You may nurse sympathy for this character, but he's the kind to never expect it at all. For life is good for Barfi; he roams the streets without an agenda or ambition. His hard-working, indulgent father who raised him single-handedly is there to pay for his meals.
Shruti (Ileana D Cruz) meets him when she comes to Darjeeling with her parents. His instinct for mischief draws her instantly. This attraction unsettles her, as she's engaged to the college heartthrob.
Before Barfi breezed into her life, all seemed perfect and suddenly, her measured "napi-tulli zindagi" turns upside down.
And then comes in Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), Barfi's autistic childhood friend, brought up in a special home despite being born to privileged parents.
Writer-director Anurag Basu's Chaplin references don't end with Ranbir's physical acting, humour or the Chaplin-esque music. It's also present in the tragedy.
It's there when a hopeful suitor is shown his place and mistaken as asking for money. It's present when the rejected suitor's cycle breaks down on the way out. Or more tragically, when following his lady-love on the cycle, he crashes into a pole. All these are physical manifestations of his inner tragedy.
Effective as they may be, they also strike you as a tad manipulative.
Ranbir's charm is omnipresent and he gives his character a sense of pride and dignity. Despite Barfi being so vulnerable due to the handicap, it's clear he'll give up everything to take care of his loved ones.
Priyanka Chopra gives a masterfully restrained performance as the lovable Jhilmil. One wonders how many actresses could have carried off this challenging role.
lleana (a well-known South actress) couldn't have asked for a better Hindi film debut. This is a role where her acting prowess is exploited, while she continues looking lovely throughout. Hats off to these three young actors who dared to take up these massively challenging, career-defining roles!
Barfi! is equally proficient technically. The film is worth a watch just to soak in the inspired background score and enjoy Ravi Varma's cinematography. The dexterous screenplay is aptly supported by the smooth editing as the film traverses between the present and past.
A word about Anurag Basu - he has emerged, quite suddenly, as a director with a different voice and storytelling style. His knack of telling a story (Gangster, Life in a Metro) with conviction was always evident. In fact this writer is going to stick her neck out and say that she enjoyed Basu's Kites as well.
But this comes as a surprise. Lyrical and moving, with humour and pathos in equal measure, Barfi! is quite a cinematic achievement.
The film is also ambitious in terms of the sets and styling. Dialogue by Sanjeev Dutta is fabulous. Note lines like "the biggest risk in life is to never take a risk". Memorable stuff, this.
Where the film falls short is the laborious length - hinting at Basu's indulgent handling of the film and an excessive repetition of scenes. So you're watching a series of incidents, not necessarily taking the story forward.
The second half turns into a part murder-mystery where the culprit is all too predictable. The story gets convoluted and one wishes it had retained the simple, fable-like quality of the first half.
Barfi! is gourmet - probably not to the liking of fast-food lovers, but still worth developing a taste for. Savour it!
Rating: 3.5 stars