Saturday, September 22, 2012

An adulterated Barfi

Anurag Basu’s established penchant for stealing is trickier than that of other Bollywood filmmakers because, unlike them, he pretends to be a serious filmmaker making meaningful character-centric cinema. But what he really does is lift entire storylines and plotpoints and hammers the characters into their slats. In Life in a Metro, the central storyline (Sharman-Kangana), lifted entirely from Billy-Wilder’s irritating 1960’s “The Apartment”, was marketed as a zeitgeisty story of today, of BPOs and the Metropolis as a condenser of our many-headed lives. In a stolen scene in the stolen plot, rampant affairs between skirt-chasing middle-aged bosses and their young secretaries were claimed to be as commonplace in the industry as fake accents. CII should have taken this denigrating movie to task:  for reducing a sunrise industry (of which the future workforce it badly needs and their gatekeeping parents are still trying to get a handle of)­ to a romping orgy. Imagine what might have happened if a bukkake scene had caught Mr. Basu’s fancy?
Where Metro postured as a serious exploration of urban morality, Barfi would like you to believe it is an organic love-story and important, even landmark, cinema because the two central characters are disabled: one physically, another mentally. Barfi, the effervescent deaf-and-mute protagonist  (Ranbir Kapoor), is the new tramp with the kid (Priyanka Chopra) in tow and playing hide-and-seek with the cop (Saurabh Shukla). Since the character is built from various stolen scenes from Chaplin, Keaton, Chan, Kelly and various others, it’s a confused pastiche (like the rest of the movie) and whatever credibility Barfi has comes from Ranbir’s own conviction. Likewise, PC’s autism is fitted into the plot, much like not-a-terrorist Khan’s, and credit is to her for the extreme vulnerability she suffuses her Jhilmil with (Imagine Kareena Kapoor playing the character and you’ll know what I mean.)
The movie is set in the hills like many slow-paced comedies and dramas are ­ to reclaim the romance with time lost in the jostling urbania; and for some picturesque cinematography. In Barfi’s case, it does not let the well-groomed and fair-skinned pauper-hero stand out and detract from the director’s serious-cinema claim, as it might have if the story had been set in the plains. And it gives the fashion-designers enough room to dress this handicapped-son-of-a-driver as if he’s just stepped out from the greens of a Woodehousian drama instead of phati-bundies. (Even when later, B&J have to escape briefly to Calcutta, instead of letting the grime settle on the hero’s rakish golf-cap, the director transforms the   City-of-Joy’s famous poverty  to match Barfi.)
Also, the hills, still frozen in Raj grandeur, provide a set seeped in colonial nostalgia and sensibilities where, again, the pauper-hero, fairer and better-dressed than the brown-sahib poseurs does not stand out like a black native might have in the plains.
(A measure of a good character sketch is who his friends are and what they reveal about the character, and Barfi’s purported best friend is as well-rounded as a mumbled lie.)
With these borrowed scenes and sensibilities, Barfi is thrust into the audience’s face as a life-affirming character because nothing disaffirming happens to him. His disability is a constraint that he acts within (­like being inured to being booed)­ but it’s never an inconvenience; he does not have to fight prejudices to lead a normal working life like Koshish’s Sanjeev Kumar has to. And before the audience can frown and intone to themselves “But surely it’s not possible that…”, the filmmaker will spin another needless suspense in the non-linear narrative to distract it from its inherent implausibility.
In the end, Barfi is a dishonest and an unethical movie, despite some excellent acting. Saurabh Shukla stands out (his best work to-date for me and he defines Barfi more than the character himself does) and should definitely be up for all nominations. But I doubt he would receive even the recognition due to him in an industry that awarded Mr. Basu’s Metro for “original” screenplay. I am afraid that instead of severely criticizing Mr. Basu for exploiting serious disabilities to unite various stolen scenes and ideas, as much as that detestable travesty My Name is Khan, it would again end up awarding him.

PS: Just after penning this article, I find that Barfi is now our official entry to the Oscars. Can there be bigger shame than this?


Pankaj said...

<<< been chuckling all evening. nothing lifts the spirits like intelligent writing and authentic low-brow humor. Nice to have you writing again!

Bland Spice said...

and nice to have you here again :)