The trailer leads you to believe that Barfi! is the love story of a deaf-mute manic-pixie-dream-boy (as one of my Twitter friends hilariously calls Ranbir) and the gorgeous out-of-towner Shruti (played by long-time favourite from South-Indian movies Ileana D'Cruz). With a dash of tear-jerking moments provided by what seems to be the autistic sister (or close friend).
None of that is true. Barfi/Murphy is not a manic pixie dream boy, in fact he is very much his own character even though his influence on Ileana's character could match a loose definition of MPDG/B. Also, the film is not a love story. Or better said, it's not ONE love story. Add to that the very well-played mystery factor (yes, it plays a bit like a whodunit too!) and a dash of comedy and you're closer to what Barfi really looks like. I was extremely pleased with the way the film was put together overall, with the flashbacks taking their time to reveal the story and with different characters telling the story at different times. Narration is hard enough to handle even from the point of view of one character, let alone several, so I was truly impressed with the outcome.
The other reason why Barfi! blew me away visually, and this may also be my TIFF hangover, was how well they used close-ups and details. Whether it was zooming in so close that I could trace the liner on Ileana's eye-lids with my finger, or making old Barfi's white hair stand on end in a giant mess, everything about these characters felt so close to you and endearing. But, and this is the impressive part, never overbearing. (Of course, they could still improve on the wigs, but heh... nobody's perfect.)
Speaking of Ileana, one of the reasons why I'll be very happy to see Barfi! succeed is because it will mean seeing more of Ileana D'Cruz in Bollywood. Not that I don't love her in the South (where they make full use of her exquisite body shape, unlike Barfi!), but she deserves more than just being arm-candy for the hero.
I must admit that on occasion I can be very easily amused by old-school movie gags like people walking into lamp-posts or pies thrown in someone's face. But it can also get old for me just as easily. Barfi! uses a lot of physicality for its comedy, but considering a lot of it had to do with Saurabh Shukla rolling his eyes and making faces as the police officer always on Barfi's tail, I didn't mind it too much. I would have found Barfi unbearable if the antics had been only on Ranbir's side, but with an actor as entertaining and hilarious as Saurabh Shukla, he was well balanced (and dare I say, out-goofed!).
When a movie like "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" is your benchmark for characters with mental illness, it's really hard to not be apprehensive about other actors and actresses attempting these roles. Because nothing can top that movie for me. So despite my well-documented love for Priyanka, I was afraid. I was very afraid. At the same time I have very little real life experience with this type of issue, so that usually works in my favour when I watch movies because I tend to be forgiving if everything seems reasonably realistic. As it turns out, it was a good place to watch Barfi! from. Priyanka was adorable and so hug-able and with the exception of a couple of over the top moments she got it as right as one could hope for.
It's not just that she's not relying on her looks to stun us, but apart from Saat Khoon Maaf I've never seen Priyanka use her body, her eyes and even her hands so much to develop a character. My favourite scenes would be too spoilery for this review, but let's just say she had me at the headbutt.
I was also afraid of Ranbir overdoing his Charlu Chaplin act, which in this fan's opinion has been done to death and I was ready to never see him goof around like that ever again. Go figure, even that turned out to be an unfounded fear. It's not that he doesn't abuse it, but it didn't bother me one bit because there were plenty of serious moments to make up for it. His character has far more depth to it than the trailers had us believe and mercifully he's not running around banging his head against a wall the entire movie. His permanent smile is not, as I had thought, just an expression of permanent optimism, but also at times a mask behind which he can hide when the words he cannot speak fail him.
I think the moral of the story here may end up being that I need to stop watching trailers and base my expectations on them, huh?
Because despite all these expectations that the trailers built (for better or worse), Barfi! is not a goofy story. It may be a fairy-tale, which means its characters seem to live in this world that is conveniently supportive, but it's one well-wrapped in a healthy lesson about unrestrained love and loyalty. About settling or moving on. And about recognizing that you found what you were looking for even in the strangest places.
Barfi! has a simple message: companionship and having fun with each other are the key ingredients to making a relationship last, not teenage crushes. And oh, how I love a movie that shows love is not a one-time deal! Few Indian films subscribe to this philosophy and you all know it's one of my biggest pet peeves with Indian cinema, Bollywood and elsewhere. So with that as the cherry on an already sweet and delicious cake, what more can I ask for?