Director: Anurag Basu
Indian Express Rating:***
Just the fact that this films chief focus is on two people who cannot communicate the way you and I do,makes it automatically different. Barfi! comes out of mainstream Bollywood,whose standard idea of creating difference is to shuffle one step forward,two steps back : given that context,and its subject,’Barfi! does take several brave strides. Its good in many ways; what stops it from being a great film is a degree of fuzziness,and an insistence on prettiness.
Barfi (Kapoor) is what a speech-and-hearing challenged boy calls himself,because he cannot pronounce Murphy. We fall in love with Barfi just the way we are meant to : helplessly and happily. He is endearing and naughty,child-like qualites which endure as he steps into adulthood and the first stirrings of romance. Those feelings come to the fore when Barfi sees the beautiful Shruti (DCruz),who comes to Darjeeling with her parents. But theres something about Barfi,and the way he makes her feel,that she doesnt find with the man (Sengupta) she is promised to. Done beautifully is the bitter-sweetness of their relationship– a young man whose lightness of spirit makes you believe that his disabilities do not impede his enjoyment of life,and an inexperienced young girl who gets confused between the signals of the heart and head. Watching over her is concerned mom (Ganguly) in a brief,but effective cameo,even though her strand seems inspired by a Hollywood film.
Ironically,its the relatively conventional romance between Barfi and Shruti which is a delight,and reminds us of how yesteryear Hindi films dealt with shy young lovers ( most of Barfi! is set in the 70s). Its when the film moves into the seriously challenging space between the young man who cant speak or hear and the autistic Jhilmil ( Chopra) that it starts missing occasional beats. Not because Chopra doesn’t work hard at it : she has the most difficult part,even more so than Kapoors which is pleasingly effervescent and expressive,and you can see how both the director and the actor have gone the extra mile in trying to prevent Jhilmil from becoming a caricature or cloying. Props to both on those scores. But Chopra is not able to hide the effort she brings to fleshing out Jhilmil,making the part worthy but forced.
It also doesnt help that Basus story,in trying to stay non-linear and rounding on itself every once in a while,loses clarity. The passing of years allows the director to do something that most Hindi films are incapable of : trace the growth of its characters. So we have the lined faces,the grey hair,the stooped shoulders. But we also have a trajectory which is not smooth. And almost to make up for its lead characters being so restricted verbally,the film has almost too much sound (both soundtrack and songs,really lovely,but overwhelming). Some silences would have been very welcome.
Still,Id weigh in on the films side. It is so hard to find a Hindi film which does disability with any seriousness,and with sensitivity. Barfi has its heart in the right place,and doesnt waver from its intentions. Theres also a nice turn by Illeana DCruz in her first Hindi movie,even though I kept getting distracted by her perfectly mascara-spiked eyelashes in every single scene. Saurabh Shukla as a harried cop who spends his life going around in Barfi-shaped circles is good too. But all else is overshadowed by Ranbir Kapoor,who delivers on the promises hes held out in his previous films. His Barfi is marvellous,speaking even when silent.