Barfi (Anurag Basu)
by Srikanth Mantravadi
Basu, man, take a bow. You deserve it. This is hands down the best Hindi movie of the year.
Where do I start now? This is such a gorgeous piece of filmmaking that I want to give it a hug. Can you hug a movie? I just did. The greatest thing about this movie, and there are many great things, is the exploitation of the cinematic medium for what it is and stands for. Many directors forget that they have the advantage of a visual medium where they can just show things and emotions; that there is no need to tell. This is what the director and screen writer do here. With the conceit of two disabled protagonists, Basu had his task cut out while making a two and half hour movie but it is also a necessity. And he passes it with flying colours. This is the one of the most visual of films where just the camera narrates.
Another great thing is the central dilemma in the film and how beautifully Basu realises it – the conflict between practical love and pure love. It is one of those universal ideas that screenwriters never tire from, but Barfi is an intelligent and original exploration of it. Basu encapsulates this idea in the form of Shruti (Ileana) and the recurring motif of love & regret seemingly provides the answer. It is also as life affirming and uplifting as a movie about disabled people can be, in times where Bhansali has made a business of milking tears with depressive pieces like Black and Guzaarish. This is not about the triumph of the disabled; this is not about them overcoming their disabilities. It is about them transcending all that – the disability is an immediate presence but also an afterthought – and managing to lead a graceful, normal existence and spreading more love than we can imagine. The irony is supposedly on us; for listening to the head in the matters of the heart and complicating things while Barfi and Jhilmil are blissfully unaware of such choices but lead a happy, glorious existence. That you never think of these two as being less capable than we are is a wonderful quality of this film. Basu also demonstrates this in the umpteen instances where these two communicate (also captured in Neelesh Mishra’s exquisite lines “nazar ki siyahi se likhenge tujhe hazaar chittiyaan, khamosh jhidkiyaan”); through mirrors, through lights, by throwing shoes, through fireflies – practically everything else apart from the physical act of talking becomes a mode of communication.
This movie is also an example of how a movie can create its own mood; take the instance of Barfi’s mother dying during child birth. A director can turn this into a veritable tearjerker. Basu, instead, glosses over it in the cheery Ala Barfi song with some of the most astonishing black humour seen on screen (Radio On Hua, Amma Off Hui, Toota Har Sapna). How a potential fifteen minutes sequence gets condensed into three lines! Then there is the use of troubadours as a narrative element after Life in a Metro; here too they seem to stand witness to this story at important junctures, as if they were chronicling it. There are infinite, little flourishes that add up and make Barfi memorable.
The performances are uniformly outstanding. Ranbir is the heart and soul of the film; what a great performance this is – purely physical and expressive. He doesn’t talk and he doesn’t need to if he can convey emotion and feeling so well. In his role as Barfi he traverses the entire gamut of emotions and never, for once, falters. Priyanka (Jhilmil) trumps everything she has done so far as an autistic girl; she is impressively restrained. Also extra marks for research on autism. Ileana, for me, was a revelation. As a woman torn between two men she is graceful and sensitive. She is also the most beautiful woman I have seen on screen and her presence lights up every frame. The importance of Shruti to the narrative cannot be overemphasised; although Barfi is the overarching presence in the film it is Shruti that lends emotional heft and credence to the film. In a crucial moment, she has to decide whether she wants Barfi for herself or let go of him, so he can go back to Jhilmil. Basu’s presentation of this conflict is almost oppressive for us, the audience, and Ileana’s reactions in those scenes confirm her talent as an actress. Saurabh Shukla, as the local policeman, balances over the top comedy with bursts of poignancy. Perfect. I am tempted to add Darjeeling and the toy train as the other protagonists; they are that important. This is a movie that reminded me of the charm of small towns again and the places I grew up in. I wonder why Basu set it in Darjeeling because, strangely, it only feels natural that something like this should happen there.
I already love the music by Pritam. It is magnificent and enhances the movie, richly, along with the quirkily dramatic background score.
Barfi is the most magical thing I have seen on screen.
PS: Yes, you are right. It has about five minutes of copied scenes.