Direction: Anurag Basu
Actors: Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra,
In Barfi, writer-director Anurag Basu creates a gossamer, fairy-tale world. Sometime in the 1970s, somewhere in the misty hills of Darjeeling, a penniless but irresistibly charming deaf-mute boy named Barfi gets the prettiest girl in town to kiss him. But their sweetly awkward love affair comes undone, after which Barfi embarks on an adventure with an autistic girl. Somehow these two, on their own, manage to survive the city of Kolkata - Barfi gets a job and even a ramshackle house with a spectacular view of Howrah Bridge. To point out that this is unlikely seems churlish. Because Barfi is designed to be a bittersweet, tender fable.
This is a film made with love, bolstered by wonderfully etched vignettes, Ranbir Kapoor's stupendous performance and a gorgeous soundtrack by Pritam. And yet, for me, Barfi was a singularly frustrating experience there was so much to like, but the film never became more than the sum of its parts. The best thing about Barfi! is the character of Barfi, played by Ranbir Kapoor. This is a man with no money and no voice, who lives by his quick wits. He is always one step ahead of the local cop, whose entire career seems to consist of chasing Barfi. But Barfi won't be trapped, either by his disabilities or his circumstances. He ingeniously finds ways to surmount everything. Ranbir, channeling Charlie Chaplin and Roberto Benigni, breathes life into Barfi. He is nimble and fearlessly expressive. His eyes convey his joys and hurt. Apart from Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the Gangs of Wasseypur saga, I can't think of a better leading-man performance in Hindi cinema this year. Barfi's two loves Shruti, played by Ileana D'Cruz, and Jhilmil, played by Priyanka Chopra provide strong support. Ileana has a quiet grace about her, but the surprise is Priyanka. I don't know enough about autism to say that her performance is authentic to the condition, but she doesn't come off as plastic. She abandons the props of glamour and costumes and puts in a sincere effort to make you forget that you're watching Priyanka Chopra. These compelling characters, however, are flattened by a confusing plot that moves between three timelines and eventually trips on itself. As long as Basu stays with the love track, the film moves, but then we are sidetracked by suspense, which isn't all that suspenseful because you can predict exactly who did what. The narrative veers between pure treatment - little moments strung together and overwrought plotting that twists back and forth. Parts of the film are indulgent, and it could have done with less of the Hallmark card-style homilies - lines such as 'Life mein sabse bada risk hota hai koi risk na lena'.
The film insists too hard that we find the magical in the mundane. I wish Barfi! the film was as magical as Barfi the character. See it for him.