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Thoughts on ‘Barfi’

It’s a bit difficult to be completely objective in your reaction to a reasonably well made film about people with disabilities. Does one tend to overlook flaws that otherwise would be more striking, because the main character is deaf-mute and one of the female leads is autistic, and hence tug at your emotional chords more than a movie about “normal people” would? Anurag Basu’s real achievement with Barfi is that one comes away with the feeling of a having watched an endearing love story more than anything else. Very likeable folks falling in love, realizing they have let love slip through, finding true love.. everything else is almost incidental. The disability angle hangs loosely, more as an afterthought to how one remembers the lead characters, rather than as an overwhelming characteristic.

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The opening Chaplinisque chase sequence sets the tone for the rest of the movie, and you end up laughing with the characters rather than drown in their melodrama – the only exception is the scene where Priyanka Chopra reacts to how other children jeer at her discordant sing-along with the band at a party.  The beautifully shot picturesque locales in Darjeeling also light up a breezy first half. A delightful screenplay lovingly etches the blossoming affection between Ranbir and Illeana’s characters, with some nice touches – like the tender lip-lock when she realizes that she is falling for him.

Things tend to meander a bit post interval, though. All that subterfuge in the plot involving the kidnapping of Priyanka Chopra’s character comes across as a weak prop to the main story, and jumping between the two different time periods also tends to jar a bit at times. Some tight editing here was sorely needed. Saurabh Shukla salvages some of this slack with a brilliant turn as the policeman/part-sutradhar who is on Ranbir’s trail.

And of course, the three lead actors manage to lift the movie overall. Illeana D’Cruz plays Shruti with sincerity, her doe-eyed prettiness complementing an earnest effort. Ranbir Kapoor enlivens his eponymous role with a solid performance. He does a competent job of channelizing his inner Charlie Chaplin and some of his granddad’s genes. I have only seen him in Wake Up Sid before this one, he is turning out to be quite watchable. But I thought the defining performance of Barfi was Priyanka Chopra. Though her role as the autistic Jhilmil is uni-dimensional to a large extent, it’s very easy to fall into screechy stereotyping in these characterisations, a la Sridevi in Moondram Pirai  – the Tamil original which was remade as Sadma in Hindi.  (Aside – was there an inverse hat-tip to that movie via the scene where Ranbir collides into the pole whilst chasing Illeana’s train leaving town?) Anyway, I thought Priyanka manages to hit all the right notes and this role will probably be one of the highlights of her acting graph.

For me, Barfi was about the parts rather than the whole. A movie made with good intent and executed well, but one that I will remember more as set of charming vignettes.. the scene where you think Ranbir is painting Illeana’s face, and it turns out to be someone else…. the one with the sadhu on the banks of the river.. those sort of vignettes.

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