There are many reasons why watching Barfi! should be on the top of your weekend plans. Here are a few. Barfi is original! It is funny without being irreverent, charming without being superficial, and when the time comes, incredibly moving without being melodramatic.
In both plot and treatment, it is textured with a Chaplinesque ethos that makes it hard to resist. The characters, the setting, and the screenplay are made of elements you’ve never seen in Bollywood before, and if you have, not in this way.
Ninety per cent of the film, you’re never quite sure what is going to happen next. Sure, you can use a Bollywood cliché for a film that avoids them completely, and say it’s a love triangle. When was the last time you saw a Hindi film that focused more on love and less on the triangle?
Huge credit to the director for making a film that doesn’t sit comfortably in a slotted genre. Anurag Basu easily avoids pitfalls of overplaying a mute or an autistic character to evoke sympathy. He stays away from obvious
emotional manipulations, so when the time does come for the lump-in-the-throat moment, you’ve got enough of it packed in to let lose the boo-hoos. And feel good about it.
Barfi is Ranbir! From playing a musical genius to a deaf and dumb simpleton, Ranbir Kapoor rocks it. If he suggested it as a Rockstar, Ranbir in and as Barfi asserts the fact that he is the finest actor of this generation.
Talent and performances may make for an apples to oranges comparison, but it’s his choice of persistently doing a certain cinema and of the roles he has picked, and his ability to then deliver on these that elevate him beyond his contemporaries.
Playing a hero who has no speech or hearing, he pitches a performance that’s near perfect. He is a very physical actor, and given a role where he has no dialogue and a lot of action seems to have liberated him.
You feel he was born to be the modern day Charlie Chaplin, in whose spirit Barfi — the film and the character — is modelled. He almost makes you forget there are other actors in the film, who all do a great job. Illeana D’Cruz is well cast as Ranbir’s sweetheart and first love, and
complements him very well, especially during their courtship. Priyanka is more than competent as girl with autism. It’s no fault of hers that she’s overshadowed playing a differently-abled role pitted directly with Ranbir. The supporting ensemble is generally very good.
Barfi is a visual feast! Beautifully shot with brilliant colours, top-notch art direction and the choice of locations all come together in one cohesive visual language. Basu has taken away dialogue and put what we see on screen above what we hear, in complete antithesis to how most Bollywood films are structured.
The use of colours, important scenes, actions, and gestures as visual echoes add a layer to the primary story unfolding on screen that is gratifying to see. So everything from door bells to watermelons to muddy feet to lamp posts have a meaning and a role to play. And it’s got music that blends into the film.
Never overbearing, it has a nostalgic feel that makes it very listenable, and very hummable. Irrespective of what you like in the film and not, some of the images are bound to stay with you long afterwards.
Barfi is life! Life is what you make of it. Ranbir and Priyanka are differently-abled, but the film looks at this in a matter-of-fact way. Just like how Saurabh Shukla’s cop is
overweight and gets tired, for example. The minimal usage of sign language is a clue on how little emphasis there is on Ranbir’s speech and sound impairment. In that sense, his disability is no bigger — in fact it’s lesser — than Illeana’s inability to take the step of leaving a sheltered life for true love.
This parity in treatment of each character is a remarkable feat, and reveals a fundamental reflection on life — s*** happens. You get on with it. Barfi! manages to bring this out so well, and that’s what makes it both endearing and relatable.
Problems? Ok, a couple maybe. The plot unfolds in a double flashback, and repeatedly switches back and forth in time. Possibly, this makes following the proceeding unnecessarily complicated at times, and it is debatable whether such a structure is justified at the end of it all.
The double abduction attempt is a clunky attempt to setup the final act, and is one of the rare elements that jars in the film. But these seem like minor blemishes on a masterpiece, and there’s more than enough richness in the film to make you forget the flaws.
Watching Barfi! is an immersive experience. It may need patience at times, but give it attention and it will hook you up, reel you in, and give you back a lot more than you could have imagined. Book your tickets quickly, because they’re probably in short supply by now.