No, no, not about how mango people feel about politicians – I meant the movie in which Priyanka gives Ranbir one of those ones.
When I finally started writing this post, even Barfi jokes had disappeared from the social media. In the face of the usual jibes about my tardiness, I plonked along, more in an effort to stand by all those who fall in the grey area of borderline intelligence, for whom it takes time to “get” things, to do things and to make things happen. World Mental Health day came. World Mental Health day went. But some posts just sit there, know what I mean? This post is a tribute to late blooming, deliberate living, two-finger typing, beer-bellied web crawling, and forgetting what you were sent to the store to get. This one is for each one of us who were called slow pokes, lazy bums, duffers, and had to carry home “capable of doing better” remarks in our report cards term after term. This one is for slow learners and the hearing impaired, as well as for the never-married. In case you have already forgotten what you came to the store to buy – this post is about Barfi.
I was away from the blogging world for a while (I went to visit my first love, and out there on the perimeter, no one “blogs;” they just “write” and “further the revolution” and stand outside the Academy of Fine Arts and hand out little slips of paper with their URL on it which you might mistake for a weight loss program ad or a Herbalife consultants phone number) and when I came back, I found every second person whose work I follow had posted a piece on Barfi. There was the whole thing about it not being original and that the praise headed its way not being entirely justified. It had also beaten some really well made films in the Film Federation shortlist, two of which I have seen and written about (Kahaani and Eega) to be selected as India’s official entry to the Oscars. Not wanting to be left out, I decided to watch the film. That was a couple of weeks back.
Brave and Clever
Let me first
The timeline, scripted by Anurag himself, flits across decades, with teasing sequence breaks and different narratives leading you tantalizingly into the tale. Not all of it goes down smoothly, I would guess even for seasoned film buffs. There are several brilliant cinematographic moments, and Ravi Varman’s camera work captures the magic of Darjeeling, Kolkata and rural Bengal with a sensitivity not seen too often. Pritam’s music is hummable but nothing worth writing home about. The editing can be called clever, but the film could have been much tighter than the two-and-a-half hours it stands at. Technically, the film is brave and definitely very clever.
The Stars are the Stars
The performances, equally praised and panned by the media, deserve a special mention. Ranbir does a fine job of being the centerpiece. His recreation of historical slapstick sets is not just good, but is executed effortlessly and come across as original in spite of your being able to identify where they are taken from. Ileana is reserved and subtle and the scene where she and Ranbir are walking away from where they had gone searching for Priyanka and she makes the choice to let Barfi make his choice is one of the most powerful pieces of acting I have witnessed in a while, and it is a scene that is under a minute long on the screen! Priyanka imbues her character with depth and like Rani Mukherjee in Black, delivers a reasonable punch. Sadly the script is so Ranbir-centric and focused on using comic and ironic devices that the complexity of the characters of the two women do not get the attention they deserve. There are subtle touches that convey their dilemma but they get sidelined both by the comedy and the screen time they have got. Though the storyline and the devices (autistic girl, deaf-mute boy, married girl, and a kidnap mystery) leave little scope for detailed portrayals, the lead actors as well as the supporting cast do a fine job.
Originality and Relevance
For film buffs, this film is replete with moments of discovery. For me, that was part of the fun. What was not so much fun, in addition to the fact that these moments were too in-your-face, was that the alleged tributes consumed all the film. The “tribute” to Amelie in the music and the color palette was overdone to the point where it became annoying and something to dread rather than relish. At other places, Ranbir’s routine was reminiscent of Raj Kapoor’s Chaplin routine and the inevitable nostalgic discounting crept in. The couple of times that Ranbir tries to do a Rowan Atkinson come across as out of place and contrived. Moreover, it seems a little tacky to go from a Buster Keaton to Rowan Atkinson in a matter of a few cinematic minutes. Kind of like a commercial break during America’s Got Talent. There is very little in the script which is utterly original which I think is a pity given the strong performances that have been generated by it.
Is it original? Heck, no. But then neither was Bunty Aur Babli or Om Shanti Om (cinema with cinema in them). I do not know about the box office but the critics loved those films a lot, as did I. Why is the originality issue so important for this film? Perhaps because of the Oscars shortlisting and the fact that the Academy has traditionally been not too fond of “tribute films.” Is the film relevant? Heck, no. It is nothing more than a convoluted Silsila on LSD. The problem with the thinking filmmaker is that people like me sit waiting for their releases like they were giant eggs being painfully laid by existential hens. Once they are out, we dissect them till they are robbed of what they were meant to do in the first place – entertain.
Let’s be honest. We no longer live in the times of La Strada and The Mirror. Films are made by the entertainment industry as a product to be consumed by the largest possible market. If you want to make an artistic statement, you might as well join politics. It is to the credit of the Basus, the Bhardwaj’s, the Jhas and the Kashyaps that a semblance of creative cinema still survives among mainstream films. This is not a Black, a Guzaarish or even a Taare Zameen Par and it never pretends to be one. Barfi is a simple story of love and trust, fairly well told, extremely well shot, and with the garnish of interesting and unusual performances and uses disability as just another device. If you want to watch a film on true disability, that of being a woman in the Indian social system - go watch English Vinglish. Would I recommend watching Barfi? Without hesitation. Would I watch it a second time? No way.
For those of us, yes myself included, who are wondering why I decided to write about this film when I obviously wasn’t very excited by it, here are some clues. There is something terribly wrong with being different. Whether it be your sexual orientation, your taste in music, or your physical and mental disabilities, being different is a social problem. Society needs us to conform. Conformity is better than having to pull out national crises out of the hat when under fire. The entertainment industry is about money. Money is better than hungry art. The creative will needs to survive. Survival is better than living in a temple with a bedroll and a plate. If you want to create a better world, start building anew. If you want to fix the system, starve it and set up your own. If you want your environment to be loving and just, change your self.