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Salute to Baffi! for taking up a challenge

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 9.10.12

The heroine: a girl with autism who is sent off to a care home

The hero: the autistic girl’s childhood friend who has hearing and speech impairment

The film: Barfi!

The Ranbir Kapoor-Priyanka Chopra starrer has been the talk of town across the country — some loved the heartwarming tale, some cried “copycat” and pointed out glaring similarities with classics, but few have ignored it.

Professionals, parents and people with experience of autism, too, are divided on the portrayal of Jhilmil but they are one in the belief that the film has the right message — no one can take life out of a person with disability.

Krishna Roy

Principal, Alokdhara Montessori school for ALL

In my daily encounters with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I have come across a mother who fled, leaving behind an autistic child, a father who beat up his daughter and parents living separately with the mother left to fend for herself and the child, both financially and emotionally.

Autism in a child is a common cause for divorce. With few in-laws prepared to accept an autistic grandchild, mothers often want to commit suicide as they cannot bear the agony of their children. And where parents accept the autistic child, other siblings are often under the impression that they are not cared for.

Persons with autism are segregated, stigmatised as mad, dud, good for nothing and a pain. Parents pray that autistic children disappear from their lives and schools say “Sorry, ours is an inclusive school but we have no infrastructure for autistic persons”.

All this is because of lack of awareness about the condition. We fear autism, rather than try to understand persons with the disorder.

I salute Priyanka Chopra for her portrayal of Jhilmil and the positive approach towards the disability. And thank you Ranbir Kapoor for your super acting and support to Jhilmil.

Barfi! has proved that persons with autism are not untouchable and that impossible can be made possible, just the way Barfii (or Baffii as Jhilmil calls him) taught her to write. All that is needed is opportunity and sensitivity.

Parents, schools, politicians, are you listening?

Merry Barua

Director, Action for Autism

As a parent, educator, trainer and activist, I am delighted that another film has been made about autism. I have no idea what the film is about. However, so long as it does not portray individuals with autism in a negative light, it is something we want to be happy about.

My Name is Khan was hardly a perfect portrayal: it was patchy and imitative. Yet, it helped create awareness and that is what we want, don’t we? We have miles to go before the average Joe on the street can say he has heard about autism. Anything that raises the profile is welcome.

If we find the portrayal less than adequate, we can all write to the film-maker with our comments. But whatever we do has to be on a positive note. An unnecessarily combative stand will do no good, no matter how good the intention. I for one certainly want more directors looking at scripts that have characters with autism and other developmental disabilities.

On another note, screening of films on autism — good, bad, indifferent — along with discussion sessions serve as terrific training tools, honing our understanding of this complex condition.

Satish Kapoor

Founder president, We Care Film Festival on Disability

Barfi! is a must-watch. Director Anurag Basu is a proficient storyteller and approaches Barfii’s character with acute sensitivity and perceptiveness.

Also, a film like Barfi! is simple and unfussy to the core. There is nothing valiant or heroic about Ranbir’s character, yet he is confident and courageous in spirit. At the outset, the story educates about life and how to appreciate it. We complain and crib about trivial issues, but Barfii and Jhilmil are two people who find contentment in everything they do, despite the challenges they encounter.

The handling of the story is something to marvel at. It’s put together with tender compassion and the conclusion is powerful and hugely impacting. The finest thing about the film is its power to move and transform on several occasions. It's the depiction of love and sacrifice that makes Barfi! worthwhile. The beauty of the film lies in the fact that it instantly absorbs you into Barfii’s world.

I wish to specify that one should not correlate Barfi! with disability. It’s more about characters who face the challenges that life has to offer, yet live a more gratifying life than anyone else. It’s about living each day to the fullest, giving happiness, feeling love. It’s a unique love story between three exceptional characters, something we haven’t witnessed in Hindi films before.

On the whole, Barfi! is unusual for Bollywood. You don’t make movies like this targeting box-office potential or commercial prospects. You create such films for the passion of cinema. Barfi! is like a whiff of fresh air. Its foremost triumph is that it leaves you with a powerful emotion: happiness!

I sincerely believe no Hindi movie buff should deprive himself/herself of watching this brilliant film. Also, the audience needs to savour Ranbir’s, Priyanka’s and Ileana’s performances, one of the strengths of this movie. Strongly recommended!

Rubina Lal

President, SOPAN

Barfi! is a sensitively made film. It is a movie more than two decades after Koshish, a film in which the lead characters were persons with disability. Like Koshish, Barfi! too focuses on the social, emotional and human aspects of persons with disabilities.

It was a bold decision by Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya (Bhaduri) Bachchan — both big stars at the time — to play the unglamorous roles of a hearing impaired couple. Similarly, Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra must be complimented for playing roles that do not require them to dance in a disco, wear designer clothes or be part of a car chase in a foreign locale.

Ranbir is a cheerful and happy young man who has a congenital hearing impairment. While he plays the cheerful, happy part to the hilt and endears himself to the audience immediately, it is the portrayal of a hearing and speech impaired boy that leaves much to be desired. One hardly ever sees him using sign language — in fact his proficiency with sign language is quite rudimentary. Again, he rides a cycle, even drives a car, with not a care about his inability to hear.

Priyanka plays a young woman with autism. She shows some classic traits of persons with autism — stereotypical hand and head movements, hyposensitivity to touch and dirt, lack of eye contact etc. To give her credit, she has done a good job of it. However, the role demands her to do some things that are generally not seen in persons with autism who are also intellectually disabled. It is well-known that people with autism lack theory of mind that interferes with achievement of social interactive behaviour.

Priyanka imagines Ranbir to be a bridegroom, feels jealous of his former girlfriend, plays a loving and caring wife, teaches other children…those of us who know about autism know that these are possible for someone who has Asperger’s syndrome, not for one who has classic autism.

Having said all this, I would still compliment and deeply thank Anurag Basu for making Barfi!. With all its limitations, the film does for autism what none of the NGOs working for autism has been able to do. Barfi! brings autism centre- stage in public consciousness.

The movie is a hit and thousands are watching it daily. For all of them, autism has now become a familiar word, thanks to Barfi!. Besides, by showing the lighter and human side of the disability, the movie contributes significantly towards making autism acceptable to an average person. On behalf of Autism Society of India and SOPAN, I salute the film-maker and the actors for giving us Barfi!.

Ruby S

Autism Society of India

We are directly concerned with the portrayal of autism and awareness in general and Barfi! has certainly achieved that in a very short span and we as a community need to applaud the efforts of Team Barfi!. If nothing else, it surely has been able to lift the anonymity tag from this very challenging and spectrum disorder.

We, who have encountered and experienced autism in any way, know for certain that one single movie or one single script or one single act cannot do complete justice to explain autism. Nevertheless, we must give due credit to the team for taking up this disability in their script. Cheers and thumbs up!

Meghana Raikar

Barfi! is a simple and sophisticated movie. I just loved it. Priyanka’s autism or Ranbir’s disability did not bother me at all and I watched the movie as if I have nothing to do with autism. I did not relate it to my son’s condition at all. I guess as our children grow up, we grow up as individuals too and so does our thought process.