Review: Barfi!

I am no critic and given the handful of movies I could treat myself with, in my short span of life, my opinion is plainly drawn from a non-critic audience-who-goes-out-on-weekends-to-movies-for-entertainment point-of-view. If you are thinking that this article will spoil your experience of the movie, rest assured this is in no way a spoiler; moreover, you might feel more motivated to go and watch it after you read it. Which you definitely should, unless you already have. The story-line is clich├ęd in some ways and there have been myriad films made in Bollywood that tell you the same story, give or take a few episodes. What sets this film a class apart from the mundane others, is the way the story has been narrated. Audiences in India aren’t new to the triangular love-story. Nor is it new to the portrayal of the lives of the disabled- the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the autistic, a patient of the Alzheimer’s and other kinds of handicap.  What is common to all these films is that the story-teller attempts to draw the sympathy of the audience, banking on a deluge of emotions- mostly lachrymal- to achieve success, in Box office and award functions.

The trailers and promotions might have given you a similar experience- a movie that you can go and watch with your family or with your loved one- a movie devoid of sex, violence or even verbal abuse. You might even have imagined yourself exiting the multiplex with a heavy heart or a soggy hanky, contemplating about those unfortunate beings for the next few minutes before going back to enjoying your own fortune. On the contrary, this movie is meant to be an enriching experience, for it doesn’t harp on the emotional string, doesn’t produce that monotonous pensive tune, doesn’t moisten your eyes all wild; instead, just when you start feeling the deep undertone of melancholy the characters are experiencing, the actor will brighten up your face by his caricatures and antics. This is not the story of two handicapped people; it’s about love and more importantly, the timing of love. This certainly has to be a first in Bollywood: in its depiction of how the experience of love changes over time.
The use of symbolism is so aptly crafted that it would certainly have made even the master Ray proud. The use of choirs with musical instruments out of nowhere isn’t meant to have the same implication as the nonsensical dance sequences the Indian audience is so used to, where the hero and his lady-love move across continents dancing on top of snow-covered peaks to dense tropical jungles, ignoring the unity of time, place and action and of course visa complexities! The glass ball showing an inverted image of any object is an absolute treat to watch. The director brings to the fore the difference in perspective with which we all view the world and how each is equally valid. The spherical cage with the rabbit incessantly trying to climb through its walls is another of the numerous superlative images used in the movie. The reflection of light from broken glass, the shoe thrown up in the sky, the asynchronous steps of a deaf dancer all add to the poetic beauty of what is deemed to be one of the best-made films in Indian cinema.
The beautiful script is supported by some of the best acting Bollywood has seen in recent times. After the release of Gangs of Wasseypur, I had little doubts that the acting skills of the likes of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Manoj Bajpai would be surpassed anytime soon. Within only a couple of months, I am forced to think otherwise, umm, at least think twice and still be unsure! Raj Kapoor would certainly have been extremely proud of this young man, Ranbir. It might be too early to compare him with the legend Charlie Chaplin, as some reviews apparently point to, while at the same time it would be extremely unfair to criticize him for “copying” the legendary silent-movie star, for Basu’s portrayal of Barfi is not meant to serve either purpose. Instead, it is an Indianized version of a happy handicap, with which he lives his life to uphold the beauty of life itself. PC proves her mettle yet again with a challenging role. Music, specially the background score, plays an important part in keeping the spirits high, never letting the audience drown in the ennui of silence. The lyric of the title track sounds funny when you hear for the first time, makes you think the second time and touches the soft part the third time.
I must admit that I have a soft corner for the locations used in the movie: Darjeeling and Kolkata. Because I can relate to my childhood trips to the unofficial summer capital of Bengal- Darjeeling, a beautiful landscape nested in the lap of Himalayas, with its narrow-gauge lines and the tea-gardens. The occasional Durga idols in the making, the lush green fields, the pot-belly policemen, the lackadaisical tram and the magnificent Howrah Bridge standing guard to the City of Joy, add to the beauty of the brilliant cinematography.
Is there a lesson that you take home? Not once will the message be slapped on your face; instead it is learnt collectively through small episodes of apparently trivial importance- the lesson of finding happiness in the humblest of events in life, of being happy and being loved despite the greatest challenges and handicaps. Truth is: only a combined effort of a hand-picked team reflects in the making of a good film. And Barfi is a perfect example. So, do not wait to see if it sweeps the award ceremonies or box-office collections, because some movies are made to help you appreciate life, happiness and love.