Young people in love — language and physical limitations be damned! Anurag Basu is a wunderkind, and Barfi! — like its namesake — is fantabulous!
If you’re one of the few who managed to see Barfi! — the new sentimentalized Bollywood rom-drama starring Ranbir Kapoor as an endearing, off-kilter deaf-mute — at either Nishat or Capri before their untimely demise yesterday, then of course you would have come out with one of twon otions. One: you’d love to hate its simplistic, at times shuffled, turn of events. Or, Two: You’d hate to love its simplistic, skillfully multi-layered, characterization.
Ranbir Kapoor, we’re shown in song and sepia toned flash-back, is born to a poor, yet loving, couple in Darjeeling. As it was the olden-days before television, the couple was smitten by their radio. And so when they had a boy, they named him “Murphy” – ala, their radio’s brand. The boy, in a cruel twist, is born deaf-mute, and pronounces his name Barfi.
The name sticks, like a staining Popsicle drip. And it had good reason to.
Barfi is a riot —a readily love-struck character whose muteness is twisted to Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplain-esque grandeur by co-writer and director Anurag Basu. Basu, whose previous credits are Murder, Life in a Metro – and more recently – Kites, cranks-up and winds-down Barfi!’s emotional beats with pin-point precision. And his casting couldn’t be more spot-on.
As Barfi, Kapoor channels the right measure of old-school physical comedy to cement the fact that his character is non-affected by his handicap. Playing-up at his own expense (he runs and jumps all over the green and concrete of Darjeeling, but never mimics or puts down any of the film’s supporting cast) there’s a visible emotional change in him as the film matures.
Barfi’s alteration is simultaneously minute and evident — as is Kapoor’s powerhouse performance. In some ways, his pragmatism compliments Barfi!’s purposely fractured story-telling.
The story opens with Shurti (Ileana D’Cruz, in white hair), receiving a telegram about Barfi’s old-age collapse. As she makes her way to Darjeeling, we see pieces of Barfi’s life via Shruti or the film’s other chief narrator, Saurabh Shukla.
One of the easiest (and clichéd) ways out of dealing character-driven stories is to nail unfolding events to the voice or presence of a direct or in-direct chronicler. Telling a multi-layered, content-heavy life-account without a narrator is as tricky as it is perspiring for the writer; Filmmakers (say Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Guzaarish and Black, or Paul Thomas Anderson in Magnolia) turn to a chronicling voice by instinct. Sometimes the voice stay’s for select moments appending the narrative. Sometimes it takes over the movie.
So while at first Shruti’s narrative voice did “sound” conformist to the idea of “serious storytelling”, it took a while to realize just how right Basu’s aesthetic call was — Like most of the Barfi!’s deftly crafted finesses.
While some may argue Basu’s inclination to add a mystery angle to a romantic-drama, the idea – like the soundtrack by Pritam and the visual effects by Pixion– slip and slides comfortably into Barfi!’s painstakingly maintained, quirkiness or its genuine warmth (a large helping of the film’s dazzling warmth comes from cinematographer Ravi Varman, by the way).
As Barfi!’s emotional barometer hikes-up, one cannot help but applaud Basu’s distinctive transformation into a cinema-auteur.
Basu, in total command of his dominion, offsets a characteristic divide between Barfi’s initial romance with Shruti and his more intuitive, and involuntary, attachment with Jhilmil. With Shruti, he seals his first-love with a soft kiss. With Jhilmil, the response is as simple as a head-butt.
Sometimes, a head-butt is all it takes to seal the deal.