Soul curry at its spicy best!

A review of the film India is gushing about at the moment By Piyush Roy

Barfi! (Hindi, 2012)
Release: September 14, 2012
Rating: *****
Story, Screenplay & Direction: Anurag Basu
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ileana D’cruz
Music: Pritam
An Innovative Promo:

There have been films on disabled protagonists, and then comes Barfi!
There have been films exploring romantic triangles, and then loves Barfi!
There have been films on inspirational life messages, and then teaches Barfi!

Into all these tested formulas and oft repeated storylines that a film can still bring some never before seen narrative surprises and spins laden with fresh moments and meanings, is a testimony of the artistic worth of Barfi!. Most movies tug at the heart, some stimulate the mind, but only a rare few are able to touch the soul. Barfi! is Bollywood’s answer to Hollywood’s Forrest Gump and European ‘holocaust’ hope classic, Life is Beautiful.

Set in 1970s Darjeeling, the film revolves around the love and life adventures of a happy-go-lucky, charming Nepali boy, Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor), who also happens to be deaf and dumb. Barfi falls in love with a ‘normal’ girl Shruti (Ileana D’cruz), who influenced by her mother’s lessons on practicality opts in hurry to regret at ease her decision to marry for security over love. Her mother (Rupa Ganguly) in a beautifully written scene, when asked by her daughter reveals and reasons, “Yes, I didn’t marry the man I loved, but who says you can’t fall in love again…” By the time the fault lines of Shruti’s decision turn her marriage into a routine of duty featuring two ‘silent’ spouses, the girl who had thought and loved, loses her love forever to the one who had just loved, without thinking!

Barfi’s dad and only support system meanwhile succumbs to an ailment. A doubly heart-broken Barfi finds trust, love and being wanted again in the undemanding company of Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), the autistic daughter of his father’s ex-boss whom he had kidnapped to raise money for his father’s treatment.

Together, this imperfect pair completes and constructs a world of their own that crumbles temporarily with the sudden return of Shruti, to only get cemented thereafter, for life.

Nurturing this unusual love triangle are a bunch of engaging support characters (Barfi’s childhood friend, Shruti’s ‘practical, yet very humane’ mother and Saurabh Shukla in a fabulous cameo of a potbellied, much harried policeman) that capture and celebrate small town life in all its beauties and oddities, adventures and heartbreaks with two kidnappings thrown in for ample drama as the picture moves on…
 
A Medley of Felt Acts

After the emotionally overwhelming Rockstar, Ranbir Kapoor in an emotionally uplifting Barfi! is soul curry at its spicy best. Charlie Chaplin did it always, Raj Kapoor’s onscreen ‘anadis’ (Awara, Shree 420 and Anari) wowed next; now Ranbir has recreated that magic as Barfi. While his comic antics are a feast for the eyes, his silent trysts with angst are inspiring fodder for bruised souls. This one act is reason enough to enshrine his name in the haloed portals of cinema’s greatest actors.

Priyanka Chopra in another challenging part after Fashion and Saat Khoon Maaf makes a strong pitch for the title of the bravest actress of her generation. She lends to her interpretation the lingering impact of a beautiful afterthought that comes from an actor’s internalization of the essence of a character. Be it in her jealous hurt at being denied an extra pani-puri  (a spicy snack) by Barfi lavishing the same on Shruti or in her halting possessive attempt at hiding Barfi when faced by Shruti again after their reunion – one just can’t decide who deserves more wows – the actress or the writer!

But it is the debuting in Bollywood, Ileana D’Cruz, who gets the film’s most layered and constantly evolving character, whose believable person transitions ease the film’s frequent time and location travels. Her convention defying life-long care for Barfi sans intrusion makes her Hindi cinema’s most humane and memorable ‘other woman’ since Anuradha Patel’s Ijaazat and Saratchandra’s Chandramukhi. Her life is a testimony to the truism – never let go of moments that make you truly happy or shortchange your present contentment for unexpected future gains – you may get love again, but you don’t get touched again and again by a life changing angel!

The Mark of Anurag Basu – Love, Death & Some Life Melodies

Anurag Basu’s auteurship manifests itself in his signature take on three of the consistently recurring elements of his narratives – the nature of his characters experience of love, their interactions with death and his use of songs to celebrate the soul of his movies through a lyrical articulation of their unspoken undercurrents and emotional high notes. From his debut film, Saaya (Shadow, 2003), where a grieving husband and a doctor stretches the depths of rationality wading through dreams and the dead to decode his wife’s unspoken last message to his last creative peaking Life in a… Metro (2007), and now his most accomplished film, Barfi! – ‘love’ for his protagonists is always an uplifting life experience, while death is welcomed as a certain deliverance to never be afraid of. These perspectives to his stories can be seen to varying degrees in his films in-between, like Murder (2004), Gangster (2006) and the much critiqued yet no less visually stunning and melodious Kites (2010).

Like Gulzar’s Koshish (A Trial, 1972) and Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh (The Touch, 1980), neither the deaf-and-dumb protagonist nor his near and dear ones are apologetic about his physical lacunae. It exists, just as an introduction, credit for which goes to the narrative’s focusing on its resultant tough circumstances if any, as tongue-in-cheek vis-à-vis the tragic.

Basu constructs a near flawless screenplay that seamlessly oscillates between different time zones of a story told in double flashback. Darjeeling’s continuing date with history, the still running – steam engine driven train – is made an integral part of this continuity and how. Just two cuts of a roadside poster, one featuring Murphy radio, the other Avon cycle, and the passage of a decade is registered! Subtlety of screenplay and the revealing cinematography of Ravi Varman are the other technical strengths of Barfi!’s delightful mise-en-scene, though its greatest narrative prop remain its fabulously complimenting music and lyrics.

The three recurring balladeers playing in melodious leisure at Barfi’s every major life moment, not only remind us of the recurring rock singer trio of Life in a… Metro, but also of the lost tradition of live musicians providing mood music in ‘silent movie’ screenings in an era gone by, whose essence and innocence Barfi! does seem to recreate and rejoice in.

Songs, these days are often fit into a film as habit, not necessity. In Barfi! they take the narrative forward both as commentary and a voice to unspoken thoughts – …Nazar ki syahi se likhenge, tujhe hazar chitthiyaan! (…with the ink of sight will pen you a 1000 letters) – that are obfuscated by the handicaps of its protagonists to embellish these moments with the wow of a magical reveal.

‘Na lafz kharch karna tum, na lafz kharch hum karenge,
Nazar ke kankadon se, khamoshiyon ki khidkiyan yun todenge…’

(You don’t spend a word, nor will I waste one,

Through the pebbles of sight, we will shatter the walls of silence…)

A Contemporary Classic

When a film is able to evoke the desired emotions at its heightened drama points (tears during tragedy, anger during violence), you know it’s a genuine cinematic effort… But when it unleashes a joyous tear fest at its most beautiful and uplifting moments you should know that you are facing a cinematic monument! Radiating positivity, humility and gratitude, Barfi! makes you want to be good, reminds you to say ‘thank you’ to the selfless relationships of your life, but most importantly teaches you to live in the present and be happy with the existing gifts of life.

Take a bow Anurag Basu with each of your actors and technicians to the last man standing! In its 100th year, Indian cinema couldn’t have had a better tribute celebrating and showcasing its best traditions of storytelling, emoting and impacting life through movies. Barfi! (also the name of a popular Indian sweet) is movie watching at its delicious best at par with the most redeeming world cinema.

A cinematic masterpiece and modern day classic, Barfi! is celluloid equivalent of Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist that should adorn our movie collections as an inspirational reference on life for life!

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