For those who are still reeling from the forced banality of Ek Tha Tiger but have room for a film that actually makes you feel something, may I recommend Barfi? Because Barfi is sweet without being sappy, funny without being corny, romantic without being schmaltzy. It’s perfect – just like the little ancient Indian treat that melts in your mouth.
To think that the gentleman who made Murder made Barfi boggles the mind. The film is refreshing not only for its gentle comic touches but for director Anurag Basu's refusal to overtly sentimentalize the protagonist’s physical disability. Homages are a plenty, there’s a splash of Chaplin, a dash of Jean Pierre Jeunet and a whiff of Blue Umbrella, but what really sets Barfi apart is its tender and engaging narrative that can make the most heartless and cynical prick smile. That Ranbir Kapoor is a fine actor is obvious; that he makes bold script choices is an understatement (no A-Lister would’ve taken Rocket Singh and Barfi); but here he totally owns the role of a deaf mute, delivering a colorful, heartbreaking performance that raises him way above the plasticky Khans and the Kumars.
The story is about as uncomplicated as it can get, and the music, visuals and Ranbir’s performance are there for us to simply soak-in. In a simultaneously hilarious and tragic flashback we’re told of Barfi’s parents and the origins of his name. Fast forward two decades and the lad, whose lack of speech is compensated by a large heart and ability to effortlessly make everyone smile. Barfi falls for a girl, but there are complications, and not just the ones in basic communication. Meanwhile Barfi goofs around with the cops and becomes closer to his autistic childhood friend. To tell you any more of the story would be robbing you of the fun, but don’t expect a ham handed Bollywood style kitschy ending to the whole thing.
The film is a treasure trove of lovely moments, every minute packed with something to adore - whether it’s Barfi offering his invisible heart to Ileana and placing it at her feet, or failing clumsily at robbing a bank, or grabbing his autistic friend and driving off a trolley on the railway track. One scene in the rain where Barfi realizes that he’s just not good enough to marry the girl he likes ensures there’s not a dry eye in the theater. The only real bit of bother is the second half of the second half which feels slightly stretched; also there are moments post interval when Barfi becomes a wee bit predictable, but the writer-director tells his tale so well that familiarity becomes unimportant.
Basu seems to possess a masterly gift for visual composition – we saw a bit of his artistry in the horrid Kites and Life in a Metro and in Barfi Ravi Varman’s camera seems to have a life of its own. The imagery in the film is not just pretty, it’s achingly beautiful. The other technical marvel is Priyanka Chopra who manages to not ham through her scenes – Basu focuses so frequently on Priyanka’s face in close-up that she sticks like a lens to your eye. Pritam, known for being the Ulhasnagar of music directors silences all his critics with some truly great music that can offer deep rewards to those who surrender to the film’s bittersweet tone. Ileana makes a welcome entry to Bollywood – she’s lovely and talented enough to not seem ridiculous in a white wig and makeup. Perhaps she could be the anti-Asin.
Too Long, Didn’t Read: Barfi is a brilliant, entertaining movie – lovingly old fashioned, always fun and often very funny. And heartbreaking. Go watch.