Barfi wins your heart even before the credits start. Its cheerful bubbly jingle advising you to keep your children and cellphones off because the picture has started sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Surprising, especially given that most Hindi films with disabled protagonists (like Sargam, Saajan, Nache Mayuri, Black) are so full of hamming, self-imposed sacrifices and self-pity.
Not so Barfi. Although this film is about a deaf-mute man and his search for love, it is told with humour and sensitivity. Barfi is born to a poor couple in Darjeeling. His mother passes away shortly after his birth and Barfi- discovered to be deaf - is brought up by his driver father. Barfi is not a shy guy, he is a mischief-maker, an attention seeker, an insecure friend and warmly demonstrative with all those he is attached to. He follows young girls like Shruti around town declaring his love for them and asking them to be friends after they reject him. Barfi falls in love with Shruti. And although Shruti is attracted to him, she prefers to be sensible and marry the man her parents have chosen for her. Barfi is also deeply attached to the neighbourhood rich girl Jhilmil who is autistic and whose own parents find her difficult to love. The film is about Barfi's love for these two women and their love for him.
As Hindi films go, Barfi is also slightly off-centre in its notions and motivations of romantic love. It ruminates on love and how it thrives in the way Barfi and Jhilmil and Shruti need and trust each other. But the story’s greatest strength is its cheer and charm.
It treads evenly over the rough terrain of Barfi’s life and losses using slapstick and sensitivity to show sorrow. With Chaplin’s charm and wit, Anurag Basu makes Barfi negotiate his way through sticky situations to stick by the people he loves.
Director Anurag Basu offers a film which is lovingly detailed, with warm fuzzy layers and golden hues. Pritam’s music and background score matches the warm cheerful hues of the film.
The only problem is its constant and incoherent time switches. The flashbacks are disjointed and it’s difficult to figure out the chronology of the story within the different time zones in the film. There is also a spot of suspense that the film could have easily done without; most in the audience knew whom to suspect anyway.
Ileana makes a mature debut. Although she looks too young for her role, she manages to be competent. Priyanka does a super job. Her Jhilmil is awkward ungainly and mistrustful but thoroughly lovable. It could have so easily turned into a Sadma. But Priyanka manages to infuse her autistic character with charm, guile and intelligence.
Ranbir, of course, rocks. He bears the vain, mischievous, darling Barfi with such ease and grace; that actor is truly gifted. All in all, Barfi is warm, tender, spirited and really funny –a truly delightful film. So the question one would like to ask is: If Anurag Basu directed Barfi, who in the hell made Kites?