‘Barfi’ is presently being hailed by media and a large no. of people as a great film. It has also been chosen as India’s entry for Oscars. Koimoi reader Manjusha Patil airs some opinions that are contrary to the popular opinion and also raises some questions about the overall quality of the film.
I really fail to understand all the hullabaloo and hype around ‘Barfi’. It really pains me to see how the so called critics are hailing this absolutely deficient product and fooling people into believing that this is ‘great’ cinema. Telling people that this illogical, irrational, contrived and completely fake film is a ‘masterpiece’, is doing a disservice to people as well as to the Indian cinema. To top it all, in keeping with the great Indian tradition of favouritism and unfair practices, the film has been hastily declared as India’s entry for Oscars. Now, India’s entry for Oscars doesn’t mean much but this kind of declaration while the film is still running in the theatres, will definitely boost its business. Just wondering when did ‘Barfi’s makers filed their entry and how did the Film Federation of India, not only arrived so quickly at the decision but also thought it fit to announce it so hurriedly?
‘Barfi’ doesn’t look like a sincere effort but comes across as a manipulated film. It draws heavily from the world classics and yet displays artistic snobbery. As if the makers are saying, ‘See, this is what great films are all about. Look at our intelligence, look at our craft.’
The film is clearly an attempt to make a Charlie Chaplin film for today. Since the director couldn’t make a silent film in today’s time, he has made his hero deaf and mute. That takes care of all the slapstick comedy and gives a big scope for ‘manufacturing’ touchy scenes. Now, you are not supposed to ask how does slapstick comedy fit in this film. Or what is the need for it in the first place? The director and actor thought that it would be fun. So, it’s there. What does that do to the characterization of Barfi and to the overall texture of the film? Well, it doesn’t matter. In fact, applying logic to this film is probably not expected at all. I would like to mention just a few such things in the film that would bother any thinking person.
This guy Barfi is supposed to be ‘spreading happiness’. That’s what all the narrators in the film are insisting. What exactly is he doing for that? Is he entertaining people? Is he helping someone? Is he doing anything purposefully to bring about happiness to other people? No. But he roams about on his bicycle smiling sweetly and gestures taking out his heart and offering it to the girl. That’s ‘spreading happiness’ for you. The director is repetitively telling you through his narrators that Barfi was spreading happiness. So, you have to believe it.
Poor small town boy Barfi’s fashion sense is terrific. He is wearing well cut formals with smart sweaters and a cap that is essentially a fashion statement as that cap is no good for either sun or cold. Nobody in that town dresses like Barfi. But he does because he has to look good and every frame in the film has to look good. He also sports a French beard while on the run. So much realism!
Barfi becomes naive and over smart as per convenience of the writer-director. He is naive enough to think that he can marry Shruti, he is innocent and pure hearted to find love in Jhilmil but he doesn’t think twice before planning to loot a bank or to kidnap Jhilmil. We are supposed to believe that he does it out of innocence. Also, Barfi is supposed to be so sharp and intelligent that he remembers the phone number that he happened to have just glanced at, many months ago. He also instinctively knows that Jhilmil is alive and stationed in the orphanage just by looking at the twiddling fingers of the old man. There are many scenes in the film where he behaves like an intelligent, sensitive and sensible man interspersed with some where he behaves like a buffoon or a dim-wit. One person cannot be both Mr Director. One constantly keeps wondering whether to take him seriously or not.
If Barfi is all heart and looking for ‘dil ka rishta’ and ‘true love’ etc. how does one explain his falling in love with Shruti? He is after her right from the moment he sees her for the first time. At that time he doesn’t even know her. So, what does he fall for? Her looks? Isn’t there an inherent contradiction in Barfi’s ‘love’ for Shruti and Jhilmil? One person cannot have so diametrically opposite attitudes towards love at the same time.
There is a certain kind of behaviour you can expect of an intelligent, sensitive and a romantic person. Some scenes suggest that Barfi is all of this. If Barfi is a kind of guy who says “Ghadi 15 minute peeche karta hoon. Samajh lena ki hum mile hi nahi” etc. how do you explain other buffoonery and stupid things that he does? Or maybe that is being innocent and ‘spreading happiness’!
If Barfi himself is not dim-witted and is a normal grown up person, he cannot look at Jhilmil with the romantic love in his mind. He will always look at her as someone in constant need of love and care which he may be ready to provide. Any normal person would not look at the girl in Jhilmil’s condition as his future wife. Barfi is only deaf and mute. He is capable of thinking like a normal person. Isn’t he?
There is absolutely no consistency in Barfi’s character. He keeps on doing just about anything that may make an interesting scene or a supposedly ‘touchy’ scene. Characterisation, be damned!
Other protagonist Jhilmil is supposed to be autistic but many a times comes across as retarded. In either case, somebody like Jhilmil is totally incapable of understanding the emotion of love. Anybody who gives little care and affection is worthy of her trust. A girl like her would also be totally incapable of having feelings of jealousy out of romantic love and of acting on that. In the real world, Shruti would be just another ‘Aunty’ or an adult for Jhilmil. But our Jhilmil has the license from the writer-director to do what she does.
Jhilmil is shown to have passed Barfi’s (weird) loyalty test by not moving away from the falling lamp-post. But she gives the same dazed and dumb look even to the approaching train as she is incapable of thinking about its dangers and acting accordingly. So, how can one say that she didn’t move because she was loyal to Barfi?
This retarded/autistic Jhilmil suddenly turns very smart at a convenient time. She not only remembers her orphanage’s number but very smartly calls on it and probably tells her whereabouts to the concerned people. Isn’t this absurd? In another totally fake scene, Jhilmil angrily tells ‘Hanso mat’ to some girls who are ridiculing her singing. Given her condition, she is not capable of understanding that they are laughing at her and also of feeling insulted about it.
Also, Shruti’s falling for Barfi is totally unconvincing. Somebody who is getting married in just a few days to the man of her choice falls for a poor deaf and mute boy from a small town because he is ‘spreading happiness’. Absurd! But let’s say ‘That’s love. It’s beyond all logic’ and let it be. Next big question is what if Shruti was happy with her husband? She wouldn’t have remembered Barfi then. So, just because she is having problems in a relationship with her husband, she thinks Barfi’s love is better? What does that say about Shruti?
Then there is this ‘ultra-cool’ mother who despite being the part of the Indian society of 1970’s, takes her daughter to show the man she loved in her younger days. I doubt how many mothers would do that even today. Also there is this pot-bellied police officer who has no other work but to run after Barfi.
These are just some of the glaring flaws in the film. I am sure one can find some more. ‘Barfi’ is completely illogical and implausible and demands the suspension of logic and disbelief to the hilt. But then, every Bollywood film or a masala film so snootily despised by the fans of Barfi, demands that. So then how is ‘Barfi’ different from them? All masala films ask you to leave your brains behind and enjoy. If Barfi is asking you to do the same, how is it better or greater than other masala films?
Good and Bad are relative terms and one cannot really dictate what other person should like or not like. If people can find meaning in this film or enjoy it without finding any – good for them! But hailing it as a masterpiece and great cinema is just too much!
Why is it a masterpiece? Just because media says so? Or because the makers claim so? Or just because the film pretends to do ‘something different’ no matter how substandard it is.
It’s shocking to see how the pose and the pretence can impress people so much. The bitter truth is this ‘Barfi’ is not all that sweet! And it’s high time somebody said so loud and clear.
Manjusha Patil is a media and PR professional and a freelance writer. She tweets at @manjumuses