Sometimes there comes a film which gives you a bear hug and doesn’t let you go. Sometimes there comes a film which transcends the stars and reaches even higher. Sometimes there comes a film which goes beyond right and wrong and just streams from their heart into yours. Sometimes there comes a film. Sometimes there comes a film.
Barfi! is that film. Anurag Basu, aapko saat Kites maaf!
Actually, Barfi! can be eaten in two ways. You bite it bit by bit and chomp it down nom nom nom. Or you put the whole thing in your mouth and keep rolling it with your tongue as it melts and moulds itself into a buttery ball of delight. Both would leave you with a sweet ending but the experiences would be different.
Because Barfi! is actually two movies. One which Basu wanted to make and the one which Basu had to make. The two are not exclusive and you can watch both of them play out parallely, coming in the way of each other only once in a while.
The one Basu had to make is a film with a 30-year-later prologue, a cliched sentimental voiceover, a deliberately contrived plot with forced twists and a constant attempt to hook you to the story.
The one Basu wanted to make is a film about three people who fall in and out of love and the moments they share. Three special people. One who couldn’t speak or hear. One who was autistic. And one who initially couldn’t understand herself but later could understand them.
Barfi! burns the brightest when it forgets plot and premise and just dwells in the magical moments that initially Barfii (Ranbir Kapoor) creates with Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz) and then with Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra). Without a single line of dialogue to fall back upon, those scenes are like streaks of sunshine that strike your soul and make you smile. Smile wide and long.
Basu uses his deaf-and-mute protagonist to adapt and amalgamate some of the best moments from cinema history. Right from Buster Keaton’s legendary ladder setpiece to Charlie Chaplin and The Three Stooges and right down to Mr Bean (look for his Teddy in a different avatar) — the best of the silent performances are celebrated in Barfi!.
While the background score is strongly reminiscent of Yann Tiersen’s themes from Amelie, Basu also integrates a lot of Emir Kusturica in the treatment. And it’s not just in the three men with violins and accordion who are musical witnesses to many scenes. Yes, just like Band Metro but this time just in silhouettes and at a distance.
In such a structure, Basu really didn’t need that tired voiceover to string things together. Or even the three-decade jump to add size and suspense. Why does a film so sublimely simple need to jump back and forth, up and down, to intrigue and invite viewers to the real show — a delicious pastiche of picture perfect sights and moody melodious sounds led by two delightfully nuanced performances.
Thankfully, for a large part of the film, especially the second half, all the frills and thrills take a backseat as Barfii and Jhilmil hit the road — and then Calcutta — as two challenged people challenging the world around them and creating this beautiful bond of love, trust and friendship. When Shruti comes back to claim her share of love, the new-fangled family turns out to be an unholy trinity for one of its members.
Ranbir and Priyanka turn in two of the finest performances you have seen on the Indian screen. He’s more natural, she a tad showy but that has a lot to do with their specially-abled characters in the film. It takes him a couple of scenes to do away with his disability — he is so effortlessly good that the plot points have to remind you that Barfii is deaf and mute.
Priyanka walks this real thin line because her autism traits could very easily switch from organic expression to manipulative melodrama. But her Jhilmil never becomes a caricature and the innocence shines through even in the most difficult of scenes.
In her first Hindi film, Ileana is ethereally easy on the eye and with a hero who can’t hear, she lets those deep, dark eyes do all the talking. Saurabh Shukla is so good as the roly-poly cop chasing Barfii all his life. The Bengalis — Roopa Ganguly, Jisshu Sengupta and Haradhan Banerjee — suit their cameos well.
But Basu’s the man! In a film reeking of directorial stamp in every frame, his eye for detail is staggering. From everyone singing My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean in hill station club parties to names of owners being etched on pressure cookers in 1970s Calcutta, it’s like walking into a world you have seen or heard of. And the pangs of romance in that shot where Shruti suddenly realises that she doesn’t need to look at the lips of other men to understand what they are saying.
Cinematographer Ravi Varman and music man Pritam make Barfi! complete. From Darjeeling to Calcutta, indoors to outdoors Varman lights and shoots the film with a lot of style and soul. And Pritam’s tuneful tracks seem straight out of a lost Salil Chowdhury soundtrack.
The brilliance of Barfi! is that it’s no story and all storytelling. It’s about a director at the top of his game orchestrating terrific talent into a bravura crescendo. Only someone who has showed death the door can open windows to life like this.
Why are you still reading this? Just run to the theatre nearest to you and get Barfi-d! As I scamper back for another helping of the tastiest Bollywood offering in a long, long time. Woh jo adhuri si yaad baaki hai... woh jo dabi si aas baaki hai...