Priyanka Chopra In ‘BARFI!’: One Of Bollywood’s Finest Inwardly-Ravaged Characters

Priyanka Chopra as an autistic girl in 'Barfi!'
Priyanka Chopra as an autistic girl in 'Barfi!'
Priyanka Chopra as an autistic girl in ‘Barfi!’

Rani Mukerji in Black, Konkona Sen-Sharma in 15 Park and now Priyanka Chopra in Barfi!. What’s it about these inwardly-ravaged characters that makes them awards-worthy?

Here’s looking at 11 Actors who have played…

Rajesh Khanna in Khamoshi: Nurse nurse mein agan! After a breakup, Rajesh Khanna comes to a mental asylum to be cured by nurse Waheeda Rehman who has the hots for him. The performance was remarkably controlled…no hysterical laughter, no nervous twitches or pointed giggles, it was all amazingly smooth-sailing. One of Khanna’s best. Salman Khan played the same role in the recent Kyun Ki.. quite effectively.

Smita Patil in Arth/Bipasha Basu in Madhosh: Lunar-dena… Hiccuping hysterically, wheezing in anguished nervousness, screaming as she falls dangerously into dmentia, Smita was a sight in Arth! Years later in a strange adaptation of Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind called Mad-hosh Russel Crowe’s character underwent a s** change. He was transformed into Bipasha Basu!! And she pulled out all plugs to deliver a rousing performance as a woman who ‘sees’ her imagined lover John Abraham. Schizophrenia in kitsch form… Bipasha also played a traumatized woman in Saurabh Shukla’s Chehra.

Raakhee in Dacait: Raakhee mera naam… As a woman who suffers a complete nervous breakdown after she’s incessantly tortured by the villains Raakhee was scarily real in this brilliant Rahul Rawail film. The fear and later the void in the actress’ eyes was palpable.

Salman Khan in Tere Naam: Sal-mad Khan… You could doubt the medical authenticity of this cock-and-bull story. But the angst in Khan’s eyes as he lapsed in a dungeon-styled dementia (chains in the hands and feet) and the pain of unrequited love stayed with you. A truly bravura performance that deserved a lot more recognition.

Farida Jalal in Bobby: Batty ho jay… An underrated gem of a performance. As an adult with an under-developed IQ, desperate to latch on to anyone who would marry her Farida was poignant and cruelly funny.

Ayesha Kapoor in Black: Just chilling… Though she wasn’t mentally challenged her acute isolation caused by her deafness and muteness made little Ayesha’s character a portrait of volatile dysfunctionalism. The little girl gave what can comfortably be called the best performance by a child.

Kamal Haasan in Abhay: Sicko drama… If you haven’t seen the Tamilian maverick do the psycho in this psychedelic thriller you haven’t really watched an actor go over the edge without going over-the-top. Kamal Haasan walked that thin dread line without losing hold of the character’s heart-ripping roots.

Sridevi in Sadma: Sad-pa, Sad-ma, sad sack… As the child-woman suffering from amnesia Sridevi pouted preened and pirouetted without looking monstrously hammy. Her performance was cute endearing heartwarming and utterly authentic.

Konkona Sen-Sharma In 15 Park Avenue: Indoor-Park conflict… If Sridevi in Sadma was cute Konkona is acute. As a girl slipping and sliding into total mental collapse, Konkona comes into her own. Her understanding of the nature of schizophrenia is so acute you wonder if she’s ‘acting’ for a camera or assuming a personality disorder that comes from within her. This is one split personality that doesn’t have you in splits. The portrait of schizophrenia raises harrowing recollections of Smita in Arth. Could Shabana’s presence in both films be the creative catalyst?

Sanjeev Kumar in Khilona: Toy buoyed! In this bizarre melodrama about a kothewali (Mumtaz)’s efforts to wean a “paagal” (that’s how mentally disturbed souls were known in our past movies) away from insanity had Sanjeev Kumar giving a broad but clenched performance. In scenes where he was locked in a room he behaved like King Kong on steroids threatening to break the window grill and leap at his lady love.

Priyanka Chopra in Barfi: Jhilmil sitaron ka aangan hoga… As the autistic Jhilmil in Anurag Basu’s gentle and joyful new film, Priyanka Chopra brings to her role the kind of elegant edginess that very few actors in India have managed while playing psychologically special human beings. Priyanka strips her persona of all glamorous vanity, and outstrips even Ranbir Kapoor who is outstanding in his right, thereby proving herself once again the best actress in the post-Sridevi generation.

AND A SPECIAL MENTION: Hrithik Roshan In Koi…Mil Gaya: Though he didn’t play a psychologically challenged character, Hrithik proved himself one of the finest actors of the pre-and-post Bachchan era, playing the autistic child-man in his dad’s Koi…Mil Gaya. Catching the sur of the character to perfection Hrithik made us forget Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump… And how can we forget Rani Mukerji in Sanjay Bhansali’s Black? Again psychologically normal, her anguished realization of a blackened existence was lanced by pain passion and a hunger to excel… and a fierce determination to fight a world that has no patience with special people.

Subhash K Jha

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