Fireflies in Soap Bubbles

This Christmas I discovered a movie that is the perfect mix of La Vita e Bella with The Artist, seasoned with everything Chaplin you can think of: BARFI!

When I first started watching Hindi movies, eyes and perception had to adapt to a whole new reality.  Most Bollywood productions tend to appear silly and exaggerated.  As pupils, ears, and brain adjusted to the bright colors, unusual sounds (voices and words), unexpected dancing and situations, a new world opened up.  Whatever technology and resources Bollywood productions may lack are plenty replaced by visual beauty.

For example, Barfi relies heavily on film editing to compensate for more expensive stunts and special effects, and it doesn’t really matter if not everything Barfi does is permitted by the laws of physics – it’s all seen through the eyes of two very special women; one deeply in love with him, the other an autistic girl.

Barfi can’t hear and therefore he doesn’t talk but the movie is anything but silent. For one, there’s music every time Barfi needs support from behind the cameras. His facial expressions are so precise (quickly-dissolving though) and so right on time that dialogue becomes dispensable.  Having seen the actor – Ranbir Kapoor – in many other productions, ranging from the silliest of comedies to big drama – Mexican and Brazilian soap opera style – his Barfi caught me off-guard. I was not expecting such a skilled performance from a comedian who made me laugh countless times while parodying  Hindi movies on stage, making open fun of god-like celebs such as Shahrukh Khan (My Name is Khan, Ra-One) and Hrithik Roshan (Guzaarish, Kites) at  the Filmfare Award evenings.

A son of the circus, as it turns out, actor Ranbir Kapoor is not. The Kapoor family has several other representatives known in the industry, most popularly and notably the two actresses – and sisters – Karisma and Kareena Kapoor – his cousins. Ranbir will soon fly even higher in Bollywood, even though he can’t dance like Hrithik Roshan and is not a ladies’ man like Shahrukh Khan. His Barfi sports a thin moustache that reminds me of Douglas Fairbanks and moves around with the same ease and vigor I remember from Errol Flynn’s pirate movies, only twice as natural. He makes the autistic girl laugh but is too intense for a clown.

Set in the 1970s, the movie tells the story of Murphy “Barfi” Johnson, and his relationship with two women, Shruti and Jhilmil. Made on a budget of  30 crore (US$4.6 million), according to Wikipedia, Barfi! “opened worldwide to wide critical acclaim in September 2012. Critics praised the performances, the direction, the screenplay, the cinematography, the music and the positive portrayal of physically disabled people. The film was a major box-office success, becoming one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of 2012 in India and overseas, and was declared a “Super Hit” after its three-week run by Box Office India. The film went on to gross 175 crore (US$27 million) worldwide, selected as India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film nomination for the 85th Academy Awards. At the 58th Filmfare Awards, the film received thirteen nominations and won seven (more than any other film) including Best Film, and Best Actor for Kapoor.”

Murphy “Barfi” Johnson is an irreverent, mischievous young man born deaf to his Nepali parents in Darjeeling. His mother passed when he was a baby and his father raised him alone, while working as a driver. Barfi is a troublemaker – he plays practical jokes on innocent people – and is constantly chased by the local police officer. When he meets Shruti Ghosh (Ileana D’Cruz), just arrived in Darjeeling and engaged to marry in a few months, it is love at first sight from both sides. Shruti’s mother dissuades her from dating Barfi though because he cannot properly support her with his disabilities and lack of money. Barfi’s silence, warns Mrs. Ghosh, would one day engulf the couple and kill their feelings for one another.  Obedient to her mother, Shruti marries her fiancé, becomes Mrs. Sengupta, and moves to Kolkata, breaking all contact with Barfi.

If you decide to give this love story a try (available at Netflix), a few words about the two ladies in Barfi!

Barfi’s childhood acquaintance Jhilmil, the autistic girl, played by internationally acclaimed “most beautiful woman in the world” Pryianka Chopra, comes as the greatest surprise of the movie. In America she is known by her opening of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football season, dancing and singing, in high heels, shorts and long brown hair. Chopra’s acting in Barfi! proves to her legions of fans that she is both Miss World 2000 and talented enough to play an autistic young woman that is one hundred percent convincing.

Lady friend number two, played by almost painfully delicate-faced Ileana D’Cruz (Mumbai is close to Goa and Goa is crowded with Portuguese and Spanish names due to Portuguese and Jesuit settlements) was new to me. She also did wonderfully; saddened most of the time, displaying the most stunning eye makeup I have ever seen on an actress. Even when she cries.

Speaking of beauty – a word that comes often to mind as I keep watching Hindi movies – I’m getting addicted to Bollywood perfect screen aesthetics. It’s the views, the towns, the faces, the colorful outdoors and outfits, the delicacy of certain scenes – like when Barfi encases fireflies in soap bubbles to catch Jhilmil’s attention and the game they play with mirrors and light.

In the end, as Shruti (D’Cruz) concludes, happiness and magic belong with those who love unconditionally.   To quote my all-time favorite pop female singer/composer (Shakira), El cielo es de los que creen/ Y no de los que dudan (Heaven belongs to those who believe/And not to those who doubt).

May 2014 be everything you believe and more!

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