Thursday, October 4, 2012

BARFI! (2012)

Tired of sweeping shots of the Andheri sky line and the protagonist being all pensive about the mafia on Marine Drive? Don't fret, because Calcutta is now Bollywood's go-to gritty city with its mysterious (but romantic) alleyways, gritty (but romantic) trams and Durga statues. Anurag Basu's latest film, Barfi! takes us to '70s Darjeeling and Calcutta to present day.

A ridiculously gorgeous girl, Shruti (played by Ileana D'Cruz) moves to Darjeeling and meets the eponymous hero, Barfi, who is a charming rake and was born deaf. They promptly fall in love with each other, even though she is engaged to another man.  She decides to marry her betrothed because Barfi's disability frightens her (although, I'd have empathized if her reason had been his total lack of a job, salary and the desire to get one).  In the meanwhile, Barfi is desperately in need of money and abducts the unloved and autistic daughter of the richest man in Darjeeling, Jhilmil, and hopes to ransom her.  

Ranbir Kapoor as Barfi was great and I applaud him for sticking to what he knows best.  He has played the same charming funny honest optimist in nearly every film he's been in. Barfi is also a similar character, except without the talking and he effortlessly glided.  Priyanka Chopra on the other hand was not convincing;  she clearly put some effort into this role but there was something missing.  Someone should've told her that incessant lip-biting and an odd gait don't constitute character development. I was also unable to look past the sexy bombshell persona she normally inhabits and her self-consciousness was palpable.  That said,  she had a couple of good moments like when she starts becoming conscious of her appearance and her sexual awakening.  

Barfi! was no doubt a beautiful film but it just did not impress. Like Priyanka Chopra's performance, it got so many things right because it took every opportunity possible to remind us that it was quirky and touching and ended up feeling gimmicky from overusing motifs. The raconteur-musicians were a great idea, but in this film, they were jarring and unnecessary.  The Charlie Chaplin routine was cute at first but did not belong in the second half of the film and there were just far, far, far too many chases.  I don't know about you, but I am still recuperating from chase sequence fatigue after Gangs of Wasseypur 2.

And all those movie references and homages-- again, they were cute but to what end? The Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton references and Donald O'Connor's iconic "Make 'em Laugh" tribute were all very well made and nostalgic blah-blah but I still don't understand what their purpose was, apart from providing Anurag Basu several opportunities to flaunt his deep knowledge of film.  Now compare Barfi! with Benny and Joon (1993), starring Johnny Depp.  I wont say that the former is a blatant copy of the latter, but the similarities do pile up.  In Benny and Joon, an eccentric, laconic cinephile (Johnny Depp) enters the lives of siblings Benny and Joon. Joon is a schizophrenic and is unable to live without assistance. Charmed by Johnny Depp's eccentric ways,  Joon falls in love with him and they live happily ever after. Guess how Johnny Depp charmed her?  Chaplin/ Keaton tricks. The Chaplin/Keaton sketches fit in because it reinforced Johnny's character's love for film. What was Ranbir Kapoor's reason?  Anurag Basu had a drawer full of cool ideas and he decided to stick them all into the same movie.  At some points it almost felt as if Basu built his film around the quirkiness rather than let them add colour to the story.

Also, was I the only one who got vaguely creeped out by the Barfi-Jhilmil story line? So here we have this grown man, Barfi, who abducts an intellectually disabled woman who has the faculties of a child, keeps her with him (forcibly in the beginning) for months... and then proceeds to marry her. I get that they were going for the whole love-knows-no-boundaries-and-blossoms-everywhere thing  but Stockholm Syndrome much?

But hey, I'm no h8r. Like I said, the movie looked great and it is difficult to detest it. Darjeeling and Calcutta are lovely places and even though Anurag is a bit obsessed with tracking shots, it was all very lush and pretty.  The story was certainly more than a National Association for the Deaf educational video and it did rise above being one of those preachy, the-disabled-are-just-like-us films (I'm looking at you, Taare Zameen Par).  Was it an obvious tear jerker? Yes, but that isn't such a bad thing.  And we really must encourage this new trend of Bollywood leading ladies de-glamourizing themselves for a role.

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