Barfi! – Nostalgia for the Light

Posted: September 14, 2012 by moifightclub in cinema, movie reviews, reviews
Tags: , ,

Here’s a game to start with. If i say “nostalgia” and ask you to give 10 words that comes to mind, there are very high chances that if you have grown up in 70s or 80s, or even early 90s, you will find all those ten elements in Barfi! What else is a “radio”? Just another symbol for that old world charm. No wonder it has inspired the name for the lead character as well the title of the film. Quaint is the keyword in this postcard written by Anurag Basu and posted from a small hill town post box.

It’s kind of love triangle between Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor), Shruti (Illeana DÇruz) and Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra). He can’t speak. She doesn’t speak. And the third one who is unlike the other two – can speak, hear and think, she doesn’t have the guts. So there are hardly any dialogues between the three and this is where Basu shines as a director. He creates simple and gorgeous moments between the lead characters and his camera captures it by dipping every frame in nostalgia. If i am not wrong, he might have started the film that way too. The film opens with a text plate where Basu dedicates the film to his father. Ileana’s look and get up is based on his Mother (see the making of the film where he talks about it). And everything else somehow reminds you that Basu is trying to go back to his roots. As the film opens, it tries to soak you in the same mood – old man, phone call, flashback, voice over, train journey (by the window seat), curvy roads, hill station, tunnel, rain, green fields, paper toys. Aha, you know the drift. And it continues that way with soap bubbles, fireflies and more. Ten down?

Basu’s film is set in a world of disarming charm where naivety wins over everything, where love is all you need. And it’s so hard to believe it all in today’s cynical and materialistic world. Would you? I don’t know. Just the other day i was still trying to figure out the madness for the new IPhone. Well, art and design is fine but it doesn’t come cheap. And it reminded me of an incident during the Doha Tribeca Film Fest. They had a segment for short films for Under-13. The film which won the first prize left me pondering. It was about a kid who gets a new expensive mobile phone and then he starts behaving like a phone. He needs to be charged, needs the signals and his body behaves like the keypad which can be operated. All treated in a comic tone but i was left wondering if the kid’s world really revolved around a mobile phone. This is the only story he could think of? Life as a mobile phone? May be the black humour of the kid’s real life was better than the film. May be i am just old fashioned? May be we were different as kids. May be every generation says the same. But one thing is for sure – we were never told to chase money and materials. May be that’s why it all feels weird now. And may be that’s why Basu’s characters had to be “challenged” in this era to not chase the “money and materials”. And the one who chases it, she….well, that would be a spoiler.

I never bothered to watch Basu’s last film Kites which was a big flop and it never looked like his film to start with. Even when he plagiarised entire plot in his previous films, they were always visually strong. Parts of Barfi is inspired too but Basu is in top form with this one. Almost everything is pitch perfect in direction except two issues – the thriller element in the film looked so weird and forced. It just doesn’t gel. And what’s with the crisscross flashback narrative? Sometimes even flashback in a flashback. It became confusing at so many points and i was wondering if Barfi! is the Inception of flashbacks. Wouldn’t a simpler narrative be better? Aha, blame it again on nostalgia – flashback! And characters talking to the camera with their names coming on screen. Why? No clue.

But extra points to the film for not trying hard to work on your tear glands to get the sympathy vote. Please note, Mister Bhansali.

As the trailers of the film came out, we all thought that Priyanka is going to kill the film. If she is controlled, she can do magic. Remember Kaminey? But mostly she goes over the top and is melodramatic. She proved everyone wrong and how! It takes some time to adjust to the fact that it’s Priyanka Chopra playing Jhilmil but once you do that, it’s hard to believe the way she portrays the character. Not a single false note. And Ranbir Kapoor, what’s next? He is born to act. I don’t have too many adjectives to define his natural talent to get into the skin of every character that he portrays. Supporting characters are well cast and some of them ooze so much warmth even though they don’t have a single dialogue.

Go with little patience and watch it. Barfi! falters on some uneven tracks too but it’s a rare film which will melt your cynicism. At least for two hours.

Or, may be, it’s just good old nostalgia. Those flip-flop green window panels of old Calcutta always does it for me.

Or, may be, Barfi! is the answer to that Johnny Cash song “Where did we go right?”. If you haven’t heard the song, click the play button and enjoy.

And if you want the lyrics of the song to sing along, click here.

– Post by @CilemaSnob

  1. aj says:

    Very well written, MFC. Barfi is indeed nostalgic. It’s poignant, bittersweet, and absolutely delightful. The visuals, background score, and the music left me blissfully intoxicated. A heartwarming experience.

  2. nitin says:

    dekhiye our hindi movies (most of them even the good ones) lack the quality of being subtle and if u take that exception out then mere khayal se its a real warm and eye misty product…….loved it……dont even get some moments and snaps in most of the movies now…..but this one has a collection of both moments n snaps…….

  3. Completely agree. In Barfi, Basus is in top form and how. His use of music, and visuals is just stunning. And the film as u said is about nostalgia and of moments untold on Indian cinema, enacted so well by the cast. And everything was retro, but yet so fresh, leaving one or two places..To me there were so many things packed in this 1 the father-son relation (may be bcoz I m close to my dad), the lovers’ confusion, Ranbir’s simplicity, Saurabh Shukla’s good man in the end thing, PC’s performance…..

    It deserves more than one viewing, and I hav a feeling it will grow on to me (and many others too) like Rockstar or those movies, which u love more and more as u watch them again and again

    • Sujai says:

      A delightful read.. I totally agree with all those finely put pieces of nostalgia.. I use the word finely cause they haven’t gone overt with it to make it a period movie as well.

      It’s about looking back, we always tend to cherish the past🙂

  4. Pachu Da says:

    Is it a case of bong promoting another bong (and his product). I am asking because it’s way too common.

  5. SJ says:

    I know Kites was much maligned, but I was one of the few people who actually liked it. You could actually divide the film into Basu’s film and the parts ghost-directed by Rakesh Roshan. The moments between Hrithik and Mori were so well done. He’s re-created those kinds of moments in Barfi!

  6. Joshua says:

    Though liked the movie for all its positives and technical aspects, it failed to ‘wow’ me due to the narrative gimmicks and the thriller element, as mentioned above. The middle portions begins to drag to an extent before things gets pulled back on track towards the closing reels.

    Many of the sequences and gags were borrowed / inspired/ copied- call what you want, from other works. Really was hoping to see something more ‘original’ but BARFI does not provide that in screenplay aspect. In fact with Basu, I would not be surprised if the entire ‘Darjeeling nostalgia’ too is borrowed from a fellow Bong, and not exactly his own.

  7. fattiemama says:

    “And extra points to the film for not trying hard to work on your tear glands to get the sympathy vote. Please note, Mister Bhansali.”

    That, and only that nailed it for me.

    Agree with every word MFC and the observation about running after money is beautiful. Hell, PC surprised the life out of me. Not a single false note, how the hell did she manage that?

  8. Deepanjali B Sarkar says:

    Been reading so many good things about Barfi! After a long time really looking forward to a movie! Thanks for the beautiful write up.

  9. Which film was the Doha Tribeca Film Fest. winner for Under-13 ?

  10. what’s next for ranbir kapoor you ask? I’m waiting for Bombay velvet already.

  11. Zico Ghosh says:

    You forgot an important element of nostalgia. bicycle!

  12. SSD says:

    I still think PC almost ruined it in her solo scenes. Only in her scenes with Ranbir did she look better. There were some scenes which seemed a bit forced (fireflies in the forest etc.) but there’s something really warm and lovely about the film. Having stayed in Himachal, maybe it’s nostalgia for me too. Especially the long winding roads and cottages.

  13. murphy says:

    very well written. PC deserves a lot more appreciation though. we know ranbir can act but priyanka was the toughest wall to break to enter this world that Basu created.
    i was so nervous of the inevitable disappointment that i sat with a dreaded bag of nachos waiting for PC to murder the fairy tale. sadly, nothing like that happened.
    i calculated every blink, smile, word, chuckle out of her, so confident she’ll slap me awake from this beautiful world, but really, nothing like that happened. at the end, all us cynical fucktards end up with a belly full of nachos and a handful of flaws not knowing what bliss it is to see a rare “bollywood” movie like Barfi! so give it a chance and don’t eat nachos. or popcorn. or tiffin.

  14. Supertramp says:

    Picture shuru song really set the mood for the film,Then the narrative style took it away. Every time VO and the present day came I was waiting for it to go back to Darjeeling.Now if only somebody can make a film full of nostalgia for us the 90’s kids🙂

  15. Ajit says:

    Sir, you write so well, but why do you write small ‘i’ instead of capital ‘I’?

  16. That was exactly my problem with the movie the 1st time I watched it. Why the non-linear plot? If the world is so scenic and beautifully melodious to show what it must be like to be in Barfi’s head, shouldn’t it also carry over to the fact that a movie about simple emotions must itself be simple? But then I watched it again and I could come up with some explanations for it.

    1. The film is narrated by Shruti. It should have been her moment in the limelight in the end that should she be selfish or should she sacrifice her love for Barfi’s.

    2. We never knew if Jhilmil was alive or not till the end. Had we known, we wouldn’t have been so sad about them.

    3. The photographs shown in the very beginning on Shruti’s mantelpiece gave us an illusion of her marriage with Barfi. We wouldn’t have believed so had it been linearly constructed.

    My confusions related to the ransom letters got cleared on 2nd viewing and while the climax looked weak the 1st time. the 2nd time it was the best part of the entire film.

    Please watch it again and tell if you felt the same.

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