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Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ileana D’Cruz, Saurabh Shukla, Rupa Ganguly
Directed by Anurag Basu
Barfi! perhaps has the most delightful start ever in Indian cinema. The Pikture Shuru song before the opening credits, requesting that “pikture mein mobile aur bachche dono off rakhna”, is the kind of genuine, heartfelt stuff that elicits smiles. The movie begins with the promise of a similarly whimsical touch (the “radio on hua, amma off hui” lyrics) as we peer into the life of deaf-mute Murphy a.k.a Barfi (Ranbir), his love for the ethereal Shruti (Ileana) and his autistic childhood pal Jhilmil (Priyanka). Barfi! is a silent love story that Basu tries to bring alive with some dazzling play of images and music. The effort is evident in every frame; there are unquestionably stunning moments. Like Murphy’s triple-date with Shruti and Jhilmil in a tram. Three people, three sets of feelings and expressions create music together.
However, the magic is not consistent. The flashback within flashback narrative gets way too clumsy and turgid, the thriller twist absolutely pointless. And piling one stunning sequence on another does not reach out and touch. The film appears much too crafted and self-consciously gorgeous, and feels eminently facile and plastic. It isn’t just the lifting of two memorable scenes from The Notebook. The sequence involving a statue made me revisit my Citylights DVD. What’s more, the emotions seem designed and dressed up in an alien coating. Barfi! tries way too hard to please. It’s like being wooed by a man who is extremely charming yet makes you wary of his intentions. He attracts, but does not inspire faith or trust. I was enchanted in parts, but largely exasperated.
The Chaplinesque portrayal by Ranbir does try to do something different. Life with a disability is tinged with a sense of joy, but happiness, such as it is, becomes a tiring compulsion. And some things stay the same. We still need the picturesqueness and gloss to make disability palateable. We need ‘their’ tales to give ‘us’ sugar-coated life lessons and Paulo Coelho-like feel-good philosophy. Perhaps, one day we will see the disabled in all their hues, in stories that truly are theirs, not churned out for our easy digestion. Till then there is always Sai Paranjape’s Sparsh. It may not have looked as good, but had a far larger heart.