Barfi: Not strictly a review

By Bikas Mishra • Published on September 15, 2012

Barfi by Anurag Basu starring Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra

[A]  n award-winning filmmaker friend of mine shared with me what a studio executive told him – “People want to have fun; they spend so much money buying tickets. And they work so very hard to earn to spend”. How true! Most of the people out there hate their jobs. Most of them never get to spend their lives with those they fall in love with. Their lives wrapped in material bliss lack something as vague as happiness! Barfi gives a face to happiness and quite a charming one to say the least.

Barfi fills our lives with everything that it lacks for two hours and thirty five minutes! And that says a lot about it. Barfi is a cute and mute dude who always wears a broad smile on his face. He puts people on a test  before accepting them as his friend and once someone is his friend, he will go any length for the sake of his friendship. “Barfi” is the epitome of innocence, love, friendship and coolness.

Barfi falls for an upper middle class girl Shruti (Illeana D’cruz), soon to be married to a rich man. Life is all set for her but will a man of Barfi’s quality let it remain so? After complicating her life, she leaves Barfi for a better, luxurious life. While Barfi moves on, the shallowness of her materially fulfilled life brings her back to him but Barfi isn’t the one who will settle down for anything less than true love!

Barfi builds itself upon nostalgia, an eternal feeling of loss that we live with as we grow older and wiser and that’s why Barfi works wonders. Right from the Murphy radio, radio Ceylon and steam engines -memories are evoked of days when life used to be so simple, so fun-filled (quite boring for many). It’s also the memory of a laid-back small town life for migrants like me and simplicity of closed economy for the victims of competitive market of liberalized India – the working middle class who also happen to be the cinema-goers.

It’s not just the story or performance that creates the charm of Barfi. Ranbir Kapoor’s performance is reminiscent of the good old Raj Kapoor and his inspiration – the great Charles Chaplin. His muteness gives him the perfect cinematic excuse to marvel in slapstick. While Barfi’s bête noir, a plump cop who likes to engage in wild chase with him, also brings in memories of equally adorable Laurel and Hardy.

Almost as pure as Barfi is his love life with his childhood sweetheart Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), an autistic girl. Barfi’s father works as a driver in the bungalow of a rich man whose only daughter is Jhilmil. However, the symbol of purity Jhilmil falls prey to the greed of her own folk and in a sheer coincidence rescued by none other than Barfi!

Here begins, a love story between a cool well-groomed mute boy and a pretty autistic girl – bereft of any physicality, full of innocence, cuteness and sweetness.

As a storyteller Anurag Basu sticks to pretty basics – what Hindi cinema mastered in the great old Raj Kapoor days. He supplements his gimmicks with emotions and no wonder, sooner or later everybody feels pangs of nostalgia deep down their hearts – life is so beautiful, so pure!

The character of “Barfi” is meticulously built like a product. That’s why first half of the film has a tendency to drag at times. For me the film takes off only when the emotions come into the play.

His script keeps moving back and forth in time to add pace to a storyline which in its simplicity often resembles a bedtime story. One good thing about Barfi is that he is mute and his leading lady can say only “Barfi”, this liberates the film from dialogues. Barfi performs with flamboyance taking his ‘Rockstar” act a step forward and establishing himself firmly in the pantheon of stars. Anurag’s intimate camera supplements Barfi’s heroism and brings us closer to the leading pair to feel strongly for them.

Unlike Ranbir, Priyanka’s part required some major performance that she pulled off with remarkable ease. I like the way her autism is used to dress her up like a doll- deglamourized though.

For those who think, I’m being a cynic – I thoroughly enjoyed “Barfi”. Anurag Basu has a firm hold on the medium of cinema and the art of storytelling. His filmmaking isn’t only about story or stars – Barfi is highly cinematic, intelligent, witty and engaging. And, it’s true Hindi Cinema of good old days – basic story replete with moral implications of good versus bad, heart-wrenching emotional upheavals, good music and an inherent escapism!

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