In a sense, aptly titled since the movie is as sweet and delicious as a 'barfi' (sweet dish). Barfi is the story of a deaf-mute boy who can't even pronounce his own name properly and as a result becomes 'Barfi' instead of Murphy. The movie is actually more a canvas for the vibrant painting that is Barfi's life.
Instead of dwelling on the tragic aspect of his life, Barfi grows up as a happy go lucky young man in Darjeeling. Shruti (Ileana), the Calcutta girl comes into his town and his life and he is bowled over at first sight. With him Shruti experiences a craziness and freedom that goes beyond her neatly ordered life and makes her fall in love with him. However, when it comes to taking a decision, Shruti is swayed by her mother (Roopa Ganguly) and ditches Barfi for the security offered by her fiance (Jishu Sengupta). Barfi is heartbroken but stoic. Pandemonium erupts once he needs money for his father's operation and decides to kidnap the autistic rich girl, Jhilmil (Priyanka) who he's known since childhood. Inadvertently, he becomes Jhilmil's security blanket and soon finds himself in an emotional bond that leads to surprising consequences.
The first half of the movie follows a light-hearted and often slapstick route. His interactions with the local cop (Saurabh Shukla) chasing him are especially reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin movies. In the second half the story becomes more about relationships though it never abandons its light-heartedness. Instead there are beautiful setpieces such as the one where Barfi traps fireflies in bubbles. The cinematography is excellent and highlights the subtle nuances of Barfi and Jhilmil's relationship. Both Darjeeling wrapped in mist with its steam-puffing train winding along the hillside and Calcutta of the 70's teeming with life and majestic as the Howrah Bridge despite the rain and squalor are well depicted. The music weaves mellifluously in and out of the story and sets the right tone.
Ranbir proves once again that he is arguably the finest actor of his generation. His performance is at once comic, tragic and believable. See his silent showdown with Shruti after his marriage proposal to know what I mean. Priyanka is surprisingly restrained and subtle in her role and much more likeable than when she is posturing as a diva. Ileana is pretty and adequate though she does tend to look worried for a lot of the second half. But any day a better actress than the over-hyped Diana Penty.
Anurag Basu stitches together a sensitive tale where one can understand how certain things may happen without needing to be convinced about the whys. Barfi and Jhilmil's relationship flows smoothly like the Ganges without inducing the kind of incredulity that movies like My Name is Khan threw up. The movie does seem to be about some very different ingredients - slapstick, a bit of a mystery/intrigue and a refreshing look at love - which Basu manages to turn into a very palatable dish. My only real grouse would be the total copy of a couple of scenes from The Notebook (movie starring Ryan Gosling based on book by Nicholas Sparks) which made me wonder about how much of the rest of the movie had been derived (esp. the comic sequences).
But to enjoy a lovely tale and some wonderful performances, do grab a bite of Barfi. It's pretty original for Bollywood.