There are films that do nothing to you. Some films don’t speak to you no matter what and there are films that don’t reflect any worldview that you are familiar with. Then there are films that touch you by establishing some well known conceits and toppling them twice over. These are the ones that surprise you. Barfi is one such film.
Barfi has an old world charm that is at once enchanting and baffling. Baffling because it might be a film with big stars coming from the commercial movie making hub but some of the things they’ve pulled off here with – from what I felt – positive results required tremendous amount of guts. The film is really a set of lovely moving images and not just in the physical aspect. The old-worldliness too comes from the fact that a large part of it is dialog free, there is a feature length silent film (in the definition of Pushpak anyone?) within itself. Most recently, this sort of filmmaking was pulled off by Scorsese in Hugo when he had to film the innocence from that era. Here, Anurag Basu, of all people, manages it with considerable elan, filming innocence again, but of another kind.
For a large part it’s because he has worked to his strengths. Even in a film like Life In A Metro, he was best at handling the goofy romance of Irfan Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma and not something deeper like the other parts of that portmanteau feature. The goofiness aids him again in two different love stories that are at times poles apart and at times strikingly similar – Barfi & Shruti and Barfi & Jhilmill. Barfi played by Ranbir Kapoor is the lovable deaf-mute in Darjeeling who falls in love with Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz) and it’s the story of circumstantial break ups and misery with the triangle completed by Jhillmill (Priyanka Chopra, who was this good only in Kaminey before). The film jumps across timelines back and forth but this isn’t a film where predictability is an issue. The moments so good and actors so first rate that it only makes it more endearing. Anurag Basu creates memorable supporting characters around them at the top of which is Saurabh Shukla playing the inspector who pretty much epitomizes the film in the way he shifts between comedy and seriousness effortlessly. The problem with Basu however is some touches he goes for. In a way to symbolize situations, he’ll make a cycle chain come off, or the character in the receiving end step on dirt which are some of the jarring notes in an otherwise well crafted narrative. Also, what’s with the obsession to put a band playing emo instruments everywhere. He has to lose that!
As much as this is a subject you can botch up by milking the emotions, he never succumbs to it. It’s fascinating how he plays with established tropes. The scene in Kolkata where Barfi gets a paper stuck on his hand and it won’t get off him. We’ve seen it a million times and probably for a million years. But it is how he gets it off and what follows after that, Basu surprises us with. These are the moments that make Barfi. The second half, especially the portions immediately following the interval are nothing but a series of vignettes, imaginative and beautifully photographed camouflaging the impending tragedy. This carries on till the story shifts to Kolkata and when the reunion with Shruti occurs. It then cuts to Phir Le Aaya Dil almost suddenly, and is the best scene of the film. The way the song starts, I suspect, is very different from how it is in the soundtrack. It’s an arresting image, the three characters, each of them experiencing different emotions with the song in the background, as you shift in the seat and nod your head because this wasn’t the “melodrama” you expected. Brilliant. Beautiful.
A film of this nature needed top performers and top they are. Priyanka Chopra finds the level that is just short of hamming and probably the fact that the part hardly requires any dialogs helps in that. She’s not been this good in a long time. Ileana has the more solid role and surprises you in both the halves of the film – as the playful Shruti Ghosh and as the more matured but still as smitten Shruti Sengupta. This is a dream Hindi debut and I heard this role was offered to Katrina Kaif first. Oh the horror! Then we come to the guy – forget a dream debut – who’s pretty much had a dream career so far. Can this guy ever put a foot wrong? Ranbir Kapoor as Barfi might remind you of the 80s Kamal Haasan a lot (hat tip to some Twitter people) but that is itself because Kamal was channeling Chaplin and Sellers then. It’s pretty much how Ranbir plays it and he is excellent and without him this film doesn’t exist even with all its positives. Everyone loves to talk about the unsung acting talents like Nawazuddin Siddiquie (rightly so) and the likes but here is a bonafide star who can also do all of it. We’ve seen superstars from Hindi cinema who can act but seldom do we see them in films as good. But today there is a superstar and he can act bloody good.
Barfi tells a simple tale, steers clear of any philosophical ramblings or preaching. Not for it the bawling melodrama. It’s no Black. But more importantly, it tells it with a lightness that is captivating and also not underwhelming. Much like how a real barfi should be.