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Movie Review: Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the book by Nicholas Barreau at Amazon

Based on the book The Ingredients of Love by Nicholas Barreau — which itself draws inspiration from Cyrano de BergeracBareilly Ki Barfi (“The Sweet from Bareilly“) feels familiar but fresh. Delightful characters, wonderful performances, and a touching and funny love story make Bareilly Ki Barfi an example of the romantic comedy genre at its best.

Bitti (Kriti Sanon) is the black sheep of Bareilly, a tomboy with a fondness for booze and breakdancing. Her mother Sushila (Seema Bhargava Pahwa) frets that Bitti’s unladylike tendencies are driving away potential suitors. Her supportive father Narottam (Pankaj Tripathy) is happy to have a daughter off whom he can bum smokes.

Father and daughter are aware of the societal norms that Bitti is up against. “Being a girl is a complete disaster,” Bitti says. Narottam doesn’t have any wisdom for her, but he stays by her side as they stand on their balcony looking glum.

Bitti runs away from home, but a book she buys on the train platform entitled “Bareilly Ki Barfi” prompts her to return. The protagonist of the book, Babli, is the spitting image of Bitti. Assuming the book to be the work of a secret admirer, Bitti asks the bookseller, Munna (Rohit Choudhary), for help finding the author, a man named Pritam Vidrohi. Munna instead sends her to his best friend, Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana).

Five years earlier, Chirag wrote “Bareilly Ki Barfi” about his ex-girlfriend, Babli. In order to protect his identity, Chirag bullies timid Pritam (Rajkummar Rao) into claiming authorship. Chirag hopes that Bitti can replace Babli, but he doesn’t own up to being the book’s true author, vetting Bitti first. He instead acts as go-between for Bitti and “Pritam,” writing letters on his behalf, spending time with Bitti, and gradually falling in love.

Unable to put off Bitti’s requests to meet Pritam in person, Chirag and Munna track Pritam to Lucknow, where he fled to avoid the mobs of zealous book readers that never materialized (Bitti is the first person to ever buy the book). Pritam is as meek as ever, and it’s easy for Chirag and Munna to pressure him into returning to Bareilly. They force Pritam to adopt a brash, chauvinistic avatar designed to repulse Bitti, thus clearing the way for Chirag. Of course, things don’t work out the way Chirag plans.

One of the themes of Bareilly Ki Barfi is that we are who we are. Bitti won’t change herself to suit the demands of a conservative potential groom. Pritam’s tough-guy act has the unexpected effect of imbuing his natural helpfulness with a cool air, instead of his usual subservient aura. By refusing to acknowledge his true identity, Chirag deprives himself and Bitti of the love they both want.

Munna says something interesting to Chirag as his buddy’s manipulation of Pritam intensifies: “You’re not the villain.” It’s meant to absolve Chirag of wrongdoing, but it highlights the way Chirag’s deceit is changing him for the worse. The longer he continues the charade, the further he strays from the man he and Bitti want him to be.

While the plot of Bareilly Ki Barfi echoes stories that have come before, the setting and characters provide a refreshing update. Bitti and her family are so likeable, and Pritam’s Amitabh Bachchan-inspired boss act is a hoot.

There’s also a lot to like about the story’s construction. Barielly Ki Barfi is directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (who debuted with 2016’s impressive Nil Battey Sannata) and written by her husband, filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari. An economy of characters ensures that everyone matters, even minor players like Pritam’s mom and Bitti’s best friend, Rama (Swati Semwal). A runtime of around two hours keeps the action moving, allowing the Tiwaris to wrap the movie up before it becomes tiresome.

Best of all is the cast. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Khurrana and Rao as Chirag and Pritam. Khurrana is a master of facial expressions, from his brilliant smiles for Bitti to his stony glares for Munna. Rao has the challenging job of essentially playing two parts and switching between them often, and he does so with ease. The whole supporting cast is terrific as well.

This is the Kriti Sanon performance I’ve been waiting for. She’s been little more than a helpless damsel in distress in her first two Hindi films, and it’s gratifying to see that she’s capable of so much more. Hopefully filmmakers follow Tiwari’s lead and look beyond Sanon’s beauty,  capitalizing on her humor and ease in front of the camera.

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Opening August 18: Bareilly Ki Barfi

New Bollywood romantic comedy Bareilly Ki Barfi — starring Kriti Sanon, Ayushmann Khurrana, and Rajkummar Rao — opens in Chicago area theaters on August 18, 2017. This is the second Hindi feature by director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, who made a strong debut with Nil Battey Sannata.

Bareilly Ki Barfi opens Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 3 min.

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha carries over for a second week at all of the above theaters, plus the AMC River East 21 in Chicago and Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison.

After a disappointing second weekend in North American theaters, Jab Harry Met Sejal only carries over at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24, which also holds on to Mubarakan.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Opening August 4: Jab Harry Met Sejal

Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma reunite for director Imtiaz Ali’s romantic comedy Jab Harry Met Sejal, opening in Chicago area theaters on August 4, 2017.

JHMS opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 23 min.

Mubarakan carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, Rosemont 18, South Barrington 24, Marcus Addison, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18.

MovieMax also hosts a special showing of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion in Telugu on Saturday, August 5, at 8 p.m. Tickets are only $1!

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Opening July 14: Jagga Jasoos

Disney India’s final production, Jagga Jasoos, opens in the Chicago area on July 14, 2017. Director Anurag Basu’s detective film reunites former lovers Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif onscreen.

Jagga Jasoos opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. [Update: Fandango’s runtime is wrong. Jagga Jasoos is more like 2 hrs. 45 min.]

Mom carries over for a second week at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, River East 21, Cantera 17, Woodridge 18, and South Barrington 24, which also holds over Guest Iin London.

On Saturday night at 7 p.m., MovieMax hosts a live broadcast of the 2017 IIFA Awards.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area over the weekend:

Opening July 7: Mom and Guest Iin London

Two new Hindi films hit Chicago area theaters on July 7, 2017. Sridevi plays the title character in the thriller Mom, which gets the wider release of the two movies.

Mom opens Friday at AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min.

This weekend’s other new release is the comedy Guest Iin London, the followup to 2010’s Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?. Paresh Rawal returns as the problematic guest, but Ajay Devgn and Konkona Sen Sharma aren’t back for the sequel, sadly. Guest Iin London opens Friday at the South Barrington 24 and has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 13 min.

Following a stellar holiday weekend, The Big Sick expands across the Chicago area on Friday. Tubelight carries over at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24.

Tickets are already on sale for the 15th anniversary presentation of Devdas, taking place in theaters across the United States on Sunday, July 23. Visit Fathom Events for more information and a list of theaters carrying the special showing.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Opening June 23: Tubelight

Salman Khan’s annual Eid release hits theaters on June 23, 2017. Tubelight is an official remake of the 2015 faith-based film Little Boy, with Salman essaying a role played by an 8-year-old in the original. Chinese actress Zhu Zhu costars in the movie.

Tubelight opens Friday in 342 theaters across North America, including the following Chicagoland theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs 15 min.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Opening June 9: Raabta

One new Hindi movie opens in the Chicago area on June 9, 2017. The reincarnation drama Raabta (“Connection“) stars Sushant Singh Rajput, Kriti Sanon, and Jim Sarbh.

Raabta opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. I’m surprised that this isn’t opening in more theaters, specifically at MovieMax and the Cantera 17, which carry almost every new Bollywood film. It’s weird. The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 28 min.

Also noteworthy: The family movie The Wishing Tree — which opens in India this Friday — is already available on Netflix in the United States.

Hindi Medium and Sachin: A Billion Dreams both carry over at the South Barrington 24, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, and the Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion gets a seventh week at MovieMax (Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi), South Barrington 24 (Hindi), Cantera 17 (Hindi), and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge (Telugu).

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend: