Anurag Basu’s enchanting love story “Barfi” has been selected as India’s official Oscar submission. Released by Disney India, “Barfi” captures the feel good quality of the Golden Age of Disney films of the 60’s and 70’s.
Basu portrays an endearing love triangle between a deaf-mute young man, an autistic runaway and a dutiful daughter using all the charm of Silent comedies. His youthful stars captivate. Ranbir Kapoor gives director Anurag Basu the sort of lanky graceful knock about performance that Belmondo gave de Broca in their spirited collaborations .Ranbir is the grandson of his namesake, the legendary Raj Kapoor (his full name was Ranbir Raj Kapoor), patriarch of the Kapoor cinema dynasty.
Priyanka Chopra, educated in the US, was both Miss India and Miss World 2000. Her adorable doe-eyed performance seems to be channeling Norma Talmadge of Sennett fame. Barfi dotes on her and eventually so do we. Ileana D’Cruz , in her film debut, is exquisite as the ambivalent girl who sacrifices her love twice.
Composer Pritam evokes Chaplin in the wrap around score, including comic stings, that supports the often silent action. Judicious appearances by a Piazzola influenced folk trio, is part of the fun.
Occasional pop songs written for the film evoke the sunny 70’s pop of the period (“Phir Le Aaya Dil” and “Main Kya Karoon” are two of the catchy tunes.) I’m not familiar with Indian Pop music of the 70’s but I was thinking of Nilsson or Brazil’s Gilberto Gil.
Ravi Varman’s glorious cinematography, enhanced by Rajat Poddar’s beautiful art direction in rosy tones of green, red and yellow create an enchanted Darjeeling, circa 1970.Wonderful rooftop compositions enhance and elaborate chase sequence. Editor Akiv Ali hopscotches the story between three time period, never losing it’s winsome charm.
Barfi, whose good hearted highjack enliven his Darjeeling neighborhood, falls for new girl in town Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz “Devadasu”). Engaged in an important arranged marriage, Shruti tries to resist his engaging personality and ardent romantic spirit , but soon they are gadding around town, biking, moonlit horseback forays and, hopping strain, distributing cargo to needy squatters beside the track.s Their playful romance is the heady stuff of first romance.
Shruit marries wealthy Calcuttan Ranjit Sengupta (Jishu Sengupta), but, like her mother before her, pines for her true love.
Barfi, the son of the chauffeur (Akash Khurana) of the rich Chatterjee family, was the childhood playmate of the young autistic daughter Jhilmil. Sent away to Muskaan Insitution by her embarrassed parents, Jhilmil find a family with the doting Asylum director, aging Daju (Haradhan Bandhopadhyay), who has one of the great silent takes of the film. Her doting, dying grandfather sends for her, his chosen heir. Barfi and Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) are reunited just in time for Barfi to foil a complicated kidnapping.
The chief suspect in the kidnapping, Barfi takes the poor little rich girl to her girlhood Ayah (nurse) for safekeeping, but smitten, lonely Jhilmil won’t stay. She follows Barfi, as their delicate relationship develops, they move to Calcutta and become a couple .
Saurabh Shukla holds the screen as the beleaguered dogged Police officer and Kapoor’s comic foil, capering with the grace of heavy set silent film stars like Fatty Arbuckle or Oliver Hardy. The pair have a series of chase sequences rife with old vaudeville and silent film gags.
Basu is adept at directing tender silent scenes, and his Chaplin pastiche enhances a story of unconditional love between three very special people. Almost everything is old school physical gaggery. The entire cast is great at slow takes and the three leads rely on the sort minuscule underplayed facial gestures that create a feeling of romantic intimacy within the swirl of pratfalls. Minimal CG enhances the gags. (I can think of two: a facial joke and a chase where Barfi grabs a speeding trolly.)
Nasu navigates the darker realities with cinematic bravura. In one scene, a clever split-screen composition underscores tragic irony. Deaf Barfi sleep in his upper loft. The right side shows a close up off sleeping Barfi’s face. The left side of the screen shows the house below. Barfi’s father staggers out of his bedroom trying to signal Barfi with flashlight, suffers a seizure and collapses as oblivious Barfi sleeps on.
Later Barfi bikes his father to the hospital, draped over his back. Unable to pay the life-saving hospital costs, Barfi embarks on the most ill-conceived and failed kidnapping since “Raising Arizona.” A penultimate reunion at the Asylum is deftly played with tiny facial gestures by Kapoor and D’Cruz. A MUST SEE.