I keep saying this. The point of this blog is not to see how technically advanced a film is or how it flows into the artistic style of the director’s past work. I abstain from writing about these things perhaps because I don’t know enough. What I aim to do is bring to your notice what I see as clandestine rhetoric that perpetuates status quo and oppresses any new line of thought.
In that context, Barfi must have been one of those films that shatters status quo and introduces the viewer to alternate perspectives about disability and relationships. I am not sure it succeeds though.
Barfi can neither hear nor speak. He is a small town simpleton with not-so-materialistic ambitions and an understanding of happiness that comes from within. He is all pranks and is said to be loved by all of Darjeeling. He falls in love (at first sight) with Shruti and woos her – apparently showing her freedom and unconditional love (which she did not see where she is from). Shruti’s mother enacts a scene from ‘The Notebook’ and convinces her not to marry Barfi. Shruti goes to to become Mrs. Sengupta – later to realise that she is in a relationship that has words but no meaning or soul (as against the one with meaning but no words – she could have had with Barfi).
Jhilmil Chatterjee is an autistic young girl living in Muskaan (what looks like a home for the disabled). She doesn’t speak much either; she makes beautiful birds from paper, does not like people touching her and most importantly (for the story to go forward) inherits all of her family’s wealth.
While one is savouring the joy that the innocence of Barfi and Jhilmil shower on us, there is a plot of kidnap and ransom-demanding that pokes itself in. Barfi kidnaps Jhilmil (among other people), writes a ransom note, takes the money from Jhilmil’s father all in an attempt to save his own father who is suffering from a kidney disease. But you see – someone who is supposed to be innocent and joyful getting himself tangled into kidnap does not seem cute to me anymore.
Entangled in this mess is also Jhilmil who can hardly understand what’s going on around her. She trusts her long-time friend Barfi who has in fact kidnapped her for money. They both grow fond of each other that Barfi perceives as love. I say “Barfi perceives” because I am not convinced Jhilmil understands this completely. They run away to Kolkata and seek to live normal lives. Shruti returns to Barfi’s life as Mrs. Sengupta ending up making Jhilmil jealous who goes back to Muskaan (for security/ peace/ familiarity?).
Is the kidnap, alcoholic mother, drowning-in-debt father written as a contrast for the innocent, harmless, genuine, child-like Jhilmil? Is the rich, hard working, urban, Mr. Sengupta a contrast for Barfi? Why couldn’t Shruti have married a rich, hard working, urban man who is also loving, caring, romantic, compassionate and considerate? Aren’t the same problems of black and white characters continuing here? As Shruti’s mother also asks in this film – who says love only happens once? It happened twice to Barfi!
I am still confused about the marriage of the autistic Jhilmil. When she could not comprehend kidnap, how does she comprehend marriage, wedding ceremonies and the relationship (albeit platonic)? What is the love based on?
If the film is to present to the audiences a new perspective on love, happiness, joy, relationships, trust and marriage – well, there is of course merit to the attempt. But it is far from convincing. There is a strange sense of disconnect – from the narrative, the characters, the message we are meant to perceive.