Barfi! is a tale that simply makes you fall in love with the character’s innocence.
Chances are, someone’s already told you to run out and see Barfi!, Anurag Basu’s tender romantic comedy starring Ranbir Kapoor as a deaf man. The film has opened strong in India, and word of mouth among Indian and diaspora audiences is bound to elevate Barfi!’s fortunes still more with repeat viewings. Auds new to Hindi films may find much to like here, as well.
The film — told mostly without dialogue — is a refreshingly non-commercial exercise, with Ranbir in a Chaplin-inspired performance; Telugu actress Ileana D’Cruz adding elegant solemnity as an upper-class woman who falls for the spontaneous Barfi against her parents’ wishes; and Priyanka Chopra, sans makeup, as an autistic girl.
Actors playing differently-abled characters often walk a fine line for example, Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder and Hindi films are not known for their subtlety as a rule (Although, BLACK of Sanjay Leela Bhansali had a lot of good to offer) but here Basu has guided Ranbir and especially Chopra to turn in exceptionally restrained, organic performances.
As far as the story is concerned, the title track of the film narrates the entire story of how Murphy became Barfi? Still, just for the sake of narrating the story let me narrate it once again. Barfi was named Murphy by his parents, who spotted the name on an old British radio. Unable to pronounce his own name, he says “barfi” (an Indian sweet), and the nickname sticks. Barfi and his father are poor but happy, living in a ramshackle cottage on a hillside in remote Darjeeling, when he meets Shruti (D’Cruz), who is visiting her family there. Immediately smitten by her beauty, Barfi attempts to woo Shruti, and although she is already engaged to a successful businessman (Jishu Sengupta), slowly her defences come down.
At the same time, Barfi befriends Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), the autistic daughter of a wealthy Darjeeling family.
When the helpless Jhilmil disappears, her family turns to the local police inspector (Saurabh Shukla, stellar as a hilariously put-upon small town cop), who pronounces her dead and his superior is tempted to pin the crime on Barfi to placate the family and ensure his own job security. A caper ensues, finding Jhilmil and Barfi on the run to Kolkata, where their shared experiences draw them inexorably closer.
Basu handles the growing attraction between Jhilmil and Barfi with a deceptively light touch, letting it draw viewers in as their relationship gets more serious; and beautifully depicts Shruti’s ambivalence about whether to fight for Barfi or watch as he and Jhilmil live out their own story — as unusual as it may seem on the surface.
In a way, Basu’s approach to presenting Barfi is not unlike the way the character himself gets by in the world; with a mix of mischief, cleverness and sweetness. Although, at times I felt Basu tried to throw in a dash of the bittersweet whimsy of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Anyway, the dreamy landscapes around Darjeeling, deserves a special mention. Production designer Rajat Poddar evokes the 1970s with myriad simple details, and the gorgeousness of Darjeeling’s tea plantations, quaint narrow-gauge trains and mist-shrouded hills is captured in some lavish visuals by cinematographer Ravi Varman. The film’s soundtrack done by Pritam, enriched by accordion and strings, adds depth as well for once, nobody can point a finger at him for plagiarism. Indian VFX house Pixion does seamless work, while costume designers Aki Narula and Shefalina capture the colors of Bengali tradition in Shruti’s silk saris and Barfi’s homespun sweaters and suits.
To conclude, all we can say, first time Anurag Basu, did make a film on an original story and clearly we can say, in a welcome change from the typical Bollywood saga, he has conferred us with a singular love story and an unforgettable character; Barfi.
Rating: * * * */5