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FILM REVIEWS

BARFI is a stagey and senseless musical

It's not cinema. It's more like an album of beautifully posed and composed photographs. And if the director wanted to tug on your heart with this stagey musical, he fails miserably thanks to a crafty yet senseless script with its back-and-forth narrative structure and the over-abundance of familiar music themes, mindless Chaplinesque caricature, insipid comedy, and fake puppy romance.

Here is the film's story with a spoiler alert. Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor) is named after Murphy radio, a popular radio brand in the sixties, since his mother was very fond of the Murphy mascot, the picture of a cute chubby kid with a lock of his hair falling on his forehead. Barfi is born deaf, and is motherless, and lives in Darjeeling with his poor father (Aakash Khurana), a driver in a big well-heeled family. He is a happy-go-lucky sort of guy, forever on the lookout for a girlfriend wearing his heart on his sleeve. Shruti (Ileana D'cruz), a Kolkata girl, comes to Darjeeling and Barfi offers his heart to her she takes it but finally returns it since she is betrothed to a well-to-do Kolkata guy. Her mother convinces her about it by giving her own example. She too had fallen in love with a pahadi boy in her teenage years but married a rich boy from Kolkata. Whenever she visits Darjeeling she goes to look at her old lover from a distance, cutting wood in a jungle. Now, will a sane girl like to be the wife of a woodcutter? Barfi is heartbroken over this rejection but is finally reconciled.

Now, comes Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) in his life. She is Barfi's childhood friend, who has grown up now. She is the only daughter of the family where Barfi's father works. She suffers from autism but acts like a demented idiot, and is badly dressed, and tries to look as ugly as she could, probably to win the sympathy of the audience and a national award. Barfi's father loses his job, suffers from some kidney complication, and poor Barfi needs Rs.7000/- to save him. Barfi does a caricature of robbing a bank, and kidnapping Jhilmil for ransom but his father dies before the money is arranged. A police officer (Saurabh Shukla) keeps chasing Barfi for his crimes. Barfi by now knows that Jhilmil is his perfect mate after he conducts a falling 'lamp-post' test of fidelity. Both run away to Kolkata and meet Shruti accidentally who is unhappily married and settled now. Jhilmil feels left out in the triangle and disappears. Barfi is caught, beaten up, and charged falsely of Jhilmil's murder. But Jhilmil cannot be dead since she has to marry Barfi and both have to grow old and die together.

This is the straightforward map of the story. The writer-director cuts it into pieces and creates a puzzle as his auteur touch to the tale. He does not stop here. As another of his 'inspired' artistic touches and flourishes, he recycles an old idea of street musicians as sutradhars to underline the important transitional points and to further embellish his work. He makes his protagonists as pitiable as possible to whip up emotions. He goes on adding one stupid artistic touch after another from his platter of 'inspired' and heavily referenced audio-video and mimetic elements as if he will never get another opportunity to tell the world that he knows how to create 'stylistic poetry in celluloid'.

The problem is he fakes everything, from romance to emotions and characterization. It is 'bullshit art', a kind of work that may look and even sound great to some but actually amounts to nothing. He also leaves wide gaping holes in the narrative to the disaffection of the rationally inclined audiences, another important characteristics of 'bullshit art'. This seems to have become the reigning societal trend now. We have a lot of bullshitting going on in this country. It has become our real nature. Everyone indulges in it, from the Prime Minister to the top industrialists, the media, the much-venerated social activists, the corporate head-honchos, and the media-savvy ideologues of dubious academic credentials. Why should a filmmaker who comes from the Mahesh Bhatt stable of filmfakers be left behind?

He has dealt the worst hand to his lead actors by turning them into bumbling oddballs and unwholesome and fake Chaplinesque caricatures and buffoons whose attempts to make the audience laugh and cry are embarrassingly overt, like all other elements in the film. You cringe at such a waste of precious acting talent.

The blame squarely lies with the director/writer who stages an expensively mounted mediocre school play in the name of a grand Broadway musical. He lets the actors down by his bad characterizations. Some of the glowing reviews and reports may give these star actors the grandiose sense of having performed an extraordinary job that will make them the toast of the awards season. It is a sad but common phenomenon in Bollywood. Most of our actors, the stars in particular, don't have the capacity to analyze their work objectively. More often than not they get appreciated for their rank bad performances, which sustains the vicious cycle of mediocrity.

The heavy-handed use of background music adds to the misery of the audience and even dilutes the impact of a few interesting moments in the film. There is a scene where Jhilmil is shouting for Barfi with no music in the background. That is the only scene that comes across as a genuinely touching piece in a film that was deliberately designed to bring tears to your eyes.

Rajesh Kumar Singh