Its quite evident that over the last five years or so Indian filmmakers have pushed themselves to make movies that they wouldn't have the courage to dream of in let's say the 90s. For somewhere in the creative filmdom of present day Bollywood fueled by the Dibakars and the Kashyaps, a bunch of writers decided for themselves that they'll not stick to norms of the song-and-dance, college romance, poor-boy-meets-rich girl formulae and think of new stories. Thus came a Vikramaditya Motwane with an Udaan, a Zoya Akhtar with a Luck by Chance and an Imtiaz Ali with a Jab We Met. They were of course the big names but strugglers like Rajat Kapoor, Pankaj Advani, Onir also mushroomed. And what happened collectively was that the taste of the average Indian audience elevated itself. And it is this slightly more evolved taste that a film like Barfi caters to.
Its leading cast could walk any international ramp and look good but the filmmaker doesn't let you see that side of his actors in the film. You could've walked out of the theater for lack of the usual pyar mohabbat rhetoric dialogue but you don't. Words are rendered meaningless as Anurag Basu takes that one courageous leap to make a movie without dialogue for most parts. He fills it with a few slapstick gags, uses a murder of all things as a plot device to move the story forward in a love triangle, sets it in 1970s with no foreign locales, shoots no steamy scenes and yet puts everything together to leave you with a generous smile at the end of the film.
Its as eclectic a Hindi film has got in recent times. It borrows a bit from the Chaplin-Buster Keaton style of cinema and works with some fabulous (and original sounding) music from Pritam to connect with the audience and it works. Ranbir Kapoor brings his pedigree of acting education to the party like in no other movie before and Priyanka matches him frame for frame. She could've so easily overdone it but she doesn't and her last scene with Ranbir will linger in public memory for a long time. Add to it the innocence of the other leading lady Ileana and a superb down-on-his-luck cop act by Saurabh Shukla and you have a perfect score on acting for the movie. Anurag also goes a step beyond and works meticulously on the look of the film, transporting us back to the 70s and bringing us back to present day effortlessly thanks to some incredible work by cinematographer Ravi Varman. If there's anything that doesn't work for the film, its a drag of a first half as the characters are getting set. Anurag takes a lot more time to work this part of the film out and overall the film could've easily have been shorter by 10-15 minutes.
Not everything about Barfi is perfect, It got me twitching my thumbs restlessly on my Blackberry in the first half with its snail-like pace but then something about it asked me to stay put for the second half. I am glad, I did. Come to think of it, its as rewarding a Hindi film about romance can get ever.
Well done, Anurag, You've made up for your sin of ripping The Apartment into a 15 minute story.
P.S: Its another matter though as I am writing this Disco Deewane from SOTY is reminding me that each of the cliched formulae mentioned above is also alive and kicking. Sigh...