When last year I first read that Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra play a deaf-mute and an autistic character respectively in Barfi, somehow I slotted it in the Black, Guzarish and Taare Zameen Par category which place the disability of their protagonist at the heart of the story.
But the atypical trailer of Barfi piqued my interest
Instead of the pathos I was expecting, it tried to induce chuckles.
Make no mistake! Even though it has dollops of slapstick and who-done-it?, essentially Barfi is a love story. Narrator Shruti perhaps sums it best when she says something to the effect "Mujhme aur usme yehi anatar hai..usne soch kar pyaar aur shaadi nahin kiya..ki is se shaadi karne par itne paise mlilnege...usne bas pyaar kiya"...basically don't base your love or marriage decision on ROI calculations.
Movie starts with a foot tapping "picture shuru" song during the initial casting. Ileana D' Cruz, Saurabh Shukla and Ranbir Kapoor are quickly introduced and then on movie goes in analepsis and the inter-weaving of three different time periods to bring twists and turns in the narrative and keep you glued.
Barfi is a damn-good-character and is closer to an Anand than an Ishaan or a Michelle McNally. He just accepts that he can't listen and speak. But that never seeems to diminish his joie de vivre..always ready with a new prank, always testing his friends with dares, takings setbacks on his chin and moving on. I mean the scene in trailer where Shruti (played superbly by Ileana) kicks his imginary heart and still he finds "Oh, you are smiling. There is still hope" is not one-off. Later he offers the same heart on a plate, with a rose. She tells him a no. With a "koi baat nahin" attitude and "I am deaf-mute but good from heart" sign communication, he passes it on to her friend. After any setback to his plan, he just says c'est la vie! and moves on. He may occasionally get angry...as he does during his outburst after she picks the more certain, convenient, comfortable choice, but he doesn't hold that against her long.
He is the Jerry to the Tom played by the inspector Saurabh Shukla (as he laments, "Aaap pucchti hain kya kiya hai isne..ye dekhiye", showing his loose pants with oversize belt,"Iske picche bhaag kar maine apani kamar 52 se 42 karwa li" :-)).
Songs are the soul of this movie. Watch Ala Barfi sung by Mohit Chauhan
Swanand Kirkire (of Three Idiots & Munna Bhai fame) etches the character though lines like
"Ala ala matwaala Barfi
Paanv pada mota chhala Barfi
Raaton ka hai yeh ujaala Barfi
Gumsum gumsum hi machaye ye to utpaat
Khur khur khur khurafati kare non stop
Khur khur khur khur bud bud bud bud
Gud gud gud gud maula isi se bachaai le"
Ranbir Kapoor keeps setting new bars and is becoming the Bubka of Bollywood :-) He is turning out to be the most versatile amongst his contemporaries and equally shines in a subtle, under-stated movie like Rocket Singh, screwball comedy like Azab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani or a bad movie like Rockstar with his angry portrayal of rebel-without-a-cause (script's flaw). He has the difficult task of enacting scenes which inevitably draw comparisons with greats like Chaplin and Raj Kapoor (even the pants are only up to the hem of the socks in some scenes), but more than holds his own.
Shruti gets torn between love and a comfortable life and has to keep making harsh decisions. She asks for one more ticket after getting handed over first ticket and director subtly provides the clue to dilemma in her heart. Then, she gives Barfi just one ticket and doesn't entrain herself till the very last moment. In the last scenes, when Jhilmil shouts Barfi and Barfi is carrying on dejectedly oblivious of her shouts, you can notice the drama going on in Shruti's divided heart reflected in her face as she is deciding whether to tell or carry on.
After Yami Gautam in Vicky Donor, Ileana D' Cruz plays the role of a Bengali girl and wife better than many of the actual bong girls in Bollywood.
Romance between Barfi and Shruti is developed in the foreground with Main Kya Karoon song forming the background. Main Kya Karoo song is sung by Nikhil Paul George and Swanand Kirkire pens it with beautiful lines like Is pe toh dhun chadhi Hai pyaar ki Na jane Gum hai kahan Baton mein hai pada Bekar ki Ulti yeh baat hai Aise halaat hai Galti kare yeh Main bharu Uf dil ka main kya karoon Main kya karoon..Is dil ka kya karoon Main kya karoon.
Jhilmil is autistic and has difficulty communicating. But Barfi finds it is only she among his friends who doesn't flinch during his "dare". She is insecure of losing Barfi to Shruti and clutches to his shirt in the train or puts an outright challenge to Shruti to come closer in the last scenes with her hand around Barfi. Initially Barfi isn't in love with her. He likes her and was just making sure that she gets taken care of well. He leaves her with Maasi till she comes following the bus.
Priyanka Chopra is strictly ok. Don't ask me why because I don't really know. May be the same thing that Rani Mukherjee's performance was good in Black but not out-of-this-world.
Anurag Basu is in command of his material, both as writer and director. He adds many deceptive directorial touches (check out Main Kya Karoo video at 0:47s), almost as if he is feinting with viewer's mind dodging its next move. Except for Kites, he has been mostly good from the usual low standards of Bollywood. (Though I wouldn't be the first to testify in his favor if charges of derivative film making and outright plagiarism are leveled against him).
It is refreshing that some filmmakers are discovering cities other than Mumbai. There have been many in recent years capturing Delhi (Rang De Basanti, 99, Band Baaja Baaraat). Kolkata and Bengal (Parineeta, Kahani, Vicky Donor) are getting their due share now. Watching Chhau is a good sign that at least some directors are moving beyond just using the conventional tropes (Howrah Bridge, India Gate) to geographically situate a movie.
As the writer, Basu must be applauded for writing a great love story meandering in mystery genre, in which the fact that some protagonists suffer from disabilities becomes just a footnote. The conflict of this story is not the disturbing albeit box-office friendly core of Taare Zameen Par, Black -- "In spite of their unfortunate condition, will they achieve that elusive dream - painting or graduating - which will redeem them?". What happens if they don't? Do they become less of a human?