King of the World
Ranbir Kapoor's career is about 5 years old, but he has in recent years been extremely selective about his roles. And this meticulousness perhaps stemmed from his modest Saawariya debut which didn't garner as much acclaim as, say the rest of Bollywood's stars in his generation such as Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, and Ranveer Singh. So while his career may not have started off with a bang, his roles to date have always been roles that make you sit up and take notice. Other than Anjaana Anjaani which also co-starred Priyanka Chopra, his scheming politician in Raajneeti, his bearded salesman in Rocket Singh, and of course, his Rockstar turn, have all been powerhouses, and goes to show he's tops amongst his peers in the industry in constantly reinventing himself and breathing life to the characters he plays.
In Barfi!, he challenges himself with the role of a deaf mute, as the titular character whom his parents named after the Murphy Radio set, but for his condition, he only managed something like the title when asked of his name. But he endears himself to the townsfolk with his antics, which has shades of being Tati-esque and Chaplin-ish, and Ranbir does what would be his best impressions and homage to those two great comic greats with his role. But in true Bollywood fashion, writer-director Anurag Basu, like his previous film Kites, are never just steeped in one genre, and Barfi! actually contained two extraordinary romances, with all round great performances undoubtedly with Ranbir stepping up his act. The physical comedy gets balanced with rich emotions, and similar to Rockstar in certain shades, Barfi starts off in very sprightly fashion, before darker emotions come into play. And without the use of his voice, Ranbir has to very much exercise his facial muscles and physical presence, to bring the character to life.
And also stepping up is Priyanka Chopra, who is a much better actress than most people would give her credit for. She had shown her versatility in 2 films, playing 12 characters in What's Your Rashee, and up to 7 more challenging ones in 7 Khoon Maaf, but nothing she had done had ever prepare her for this role as Jhilmil, the autistic child in a rich landowning family in Darjeeling. Dropping her usual glamourous self, she tones it really down to play a woman-child afflicted of the condition, and yet making it endearing and very much her own, without going overboard in her portrayal. It's as vividly true as can be, and becomes the fulcrum in which the story revolves around. The role called for some wide-eyed innocence, vulnerability and some fearlessness rolled into one, and she conquered this role quite effortlessly. Her initial pairing with Ranbir Kapoor in Anjaana Anjaani didn't produce the necessary sparks given that both were playing very tired modern roles, but here, both showed why they are currently at the top of their game.
And added to the fray as narrator, Barfi's first love and third cog in the Barfi-Jhimil relationship is Bollywood newcomer Ileana D'cruz as Shruti. The first half of the film centered upon Barfi's love for this beauty who had just arrived in town, but lo and behold, in this 70s era, she's already betrothed to someone else, and in Darjeeling to enter into marriage. For what it's worth, societal norms had dictated she see through an arranged marriage rather than to accept Barfi's advances, but bookending this film, is how Fate decided to constantly put them in each other's paths, with fairly different outcomes. But Ileana is not flower vase here, and as if challenged by the other two leads, also had to up the ante in her delivery, making it quite a memorable debut
Anurag Basu's story took on more complex proportions to tell a simple tale of romance, and the narrative at points also became like a docu-drama, where key characters in Barfi's life gets interviewed, and forms the narrative when it flashes back to key incidents, told in non-linear style. This works very well, especially when wrapped within, there's a crime mystery that centers around a kidnapping, with three ransoms, and a cliffhanger of sorts that would leave you guessing. It allowed all characters to have screen time to show what they can do, and most would been tickled pink with Barfi's delivery of amusement and fun for the girl of his dreams, before events start to really go south for the titular character. The quality in the production values show, especially with the 70s era that blended CG and production sets quite seamlessly.
This heartwarming tale is set to move and touch, because it deals with the notion of choices in life, and how sometimes these choices would have varying repercussions that we will not know their impact, until much later. I can't harp enough on all the actor's delivery, because they are what made Barfi! very much what it was - cute, touching and romantic, all at the same time, with tinges of sadness that depicts what's life. I guarantee the final few scenes in the film will make one's heart ache, because it bordered on selfishness and magnanimity, and surely you wouldn't want to be in anyone's shoes when faced with such a decision.
Anurag Basu has a winner in his hands, and that's without resorting to sex or violence, but a healthy dose of charm instead. And Barfi! will charm your socks off. A definite contender amongst the best this year has to offer!