The Silence of the Lambs

It took me more than one whole day to figure out the “mango people in a banana republic” thing and I felt horribly alienated. Everyone else on both side of the Vindhyas seemed to get it and oh how! Even after I “got it,” I couldn’t understand what everyone was upset about. We have been a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit for the last seven decades and every time people try to change that they either get arrested or publicly maligned, get offered a parliament seat or driven to bankruptcy. It has never bothered us. Moreover, the political classes have been unperturbed by comments such as these by the common man for much longer than seven decades. Not being affected by what the common man feels or has to go through is as good as mandatory for survival in the political system now. If anything, this comment only differentiates Vadra from the rest of the people who feel the same way but know better than to verbalize it. So I have been a little disoriented of late. But then, this post is about Barfi.

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 quickly jot down what I thought was the good and bad of it. The film is eminently watchable, despite the continuous epiphanies of the “tribute” to the masters of slapstick. Even as a montage of classic comedy sets built around a tragicomic love triangle, it sets a high standard, and it is to the credit of both Anurag Basu and Ranbir Kapoor that they manage to pull it off as well as they do. It is a brave film on several levels. It embraces the wordlessness of the deaf and mute, the supranormal logic of the autistic, and the prison of a loveless marriage, drawing you into their world without any learning curve. It does it without the emotional sleeve-tugging that we have seen in some of the recent films on disability.

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.

30 comments:

  1. I am a great fan of Ileana ever since I saw her first movie in 2005. It's good to know she is doing well in Hindi cinema too. Haven't seen the movie yet, but Hindi cinema is undergoing revolution of sorts. When was the last time we had movies of caliber like Gangs of Wasseypur, Paan Singh Tomaar, Kahaani, Barfee and English Vinglish in a single year. I'm waiting for Aamir's Talaash to be released in December.

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    1. The films you have listed are a testimony to the new awareness that is coming into mainstream. And in spite of the relatively brief screen time that Ileana gets in Barfi, she has done a superb job.

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  2. A labyrinth of thoughts, views, counter views - yet one doesn't feel lost.

    Always a pleasure to read your reviews - they are more a commentary on our social milieu.

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    1. Thanks, Purba. The review of the film is window dressing and nothing more, but then you have already figured that out.

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  3. I enjoyed Barfi too. I think it was a very bold attempt to make a story of such characters. There were flaws of course including the length. And, what is original any more especially creativity? We all are inspired by things we read and see around us, by experiences of our own and others. Where is originality?

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    1. Very true, Rachna. The one thing that Barfi stands out for (for me) is the matter of fact manner in which disability has been addressed. And it does take creative effort to put together something like this, even if it is a collage of tributes.

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  4. I can always count on you for being unique when it comes to writing reviews of movies, be it Ra.One, Kahaani, Eega or Barfi. Absolutely love the range of thoughts you have expressed in this post. :) In that sense there is not much wrong about being "different" here. ;-)

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  5. Good one. I felt same once I came to know about the stolen scenes.

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    1. I wouldn't go so far as to call them stolen, Govind, but yes, inspired by, to the point where they are perfectly recreated.

      For those of you who might not be aware, Govind is an extremely astute film critic himself, and I strongly recommend his blog at http://unknownmoviewatcher.blogspot.com/

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  6. Endlessly fascinating :-)

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    1. I totally understand the "endless' part of it, he he he. Glad that it fascinated you. Given your eclectic taste in both films and reviews, this is a great compliment.

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  7. Without knowing about copied scenes, and other stuff, I watched the movie. I agree with you. It is different, but not for a second visit.

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    1. Totally agree, a very pleasant watch, but nothing life-changing.

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  8. oh my now that is too thoughtful for the likes of me :)

    I think we lack in making original stuff , its more of like where can I rip off a good movie and make ..

    but then probably majority of the people dont know if scenes are copied or not copied for them its original master piece :)

    english vinglish i am looking forward to seeing ..


    Bikram's

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    1. You will love English VInglish. It is down to earth and thought provoking.

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  9. I like your review better than I like mine.

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    1. I read your review after seeing this comment, Micky, and I thought it was spot on. Ranbir is truly a brilliant performer. I too thought the photography was top class.

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  10. Really liked your blog - it looked sooo long at first glance but then everything made sense and I am so glad I stopped by !

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    1. Welcome to SJD, Anju. I am so glad that you enjoyed the post, and read it in spite of the post being more of an excuse to indulge in my favorite convoluted rant. Do keep coming by for more of this madness. :)

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  11. hmmm...i havent seen barfi and therefore cant comment.... :)

    actually im off movies, the latest ones atleast.....spend my time watching those od hollywood musicals a lot!!


    http://sushmita-smile.blogspot.in/

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  12. hmhm.... I haven't seen this movie yet. but loved your rant. That was quite a read. and as precise and provocative an review can be. Cheers.

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  13. That's a great post :)
    I think you might be interested in helping me with my media research work. Do check it out: http://antarik.blogspot.in/2012/10/film-enthusiasts-i-look-up-to-your-help.html
    I shall look forward to your response :)

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  14. The post was well quite informative, very thought provoking, essentially lovely. I liked the idea where you said for all those late blooming, lazy bums etc. :) It really reached the heart. The entire rave that you created through this write up nicely depicts what all insecurities we as people have when the government is disgusting as hell. The review was in a pensive sense. I need to watch the movie now I guess :) Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Many people have written about barfi, however, you have analysed it well. I agree that this film is ranbir centric as the director and producer probably wanted humour to hook the audience. In doing so they really missed a chance to further detail the characters of the two ladies. That could have increased the many layers in the film and made it powerful. Probably the director didn't believe that the two ladies will deliver some very measured performances. I loved their acting. Wish the could have got a better make up artist for doing the old age make up.

    I watched this in a film hall after a long long time. Normally people have a tendency to get up and leave when the credits appear. However, in this film people were still waiting. It is a sure shot hit. However, editing could have been tighter and a few scenes could have been removed.

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  16. I can't comment on it as I don't see much of Bollywood. Don't get me wrong here, I was very loyal to our cinemas till I find that even dialogs are copied. I read a blog on Indivine where the author dissected Barfi, copied from many Hollywood movies.

    A very interesting read and I nodded in agreement on many places.

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  17. I actually thought you are going to review 'The Silence of the Lambs' as I watched it recently. Well Barfi was a really good attempt by both Ranbir & Priyanka and we cannot deny the fact that Ranbir Kapoor gave 3 consecutive hits in last 3 years (from Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani to Rockstar and now Barfi) all having different kind of characters to act with. The guy is rocking the industry

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  18. Seems to me we are almost there. Actors who put up fine, sensitive performances, sets that are authentic, good photography. What we need to lift Indian cinema to greater heights is a good, original storyline, seemless (ruthless?) editing and dialogue that sounds real with no bad jokes, borrowed slapstick or glorious tributes.

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  19. I am so glad I read this :)!

    I agree with Purba and feel that you have a unique style of reviewing movies.
    It is very beautiful. Keep it up. Hope to see you reviewing movies for bigger platforms some day!

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Dialog is the path to peace, and this blog is all about dialog, peace and love. Go ahead and join in.

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