Naming a movie after the main female character doesn’t guarantee that the film is actually about her. The titular Barkhaa is merely the object of fixation for a law student who can’t tell the difference between lust and love.
Barkhaa opens with a patient wheeled dramatically into a Mumbai hospital, accompanied by the previously mentioned law student, Jatin (Taaha Shah). He abruptly leaves the hospital to attend a book launch event for a book he didn’t write.
The opening scene isn’t important because of the person in medical distress, but because it establishes the film’s narrative structure, which is built entirely around Jatin getting interrupted by phone calls. He gets a call to attend the book launch; then his dad calls begging him to return to the hospital. Every time Jatin is about to do something to progress the plot, his phone rings.
At the launch party, Jatin realizes that the anonymously-authored book he’s shilling is a faithful recounting of his romance with a woman named Barkhaa (Sarah Loren). This prompts a lengthy flashback to their initial meeting four years earlier, when she returns his lost camera to a police station.
Jatin’s fleeting glimpse of this beautiful good Samaritan blooms into an obsession that writer-director Shadaab Mirza expects us to believe is true love. Other than her looks, what could Jatin possibly love about this woman he doesn’t know? Her conscientiousness?
He spends months ogling her at the dance bar where she works, and the walls of his bedroom are covered with photographs of her that he’s taken without her knowledge. Jatin’s drunk friend even tells her: “Barkhaa, it really doesn’t matter to him who you are.” No kidding.
Barkhaa gets to explain her backstory in the second half of the film, though it primarily amounts to her wishing for a rich husband to rescue her from the dance bar. When she discloses her past to Jatin — whom she decides to love after seeing his creepy bedroom — the question is not whether she has a place for him in her life but whether he can accept her. He’s entirely in charge of their romantic future.
Loren brings some worldliness to her underwritten character. She’s good in a scene in which Barkhaa tries to humiliate Jatin into leaving her alone, and she gives him a fierce speech about how she’s a dancer, not a whore. (The closing credits feature Loren in a tone-deaf, sexy dance number that has nothing to do with the jaded, burgeoning feminist she plays in the film.)
Barkhaa’s speech is part of a weird streak of pro-dance-bar propaganda in Barkhaa. When politicians threaten to shut down Mumbai’s dance bars — which are like strip clubs without the stripping and with worse dancing — the bar owner, Anna (Ashiesh Roy), mourns for all of the families who depend on the dancers’ incomes. He touts clubs like his as a morally superior form of entertainment, as compared to brothels.
With about twenty minutes left in the film, a twist drops into the story so artlessly that one can’t help but laugh. It’s so bad that it’s almost worth watching Barkhaa to see it. But not really.