Every once in a while, there comes a film where suspension of disbelief comes so quietly, so effortlessly that it is easy to forget that it did at all. Barfi! is a flawed film in many ways. It is overlong by a good half hour. The story is messy, it's screenplay even more so with the whole flashback in a flashback (in a flashback). The conclusion is unnecessarily convoluted by a dramatic sub-plot. It is repetitive, over indulgent and utterly unbelievable. I could go on and on in the many ways that it went wrong. But guess what? It didn't matter. Because, in the end, it worked quite literally, like a charm, transporting me into a world I came to love wholeheartedly and without doubt, much like the characters that inhibit it.
Although it appears anchored in a particular place and time, Barfi! is as timeless as a fairytale. It is a story that could lend itself almost effortlessly to any context, because it is one that is driven entirely by its characters, and what quirky characters these are! It is the story of Murphy a.k.a. Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor), a deaf and mute boy who falls for a beautiful girl, Shruti (Illeana D'Cruz), who is engaged to be married. His uninhibited love for life lands him in a world of trouble, which includes an adventure with an autistic girl, Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra). Their lives intersect at crossroads over the course of several years, leaving a lasting impact on them and the people around them.
Basu creates layered, lovable characters and therein lies his greatest success. This film would collapse under its own weight if it weren't for its strong central characters, each of which is complex and believable. Barfi is simple, but by no means a simpleton. He is exuberant and cheerful but not the saccharine-y happy type. Shruti is flawed and doesn't always do right by people. But Basu neither idolises her for her beauty nor demonises her for her actions. Jhilmil is pure of heart, but she is also stubborn, difficult and needy. It is these endearing characters, so wonderfully realised by the three actors (particularly Ranbir Kapoor), that allow the film to soar well above its clunky script.
Stylistically, the influence of Chaplin is apparent throughout the film. It is easy to see glimpses of The Kid and City Lights in key moments. Influence also comes in the form of more recent works like Jean Pierre Jeunet's Amelie. However, while Anurag Basu does draw inspiration, he does not imitate. Instead, he wisely weaves these influences into a voice that is his own. It is undoubtedly his most accomplished film as a storyteller, told with love and affection for the art form and such conviction that he almost makes you forget the holes in the plot.
Technically, the film is gorgeous to look at. The journey of Jhilmil and Barfi is strewn with postcard shots of India. The use of light and shadow adds another dimension to the relationship of Barfi and Shruti, lending emotional depth in key moments. Swanand Kirkire pens lyrics that are unique to the characters and compliment the quirky yet emotionally stirring tone of the film. Pritam eclipses not only his entire discography, but also works of more accomplished musicians and delivers an album full of tunes that are as mesmerizing individually as they are complete together. From the excitement of new love to the insatiable longing for lost love, this album is, almost without a doubt, the best we will get this year.
Ultimately, Barfi! has the melodramatic heart of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and the whimsical spirit of Charlie Chaplin. The combination hits a home run with the support of a wonderful cast. This is a film that will make you laugh hard, sob in silence and leave you with a grin on your face that is as eccentric as its characters; and for a few moments, it'll make you want to celebrate life as you know best, whether that is with a tune on your lips or a beat in your feet.