Saturday, September 15, 2012

Barfi is a poetic masterpiece

Barfi, directed by Anurag Basu, was a definite winner ever since its first trailer came out. You know a movie is destined for awesomeness when the makers have the balls to put out a trailer without any dialogues even when they have the slate of stars such as Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Ileana D'Souza. Each successive promo or trailer told a little story in itself building up to a release that had everyone's heart pounding to grab a bite of this sweet dish. Anurag Basu started his career with the box-office hit Murder, followed it with the epoch busting thriller Gangster and then delicious slice of life Life in a Metro. He also directed Hrithik Roshan's Kites thereafter but never owned up to it amidst all the rumors of interference from Rakesh Roshan. With Barfi, he breaks these virtual shackles and paints a delectable imagery inspired by the creative reserves that always existed in him and bumps it up by many levels. Yet, Barfi is a film that demands all of your earnest attention and immense patience, but if you do give that, the final pay-off is a cauldron of fulfillment, to say the least.

An odd name, Barfi, is a multi-layered film that cannot be classified into any genre without a blink. At the heart of it, it is a love triangle with soaring emotions, but is doused with elements of zany comedy, unspoken physical challenges and a shy thriller subplot. Yet, Anurag Basu effortlessly takes all of these and more, wraps it around in softness and recites it like a William Wordsworth poem. Barfi has all the ingredients of masala intertwined in its poetic branches, yet filtered and finished with a feel good charm that constantly ensures a smile on your face. Its a hard film to make, and a harder film to write, considering the lavish focus on differently abled lead characters that dont speak ever, a layered circular narrative that could get trifle confusing and an impressively visceral treatment that exemplifies cinematic indulgence in right proportions. Barfi is a playful experiment in the mainstream space that is constantly engaging and subtly entertaining, despite its maniacal anachronistic presentation that shamelessly switches between times and flashbacks and eras. Basu's periodical gearshifting never causes a gap in the tone of the film, such is his masterstroke. Many would complain about the thriller subplot as being extraneous or a lack in pace in the second half, but all the convolutions gel so coherently that wipes the smudge off the screen and sharpens the edges of this bright yet heartbreaking venture. Lots of long shots and close-ups, innovative techniques of direction and an assuring camerawork pins Barfi notches above the expectations you might have.

Barfi is the story of a pack of characters over a few decades, led by a deaf and mute guy Murphy (Ranbir, he can only tell his name as Barfi), an autistic girl Jhilmil (Priyanka) and a married girl Shruti (Ileana) who cannot get over her only love of life. The two best things about Basu's writing and direction is that it never lets go of the whimsical breezy charm amidst its varied sensibilities, and it never tries to manipulate your emotions through tomfoolery, sympathy or contrivations. The content is meaty and unfocused but Basu weaves his endearing moments with a lot of care taking influences ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Woody Allen. His characters are simple people who feel and act instantly, but there is a light-hearted balance that eventually drives home the point of the beauty of life. Barfi manages to connect with you on many levels, striking your senses with a gentle touch as a bout of innocent and fresh escapist entertainment devoid of patronization or pretension. Anurag Basu exhibits a rare narrative style with barely any dialogue, better than any of his previous attempts, that propels his pure talent to the pinnacle of filmmaking this year. *Yes, it is the year of Bengal.*

Barfi, produced by UTV Motion Pictures and Ishana Movies, had more than just the writing going for it. Ravi Varman's cinematography is largely immersive and genuinely breathtaking, drawing you quietly into each and every frame across the panoramic locales of Darjeeling and Calcutta. Varman captures the nuances of the characters with much ease and paints a rapturous picture that never gets loud or touristy, coherently seconded by a diligent Production Design that emanates ease. Pritam, takes upon himself to slam all his critics over the years and delivers one of the best albums of the year. Each song is a little gem that tickles different chords inside you. Phir Le Aaya Dil by Rekha Bharadwaj and Arijit Singh is my pick of the lot, followed by Main Kya Karoon and Barfi title song. Basu uses the song well to make up for the lack of dialogue and doesnt allow them to barge in. A special mention of the opening verse of a song that tells you to shut your phones and kids because the movie is starting. Lyrics by Swanand Kirkire, Neelesh Mishra, Sayeed Quadri and Ashish Pandit are fresh and frivolous. Background score by Pritam only extends his excellence with the songs. Editing by Akiv Ali could be a tad bit tighter.

Time and again, many of us have said and heard that Ranbir Kapoor is bound to be the next superstar. Without any predilection, I would like to eliminate this idea and go on to announce, that he is already a superstar, and more importantly, a super actor. Last year, he reneged his detractors, though there arent many, with a standout performance in Rockstar. In a recent interview, Kapoor audaciously rated himself 10/10 as an actor and 4/10 as a star. In his short career, his choice of films from Rocket Singh to Rockstar to Barfi has been palpably superior to any of his peers and remarkably phenomenal. With Barfi, he exponentially enters an elite zone where not many can outplay him. His goofball boisterousness, his lover-boy antics, his innocent emotions, as Barfi, transcend beyond acting to a semblance of reality that reaches out to you. To complement Ranbir, Priyanka Chopra plays an equally difficult character with much panache that makes me wonder why she gives duds like Teri Meri Kahaani putting her ginormous talent to shame. As an autistic girl, Chopra never lets Jhilmil become a subject of pity or sympathy depicting dumbness, sense, love, jealousy and everything else with a distinct portrayal. If you even dare to miss the eye candy in the leads, Ileana D'Souza dons a saree to deliver a vital mature performance that probably defines the essence of the film. Ileana, confident in her Hindi debut, is seamlessly ebullient and instantly believable. Acclaimed Bengali actress Rupa Ganguly makes a mark in the few scenes she gets as Ileana's mother. Saurabh Shukla is a shockingly under-rated talent that gets his due in Barfi, shining in his role as the police inspector. Akash Khurana as Barfi's dad is superb, while Ashish Vidyarthi doesnt get much scope. Its this eclectic set of artists that handle this intricate tale with much concern and affection.

Barfi is not only a buffet of eyeball orgasms that delivers a rousing stretch of smiles, but is also a heartbreaking tale of pure love, told with a refreshing cinematic approach that affects you deeply and stays with you longer. It is a film that hardly gets many things wrong in its 150 minute runtime and a film that should be witnessed on the biggest screen. It has taken a good start at the Box Office but Ranbir's films dont make the money they are supposed to, once his fans are done seeing the movie. Its a shame that Indian movie-going audience would take Bol Bachchan to 100Cr and Ek Tha Tiger to 200Cr, but would wait for Barfi to come out on a DVD. Here is a star who is trying to act, and make a difference with really mainstream entertaining movies. What else do you want? If Barfi does not enter the coveted 100Cr club, it should call for a riotous situation inside my head. I appeal to you, go out, buy a ticket and watch Barfi in a theater. If you are disappointed, I will buy you a meal whenever we meet!

Rating - 4.5/5

*The Year of Bengal refers to my recent column here

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Joker is a big fat joke in Shrish Kunder's oeuvre, if he has one

The bubble has burst. Shirish Kunder's dream of many years, Joker, has arrived. To say the least and yet say it all, Kunder is doomed. Here's why. Long ago, Kunder pitched the idea of Joker to Shahrukh Khan, who chided at him for coming up with such garbage. Kunder took offence to it and swore by his long locks that he will go ahead and make it. Gritty and goaded with a purpose, Kunder did manage to make Joker 3-4 years later and get UTV Films and Akshay Kumar on board. However, the problems didnt end there. Joker was supposed to be shot/converted to 3D and release as India's first 3D film. That didnt happen. It was also pinned to be Akshay and Kunder's multi-crore dream that is staged in grand. Even this did not happen. Kunder fell out with Akshay and got slapped by SRK at a party. That did happen.

Mostly everyone in the cast and crew bailed out on Kunder right upto its release due to 'creative differences'. UTV drowned their sorrows a month of ago, sitting put in the wake of a washout. Kunder's wife and co-producer, Farah Khan, was nice enough to launch her acting debut barely a week before the release of Joker. Akshay also remained obscure in all promotional campaigns due to his 'shoot schedules', but found enough time to promote his other release Oh My God at every possible platform. The first trailer of Joker garnered only negative vibes due to its tacky feel and amateurish idiocy. So did every other consequent promo, with the marketing campaign consisting of Chitrangada Singh talking about it and the fruit-looking aliens making public appearances, including at SRK's house, after Kunder had said sorry to him on Twitter. You know what to expect out of a film if the satellite rights have been bought by Zee Cinema. Kunder pushed for Joker, aided by Farah in the last one week, but now he can go back to editing films only or watch his worst nightmares come true.

In all honesty, I feel bad for Shirish Kunder and would save some ridiculing for some other time. To be fair, Joker is vested in a novel idea, just like the despicably directed Jaaneman, Kunder's debut venture. Unlike the obnoxiously loud and chronically moronic Tees Maar Khan which he wrote, Kunder had the right intentions with Joker, but is still reprehensible for a movie that even the most lenient of 'critics', had ugly things to say about. Joker is doused with cringe-inducing weak plotting that leaves you with no reaction, not even anger or disgust. Kunder's writing and direction are astoundingly inane, with a grave attempt to dispense with any research or common sense. Unlike Akshay's recent megahits, Housefull 2 and Rowdy Rathore, Joker never gets annoyingly loud or caricaturish-ly lame, yet the ham-fisted writing and amateurish direction makes it falls flat on the ground. Akshay Kumar plays a NASA scientist who is building a supremely garish machine to communicate with the aliens as Kunder attempts his jokes weaved around a town that has a history of residing dumb people, since there was an asylum in the town once before India's independence. Akki plays Agastya whose brother is named Babban, the village of Paglapur has all resources, including getting Chitrangada to do an item number with a large crew, before they fight for them again, a bunch of scenes are filmed as circuitous repetitions in the same setting, unoriginal comic tracks include Asrani translating English lines to Hindi with a Nazi hangover and schmaltzy dialogues that state the obvious with much effect are the order of the day. In one scene, Babban, played by Shreyas Talpade, who is playing a leaf out of Tusshar Kapoor's character in Golmaal series speaking gibberish, talks to a 'real' alien, who apparently understands his language and apparently speaks the same. Really? You see, thats how you would feel all through the short run-time of 100 odd minutes of Joker.

Joker comes across as an appalling half-baked product that had incompleteness stretched on its face, almost in all technical aspects also. The unusually weak scripting is accompanied by stuttering tonal shifts and shameful production that will induce a soggy deflation of the 50Cr balloon. If you manage to seat yourself through to the end credits, you will see Kunder's name re-appearing in almost all departments of production. Its almost as if everyone except for Kunder got disinterested in the project midway. The Production Design by Samir Chanda is gawdy and listless. Cinematography by Sudeep Chatterjee is wistful and lacks energy. The visual effects by Prime Focus are shoddily done, being blurry at most instances. The action or the sound, nothing brings out the racy effect or the sublimity required in scenes. Music by G.V. Prakash Kumar is incredulous, without one single memorable track.

Its relieving to see Akshay Kumar taking a break from his over-the-top tomfoolery but he does not offer anything else to Joker either. Sleepwalking through a crippled script definitely seemed the easiest way to go about it, and to top it all, he left the project much before its release paralyzing its release. Sonakshi Sinha is increasingly assuring of her incapability to act, squandering away her time in pointless roles. If you look at Shreyas Talpade in Joker, you will have difficulty in believing that he ever did a movie like Iqbal. Minnisha Lamba has a couple of scenes with air being thrown at her hair, and two dialogues in the whole movie. Asrani, Darshan Jariwala and Vrajesh Hirjee are seen suffering from hangover of all other roles they have done. Vindu Dara Singh and the usually dependable Sanjay Mishra are found contributing the couple of chuckles that you might have during Joker. Pitobash is wasted in an inexorably inconsequential role. Chitrangada Singh looks smoky as long as the item number lasts, but her looks fail to salvage the trite affairs of things.

Despite Kunder being deeply passionate about Joker, it comes out as an overbearingly weak film. He must relinquish his ideas of direction because his skills are several notches below anyone who wants to be a writer/director. Joker is the kind of film that is not a pepper spray worthy secret ploy to grab cash but is also a film that gets the biggest production house backing it when writing is clumsily amateurish. Such a waste of resources! The film has taken a dull start at the Box Office and is bound to sink very soon. Over the past few days, almost everyone in the world of media and films had predicted this outcome for the movie and Joker lives upto it. I can try to tell you to go watch it out of pity for Kunder, but I cant, and I wont.

Rating - 1/5