Set in the 1970s, Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor), a hearing and speech impaired boy, falls in love with Shruti (Ileana). In spite of her deep affection for Barfi, Shruti gives into societal and parental pressure to marry a 'normal' man and lead a 'normal' life. Many years later their paths cross once again when Barfi, now in love with Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), is on the run from the police. Barfi is desperately seeking Jhilmil, who has gone missing.

A touching ode to the power of true love.

Three wonderfully warm performances and a vivid grasp of rich, local flavour provide Anurag Basu’s Barfi! with a wildly romantic ambience. The convoluted final act may test the patience of the uninitiated, but in every other respect this atypical Hindi heartwarmer deserves international breakout success.

this atypical Hindi heartwarmer deserves international breakout success

Evoking silent film-era charm in its often wordless tale of a deaf man and the two women with whom he shares life-long affections, this beguiling, beautiful film celebrates the purity of true love in the most adorable of ways, reflecting a style more often associated with whimsical European cinema, the most obvious influence being Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. (Pritam Chakraborty’s use of non-traditional instruments like accordions in his terrific soundtrack is a giveaway, too.) But to deny Basu credit for a grasp of his craft that is quite wondrous at times would be doing the writer-director a great disservice. Barfi! shows the filmmaker’s further growth after the lauded character-driven drama Life in a Metro (2007) and the commercially-minded Kites (2010).

The title character, hailing from a village in Darjeeling, is a profoundly-deaf man named 'Murphy’ (early on, he mispronounces his own name 'Barfi’, and the moniker sticks). The film opens in the present, but the action is whisked backed to the mid-1970s where Barfi is a young rascal. Played with engaging élan by Ranbir Kapoor (the grandson of Raj Kapoor; his cousin is A-list actress Kareena Kapoor) in a star-making turn, the actor brings a Robert Benigni-esque spirit to Barfi, his physical clowning a joy (an alleyway/rooftop pursuit is a dazzling highlight), his warmth impossible to reject.

In a delightful meet-cute scene, Barfi becomes enraptured by the transcendental beauty of upper-class lass Shruti (the stunning Ileana D’Cruz, absolutely adored by every frame of film). She is engaged but finds Barfi’s company irresistible; his gentle wooing of her is truly joyous. (A montage of simple but cleverly-staged sight-gags is great fun.) He’s inspired to seek her hand in marriage, but the opening of his heart goes terribly wrong. The subsequent scene, captured amidst a tropical downpour, in which Kapoor’s frustration (shown via sign language) and D’Cruz’s teary realisation that her family will never allow her to experience this great love, left not a dry eye in the house.

A subplot involving the kidnapping of Barfi’s childhood friend, a young autistic woman named Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), then takes centre stage and Barfi finds himself unwittingly involved. This lathering of exposition sucks out some of the fun but the magic re-emerges when our hero finds love on the run with Jhilmil. Chopra, a former Miss World who has glammed-up such Bollywood extravaganza’s as Don 1 and 2, Ra.One and Agneepath, is a revelation as the mentally-challenged young woman; unrecognisable under a visage of facial tics and carefully-constructed mannerisms, her performance is as grounded in reality as Kapoor’s is overtly cinematic. The chemistry they create is as good as anything you will see on screen this year.

Basu is obliged to wrap up the kidnapping plot strands in the final half-hour and the film creaks under this commitment. He also can’t avoid slipping into soap opera for the denouement, an ever-present threat that he kept in check for most of the film. But with the positive energy of his wonderful cast and the vibrancy of his locations radiating via the lens of cinematography Ravi Varman, audience good will is well and truly in the director’s favour at this point; too much enriching drama and sweet comedy has come before.


In Cinemas 14 September 2012,