Sign me Sweet Nothings… Barfi.

– Mrinalini Shinde

After Srikanth Mantravadi’s  review of the soundtrack of Barfi last month, we bring you a slightly delayed review of the movie itself. I managed to catch it last night, finally, and decided to review it, especially in light of all that is being said in the media regarding plagiarism in the film, and the fact that  it is India’s official entry to the Oscars.

For those who haven’t watched the movie yet, I won’t give away the plot (which is quite predictable actually). It’s a film about three people,  a girl (Shruti) who falls in love with a deaf and mute boy (Barfi) in Darjeeling, but decides to do the sensible thing and marry the rich guy. The deaf and mute boy who tries a convoluted plan to extract some money for his father’s operation, but doesn’t manage to save his father in the end. And, the deaf and mute boy falls in love with an autistic girl (Jhilmil); the rest is a kaleidoscope of that love story.

With the cruelly brief synopsis out of the way,  here’s the verdict: I loved the movie. I wouldn’t swear by its brilliance, like many fans out there, but I definitely can say that I loved it.

I place a lot of credence upon cinematography, as a viewer, and Barfi was a visual delight. The alternating  warm and cool tones of the shots, along with a stunning complementary palette in the props and costumes, was stunning. The camera did justice not only to the  landscapes of the Darjeeling tea estates, toy train, and terraced settlements, but also to the montage of locations throughout Barfi and Jhilmil’s journey. All the shots with the rain, are fabulous. The visual aspect is also enhanced by some very meticulous art direction and costume design. The authentic advertisements:  Murphy’s radio, Avon Cycles etc., the communist flag grafittied in by-lanes, the vintage cars, the hoop earrings and the cotton drawstring bloomers. Very nicely done. 🙂

Then there’s the story itself. Although it kept changing from a black comedy with dollops of slapstick, to a mystery with drama, and then a good old romance with with lots of smiles, tears and mush all around, I thought it was more like an emotional travelogue (I invented a genre, Woot!) The characters’ emotions are constantly intertwined with their surroundings, and travelling, and journeys  that encompass well, places, and I thought that was beautiful. Like Jhilmil’s wonder at the moon’s reflection and a glowworm in a bubble, in a forest. Like the freedom of  the  mad, cart ride along the toy train track.

And there’s  the cast. After some brilliant work in Rockstar, Ranbir Kapoor has finally earned the commercial success he deserves, in Barfi. He didn’t have a single dialogue, and managed to hold his own as the lead, drawing from his eyes, hands, and general mannerisms, being angry, flirtatious, confused, sad, protective, vulnerable and optimistic with such aplomb that the audience forgets about the disability quite soon into the movie, and that is commendable.  To play a disabled person with such skill that it ceases to be a disability at all,  and is just another one of the myriad  facets to the character. Well  crafted, Mr. Anurag Basu, and executed  in toto by Ranbir. Priyanka as Jhilmil too is a revelation. I liked her work in Kaminey and Saat Khoon Maaf, but this is easily her best so far. In an industry still dominated by stars and their starlight, one completely forgets that she is an ex-Miss World, and a Hindi film ‘Heroine’.  De-glam is taken to an all new height, and she delivers undaunted by her new persona. She hisses, kicks, cries and grins that you believe in Jhilmil, and you believe Priyanka Chopra. Ileana D’ Cruz as Shruthi is a nice introduction, who manages  to transit between her role specifics convincingly, and is also  beautiful in a classic way that adds to the visual quality.  Sourabh Shukla portrays the local  policeman with a  spot on accent, and the fine touches of a master at work.

Many critics are panning the film for being a collection of plagiarised work. Several scenes quite evidently were not just reminiscent of but almost lifted from other movies, like Chaplin’s City Lights and  The Notebook.  I agree that it is no defence to say that lots of movies are ‘inspired’ by others, and it is therefore not copying etc. Let’s just think of the impression that the audience will leave with. When Ranbir is trotting about with Chaplinesque antics, I for  one, didn’t think “Why is Ranbir trying to imitate Chaplin? The sacrilege!”  It was more along the lines of, “What a lovely tribute and throwback to Chaplin. Not bad at all.” Having watched The Notebook multiple times, I didn’t feel that the ending scene was ‘stolen’; I thought of how nicely that moment fit in Barfi,  as well as it had in The Notebook. So, without condoning plagiarism, I think we should stop nitpicking, and look at the movie in its entirety, which is a melange of several influences, a fact that the writer and director do not attempt to hide.

However,  I do agree with those who believe that it wasn’t the best choice for the Oscar entry this year. It isn’t that Indian, that breathtaking or  overwhelming  in its craft or impact, definitely not enough to win an Oscar. But, WHEN have they ever made perfect choices, that Barfi be singled out as a bad choice? Let’s just accept the fact that we’ll never be able to figure out the criteria  upon which the selectors make their decision. It’s not as if the movie was made for the purpose of winning an Oscar.  It seems likes it wanted to be a good film, that connects with its audience, which it did. I cried throughout the highs and lows, because it was at its core a love story, reiterating a sublime message.

It made me happy.


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