurt Tara, Babli finally discovers that other people are affected negatively by his actions.
From this point in the story, most movies would focus on Babli’s character development as he reforms his ways to impress the girl and right the wrongs he’s committed. Kashyap takes the opposite tactic. Babli is made into a hero, with everyone — including Tara — apologizing to him for having judged him too harshly and vowing to emulate his shameless ways.
This story turn just doesn’t work. Babli, through his self-centered carelessness, not only steals from Tara, he endangers the lives of everyone he cares about, including all the kids at the orphanage. Masterji, T2, and their friend, Bhura, are beaten and kidnapped because of Babli, yet no one is upset with him.
Kashyap tries to blame Babli’s flaws on classism. Tara is set up as an elitist who’s only interested in money and status and who looks down on a mechanic like Babli. First of all, why shouldn’t she be allowed to marry a peer who (like her) has a high-status job? Second, and more importantly: BABLI STOLE HER FRIGGING CAR!
Babli also claims that, because he’s an orphan, he had no one to teach him right from wrong. So, didn’t he pick up any sense of morality in school? And what the hell does Masterji teach the kids at the orphanage? “Here’s a roof over your heads and some food. Figure the rest out yourselves.”
Babli’s orphan status is used to shoehorn Ranbir’s real-life parents, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, into the movie as a pair of married police officers. As soon as they mention that they never had children, it’s obvious that Babli won’t be an orphan by movie’s end.
For what it’s worth, Ranbir is really darned charming. His charisma is the only thing that makes the movie watchable. Ranbir is at his best in scenes with Nagpal, as the friendship between Babli and T2 is the movie’s strongest relationship.
What I’ve always enjoyed about Ranbir is his ability to shine in a variety of roles, but Besharam may mark the start of Ranbir Kapoor: The Franchise. I fear that Ranbir has earned so much industry clout that he’ll be pigeonholed into “charming” roles, playing the role of Ranbir much in the way superstars like Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and Akshay Kumar seem to play the same type of character in every movie. It’s a trap that can be avoided, but only if he’s careful.