Movie Review: Barfi!

There is a point in the movie where Barfi, sitting in a store room, is carving Shruti’s name on a “Prestige Pressure Cooker” (jo apni biwi se kare pyaar, wo prestige se kaise kare inkaar), and he notices her inside the shop. As he tries to confirm, the camera pans and moves from blinds to blinds till Barfi is sure. Shruti Sengupta looks like a Bengali baudi should, and Barfi approaches her. But stops, and takes out his comb and gets his appearance right. He tries to whistle but obviously, he doesn’t know that his whistle is silent. And then Shruti turns around. They make eye contact and Shruti goes through a series of conflicting emotions interrupted by the honking of her husband Ranjit, and Barfi carries the pressure cooker for her to outside the shop – that 90-120 second montage of emotions – that’s poetry. And that’s Barfi – four cheese fondue – dipped in four of the nine rasas – shringar, hasya, karuna, and adbhut.

The theatre erupts, holds its breath, sighs, and (almost) cries with Barfi. It amuses you, and keeps you smiling throughout. It makes you draw parallels with several things without ever slowing down so much so that you start caring about the parallel more than you care about Barfi. It tries to be a thriller in the middle, and while you cringe about the villain being too much of a villain, it finds the hero inside them as well.

The music blends so beautifully that you almost don’t notice it. The lyrics are poetic and situational. The sound is Darjeeling. Remember the fresh feel of kashto maza from Parineeta. Barfi’s soundtrack is made up of quite a few of those light in the middle and effervescent at the outside poignant songs. In fact, as discussed offline, the soundtrack sounds more like Shantanu Moitra than Pritam.

The tragedy is never overplayed, nor the deformities. The lack of dialogues does not bother you. Ileana’s voiceover is a good supplement, administered as required. And it’s not soppy to the point where you feel like it’s a rooting for the underdog movie. The screenplay is tight and lucid, even though it gets into a two-three layered flashback at certain points.

While it is brutal to compare it to “The Artist”, but the artist of this movie, while imitating Chaplin and Rowan Atkinson, has left a searing imprint on bollywood. Ranbir Kapoor is brilliant. Make that – BRILLIANT. I won’t analyze further.

Special mention for Ileana who is breathtakingly beautiful without looking unreal, Priyanka who’s making half the industry wonder how did she pull this one off. The world’s wondering what might have happened had she pulled off What’s Your Rashee and Saat Khoon Maaf in a similar fashion. She does go overboard a few times, but is, on the overall, very very good.

Anurag Basu has figured out that the three musicians (three blind mice?) in the background are his lucky charm. They were there in Life in a Metro, and they’re here too. He indulges himself. Not just once. But you will forgive him for that. For many of my generation, the throwback on the eighties and nineties is nice, albeit exaggerated. And thankfully, it’s a prop, and not the point.

The movie, in a very Masand like preachiness, is not without its flaws. It runs longer than it should, and there are stretches where you would want to gloss over rather than go through it again and again. But then, which classic have you read where there aren’t a few pages of creative self indulgence! There are times when Barfi’s Chaplin moments could have been snipped out, but then, they keep the theater light as well. It’s almost sad to see Ashish Vidyarthi becoming a shadow of what he could have been, but then, it wasn’t a movie for him. Biggest gripe I have is – Ileana does not speak Hindi the way Bongs would. While it probably does not matter, but with so much of the region thrown in here and there juts for the flavor, it would have helped to get some of those details right (the way Kahanii did). Saurabh Shukla is good, but then again, the region is missing from the dialect. Considering that he and Ileana have most of the dialogues in the movie, it would have been good to have. The level of detailing leaves a lot, but that’s not going to be a complaint you carry as you leave the theater.

Some of the emotions are left unexplained. And that’s good. I won’t tell you which ones.

By the way, I do think that an older Ranbir will look exactly as he’s shown in the movie. And Ileana looks so gracefully old. Good job by the makeup artists for not turning them into caricatures.

Endnote: Lovely movie. A 9 on 10. When you come out, you stay silent, and in your zone for a bit. And that zone is a happy place. So, please watch it.

Book Review: When The Snow Melts ( Vinod Joseph)

After a short gap, I again signed up to review a book under the blogadda book review program. First, about the program itself – I think it’s a great idea as it serves two purposes – it gives bloggers a chance to take their blogging seriously (with the realization that you might be representing something bigger than yourself), and at the same time, it creates a network effect/ word of mouth for some good books written by upcoming Indian authors.

The book that I lined up for a review is – When The Snow Melts, by Vinod George Joseph. I first came across Vinod several years back, when he was active contributor for Epic India e-magainze. The e-zine is long defunct, and so are the few forums where saw Vinod’s writing. So, it was good to see that he had published something, and not just something, but a thriller.

About the book

From amazon: Veteran spook Ritwik Kumar is sent by the Indian government to the Intelligence Assessment Group (IAG) in London, where intelligence agents from all over the world work together to fight global terrorism. The IAG has a few pet projects: nabbing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar is one; purging Pakistan’s secret service agency, the ISI, of rogue elements and fundamentalists, is another. Despite years of working in Central Asia and Afghanistan, things don’t go well for Ritwik at the IAG. Addiction to alcohol and gambling drive him to borrow heavily from loan sharks and even misappropriate office funds. When Ritwik’s senior officer, General West, gives him only a fortnight to return the money he has stolen, Ritwik defects to the al Qaeda.But he is a man who doesn’t easily fall in line and doesn’t share al Qaeda’s ideology. Events take a turn for the worse not only for Rikwik but also for all those who come in contact with him. Even the beautiful Nilofer, who is married to the al Qaeda fanatic and one-man army Junaid, is not spared. When the Snow Melts takes you through a dangerous world of diplomats, spies and fanatics, where appearances are deceptive, and danger lurks around every corner.


Now then! WTSM sets out to be a spy thriller set around an Indian spy working with IAG who ends up defecting to a pro-Taliban sub faction within ISI. Expectedly, the life of a defector is not too rosy to start with, since there are more people who expect the defector to be not that but a double agent. So, our protagonist, Ritwik Kumar, is in a hellhole soon enough. Or rather, moving from one to the other.

I have always been intrigued by how the best thriller writers set up a key event in a prologue which keeps you glued to the plot, and that exact setup that leads to that moment. However, my biggest disappointment from WTSM was that the prologue of the book was too simple a set up that could be smelled from a mile. X caught by bad guys, X in a mess, X shows some moves, but they are not good enough, and suddenly, X gets saved by Y, and Y knows a lot abot X already. Scene begins. You know what’s coming, right?

VGJ’s debut novel is an interesting effort in a space rather untouched by Indian authors. The recent barrage of Indian authors have abused the modern Indian male/female, life in the metros, IIMs/IITs/etc on the one end and adapted the Indian mythodology on the other. There is precious little by way of variety and style. That’s score 1 for VGJ. There are as many facts as there are myths about the Indian spooks, and you can be sure that I have been in the middle of some, given my family background. But, an interesting article to read before you start reading this book would be a recent Caravan article about the case of Madhuri Gupta. There are some minor traces of the case in the book, but that article is a good starting point if you’re new to the Indian spy world. Secondly, don’t forget that the movies have glorified spooks across the world to such heights that beatable, un-crazy spooks are not welcome, usually.

The book is a lazy afternoon read with a decent pace, but does not have much to offer. The plot is is highly predictable and the suspense not layered. The story telling is so obviously linear that it smells of a Yashraj film. It moves continuously from the same scene to the same scene without ever breaking away from the pattern. There isn’t a second vantage point in the entire book, which is its biggest weakness. If you’ve read two spy books before this, most likely, the plot will be staring in your face. In fact the surprise is that there is no surprise. From someone like VGJ, I’d have expected a lot more research into the subject. My fear is that he ended up writing the script for the next Salman Khan movie – Ek Aur Tiger. And you know that script and Salman Khan don’t quite go together, right?

The lack of context – the prologue does not explain the gambling and the debt, the IAG as an entity is never really explained, the set of caricatures that form this faction of ISI, the linkback to RAW, the way intelligence is collected, the rather talkative ring leader – these are just some of the loopholes or missing elements. The extent of stereotyping makes it worse. And there aren’t enough thrills.

The plot’s smartest setup fails because the protagonist talks too much… Or.. err.. thinks out loud too much. His doubt in the moments when he is with Niloufer, reveal the essence of the plot way up front. And the dragging end with Ritwik wanting to save Niloufer, was an avoidable mess.

So, in short, the book promises, but fails to keep them. On the positive side, the narration is breezy and well edited, and does not get boring at any point. Its one of those simple things you can do one lazy Sunday afternoon. or, when you don’t have any work at office and your twitter handle has been blocked by the government.

I remember what AKC (a friend) once remarked about bollywood movies – “These b****** have two problems – the need to explicitly explain everything. And, the need to have an explicit climax!”

If you want to read good stuff, read Mohammad Haneef’s Case of Exploding Mangoes. This one is barely passable.





This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Some of my other book reviews are here.

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