Barfi could have been so much more in impact and magic, considering that director Anurag Basu adapts the Charlie Chaplin template well into the film, if sporadically. This is no easy task, considering the sheer physical dexterity and comic mastery that Chaplin had. Anyway, let us look at the story first.
Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor, excellent) is a deaf and mute youngster living in 1970's Darjeeling with his old chauffeur father. He is carefree and mischievous, much to the agony of an obese small town policeman (Saurabh Shukla, stellar), who keeps playing Tom to Barfi's elusive Jerry. The bumbling, juggling Barfi then woos the new to town, soon-to-be-married Shruti (Ileana D'Cruz, impressive Hindi film debut), wobbles to his first kiss, and is then seared by separation. In unlikely circumstances, he ends up finding love with his autistic childhood friend Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra, real). Meanwhile, Shruti regrets not following her heart and in a turn of events, gets a second chance to be with Barfi. By the end of it, important life and love lessons are imbibed.
Barfi sparkles in its dialogue-less moments.The stand out scenes are the City Lights (1931) inspired chases which works as a tribute, the Amelie (2001) inspired background music, scenes lifted from The Notebook (2004) and Singing in the Rain (1952) could have been tweaked. In contrast the murder mystery track is a half-attempted whimper. Also, the non-linear, back and forth storytelling across timelines is something Chaplin would have frowned at - we did. A start to end telling would have made things so much more easy on the eye, fit the film's spirit.
All said and done, Barfi is a brave attempt, a stumble into new territory rather than with sure-footed steps. The performances, an exceptional Pritam soundtrack and colourful cinematography (Ravi Varman) salvage the movie. The primary saviour however, are the film's outlined circles of simplicity, love and innocence. No dark shades here, ensuring that the film doesn't go in the similarly edited, non-linear flow of Imtiaz Ali's jagged Rockstar (2011). Merciful, for us. Worth a watch.
A note for...
Single screen theaters, thanks for the price tag, upgraded sound system, cheap snacks and the absolute pitch darkness in the balcony: Where one gropes over many hapless feet to find that the assigned seats are already taken. The same seat numbers that were so majestically ticked off from a sheet of box designed paper minutes ago at the ticket counter, now non-existent. So at the same ticket price, one can be seated at different places, pre-interval, post-interval and in between. What flexibility. Attention lovers, some really dark corners abound here!