Starting with Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra in 1913, Bollywood took shape and is looking to complete its 100 years of film-making in 2013.
From theatrical on-screen recreations of the Mahabharata, the industry has now seen its fair share of melodrama, romantic comedies, neo-realistic tales and some poorly executed and blatant replications of stories from film industries all across the world. Keeping this in mind, we are expecting Bollywood’s 100th birthday to be marked by run-of-the-mill conventional romantic dramas — but, the surprise party has come earlier than anticipated in the form of Barfi!
Directed by Anurag Basu, Barfi’s central fixture and title character is a boy who cannot hear or speak and has interestingly taken his name from Murphy radio sets. Played by Ranbir Kapoor, Barfi outplays everyone with his utter innocence combined with confidence, despite his biological shortcomings. With Charlie Chaplin inspired moves and Mr Bean-like comedy of errors, Barfi lives life to the fullest. An autistic girl Jhilmil Chatterjee, played by Priyanka Chopra and the charming Shruti, played by Ileana D’Cruz are the only ones he eventually trusts, but how it all unfolds is for you to witness on the big screen.
Barfi! is a smart, simple, compelling, often predictable yet different movie — a rarity in present day Bollywood. As a layman, it is difficult to say whether Ranbir and Priyanka did justice to their character’s impairments but as an audience member, one is truly impressed by their acting skills and antics. As Barfi, Ranbir’s gimmicks can make anyone a believer; credit for this must be given to the actor and Basu for generating all the humour through actions instead of dialogue. It is definitely a stupendous achievement for the industry as a whole, and especially for Ranbir and Basu.
As Jhilmil, Priyanka has surpassed her performance in Saat Khoon Maaf and proves that she is not just a hot babe, but has great resolve as an actor. Stylistically, the film is a visual treat and Basu’s brilliant use of visual metaphors in Barfi! marks his best work in Bollywood to date.
Most scenes in the film include the pitter patter of raindrops, which add to the beauty of Darjeeling, where the film was primarily shot, and also set an interesting canvas for a screenplay with a not-so-apparent but dark undertone.
The occasional appearance of violin and accordion players in the frame reminds one of some early French films, with the technique perfectly gelling in with the narrative. All these minor details of the mise en scène make Barfi! flow like a river, but the only problem is that it takes too long to hit reach the sea.
There comes a point where the humour starts getting stretched and the film tests your patience. The climax of the film doesn’t really give you something worth the wait either.
No matter how cautiously the director has taken care of the nuances of film-making, if it drags on for no good reason then it ends up working against the film-makers as the audience’s patience turns into endurance.
But just like most Steven Spielberg films, whether you end up liking them or not, you’ll walk out of the cinema with the soundtrack resonating in your ears. Pritam hits the jackpot in that respect and provides just the right combination of violin and accordion to make it an easy walk out.
Stories in Bollywood may remain unsurprising (like Karan Johar’s upcoming project Student of the Year) but what directors choose to do with them is slowly becoming as unpredictable as the Pakistani cricket team (yes, we’ve caught the T20 World Cup bug!). Basu’s Barfi! didn’t hit the stumps as such, but was definitely a doosra. The film had its heart in the right place, with valuable lessons for both the audience and film-makers.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2012.