There is much to be said about a film where two of the principal characters barely speak and yet you are convincingly and confidently drawn into their world, thoughts and feelings.
Much to your surprise, the filmmakers does not manipulate you emotionally in spite of the love triangle between a deaf-mute character, an autistic girl and an emotionally torn woman, a victim of societal moors.
Ranbir Kapoor plays the jovial, lovable hooligan who is christened Murphy at birth (after the transistor radio company) but articulates his own name as Barfi. In the idyllic setting of Darjeeling, lovingly captured as a fantasy world by Anurag Basu, Barfi lives each day as it comes, unfettered by societal norms or laws. Free-willed and free-spirited, he is equally charming and prone to trouble. Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz) meets Barfi during her father’s posting in Darjeeling. Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) is a local rich man’s severely autistic granddaughter. Barfi is able to connect with both these women, in different ways. The film traces these three lives and their relationships.
The story begins in present day but is told mostly in flashback as events unfold over seven years in the 1970s. The narrative zigzags back and worth in a dizzying way, at times making the flow confusing and hard to follow.
The story telling in the first half slows down in parts, but is made up with a sharper second half. Much of Basu’s silent scenes are derivative of Charlie Chaplin and movies of the silent era with grand musical orchestration and slapstick gags, which usually include a bumbling overweight cop (Saurabh Shukla) on Barfi’s tail.
Pritam’s peppy score creates the requisite mood and sets up the emotions for the scenes. If only Basu had omitted the three-man band that keeps popping up randomly, unnecessarily and irritatingly throughout the film (much like in Life In A Metro).
Having said that, Basu more than redeems himself for the debacle of Kites. Indeed he and his writers show how disability and physical challenges can be depicted without parodying or exaggerating them. The costumes, art direction, lensing and lighting contribute to the visual delight. Basu’s storytelling prowess and his passion for filmmaking are on full display, and you get the impression that he has some personal connection with elements of this story. As for the actors – each one gets the pitch right, in particular the three leads.
Priyanka Chopra is truly surprising as she keeps the reigns pulled in on her role and touches you with the vulnerability of this woman trapped in a girl’s mind.
Ileana D’Cruz is self-assured in her role as a woman who knows she has to pay the price for an ill-advised decision. Though her hair and make up as an older woman is an aberration in this otherwise meticulously designed film, D’Cruz is quite the revelation.
As for Ranbir Kapoor – he owns the part of Barfi, infusing it with infectious joie de vivre and innocence. With Barfi! he reinforces his rising credentials as an actor of immense talent.
Barfi! Will make you laugh, it will touch a chord; it will make you long for Darjeeling and for an unadulterated, selfless friendship; and it will send you home with a smile on your face.