Barfi: Cloud-swept Darjeeling, Murphy Radio, Goodricke Tea and aching, bitter-sweet nostalgia
The last time a film triggered this kind of aching, clawing nostalgia is Satyajit Ray's 1962 complex family drama 'Kanchenjunga' set amid the dew-soaked hill roads of Darjeeling. With economic dependence on exhaustive tourism, the hills have lost much their sheen, but Rituparno Ghosh's decade-old emotional saga 'Titli' revived some of the quaint charm of North Bengal's lush beauty.
Ten years after 'Titli', talented cinematographer Ravi Varman has rekindled the lost romance of the hills using silhouettes of silence and shadows. Varman is known for his work with filmmakers S Shankar (Anniyan, dubbed into Hindi as Aparichit: The Stranger) and Gautham Menon (Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu).
The misty mornings clothed in a heavy layer of fog, a stunning sunset, a bustling market right on the tracks of the grand Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the bone chilling cold descending on a night of twinkling lights on the slopes, the shadows thrown on the walls by swaying tree tops and the majestic toy train luxuriously entering the station billowing smoke - Varman weaves in threads of gold with the coarse earthiness of hill photography.
North Bengal is a regular theme of the Bengali film industry. Shooting there is cheaper than scheduling foreign locations, the easy accessibility - Darjeeling is just over 630 km from Kolkata, nine hours by road - and has stunning locations that compensate for a tight budget. The Dooars will get its own film city soon.
Despite a number of low budget films being regularly shot there, it took an innovative cinematographer like Varman to show the poverty, grime and poor living conditions of Darjeeling's local living quarters in smudged and forgiving undertones. I hope 'Barfi' does for Varman what 'Vicky Donor' did for Juhi Chaturvedi - create a brand and bring recognition.
Yet the best part of Darjeeling's generously green landscape set in 1978 are the big billboards of Goodricke tea and the quirky reference to the Murphy Radio with a baby's face on the sets. The British radio company's sets were household items post Independence in India. Pregnant women wished their kids were born as chubby as bonny as the Murphy Baby. Barfi refers to exactly that, in fact the name of the protagonist is a broken version of Murphy.
Though the company sent a legal notice to Barfi makers for using their trademark without asking permission, the film in fact pays homage to simpler times when the ungainly radio sets were the only source of entertainment in laidback North Bengal.
Murphy Radio was founded in 1929 by Frank Murphy and E. Power as a mass manufacturer of home radio sets. They originally designed radio sets for the British armed forces during World War II.
Darjeeling, home to one of the world's best tea industries, boasted of brilliant estates where wind weathered women pick leaves in baskets slung over their shoulders. The popular Goodricke brand was the flavour of choice for many households that could afford the golden brew. "Have it without milk," an elderly neighbour from North Bengal, who liked his brew, used to advice.
In the age of instant coffee in paper cups, the grimy bustle of metropolitans, Barfi paints the image of a parallel life that was once the way of existence for men and women content with their lot. Barfi not just made slow love to the moist green hills of Bengal, it made me miss home.
More about Rituparna ChatterjeeIn her 10 years in the media, Rituparna has worked both on the field as a reporter as well as off it, on the desk. Lover of cumin flavoured "authentic" Chinese food. God is watching but that's no compulsion to keep the desktop neat.
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