By Sunaina Kumar
BARFI! IS the kind of movie you come away from thinking, so what if I got bored in places, it is still a good movie. That feeling of boredom that sneaks up on you often in the second half is accompanied by a lingering guilt, which makes it a somewhat manipulative experience. The manipulation is easy to miss disguised as it is in humour rather than the usual garb of sentimentality. It’s a movie that demands to be loved. It’s about innocence and light and all things nice. And, only a mean-spirited person could grudge pure goodness of this scale. You don’t want to be that person. So, yes, you will give your heart to Barfi! and so will everyone else.
The fact is there is a lot to love in the movie and that needs to be expounded on. On the other hand is the list of rather obvious loopholes. The experience is a lot like swinging on a see-saw just as Ranbir Kapoor does in the opening chase sequence, to and fro between adoration and irritation. The narrative jogs across three chronological settings, and the non-linearity is not just bothersome but unnecessary. Once the three primary characters are established (and that is done wonderfully), the plot begins to waver, and an element of mystery is tagged on, highly expendable. Finally, it could have done with being shorter.
That feeling of boredom in the second half is accompanied by a guilt, which makes it a somewhat manipulative experience
But here comes the good part. For a movie largely without dialogues, silence is used eloquently, making redundant the current trend for showy dialogues in Hindi movies. There are many lovely scenes between the three leads where everything is unspoken. They cling long after the movie wears off and pose a dilemma. Can beautifully-crafted scenes not strung well together make for a great movie? Like the scene where Barfi (Kapoor) woos Shruti (D’Cruz) by laying his heart at her feet only for her to kick it, and later when he expresses his rage at her rejection. The time when he reacts angrily to a man leching at Jhilmil’s legs (Chopra) by flashing his own, and later when he tests their friendship with his streetlight trick. The climax where Shruti dithers for a few seconds when she must choose between her love and the love that’s greater than hers. The movie is packed with such lovely vignettes. Are these scenes enough to transcend the whole?
It seems a lot like stating the obvious to say that Ranbir Kapoor fits the titular role so perfectly that it’s not possible to imagine any other actor pulling off the charming man-child Barfi. The director knows he’s got his money’s worth in his lead actor, so the first part of the film is an unrivalled Ranbir lovefest, and to his credit he sails through. Ileana D’Cruz has a meaty role, which she surprisingly justifies well. It is Priyanka Chopra, saddled with the most difficult part, who strikes a jarring note and it’s difficult to decide whether to blame the character sketch more or the performance.
Cinematographer Ravi Chandran and production designer Rajat Poddar work together to create a landscape for the 1970s, which is not just dreamy to gaze at but lush in details. They are bolstered by Pritam, who delivers his best soundtrack yet, so that the milieu of the movie is as authentic as possible. Anurag Basu is a deft filmmaker, who achieves great form in his craft. It is his writing that lets him down. Barfi!leaves you with a sweet aftertaste that does not linger for too long.
Sunaina Kumar is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.