There's been much speculation as to how Ranbir Kapoor might follow his triumphant performance as Janardhan Jhakar in the outstanding Rockstar.
Just when you think he had outdone himself, Kapoor sets a new benchmark for excellence, delivering a performance which is heart-warming, humorous and unprecedented.
Barfi! is a new standard bearer for Indian cinema and Ranbir Kapoor the champion of a generation.
The story opens with an aged, wispy-haired Barfi (Kapoor) unable to pick himself up off the floor after a fall. Shruti (Ileana D'Cruz) begins the poignant narration, introducing us to Barfi and his unique world. Adopting the narrative style of Citizen Kane, a series of similarly aged characters come forward to tell in flashback their version of events in the life of Barfi, as they bore witness to it.
In a single song we gain a snapshot of his sad entry into the world: a mother who loses her life in childbirth and the baby, born deaf and mute, to be raised by his lone but loving father. Named Murphy, after the famous radios of the time, the speech-impaired boy mispronounces it and becomes forever known instead by the name 'Barfi'.
His father's sudden illness is the catalyst for a botched robbery and a hapless kidnapping, bringing the autistic Jhilmil into his life, and with her, the beginnings of a new adventure.
A joyful soul who charms everyone he meets, Barfi wins your heart from the very first time he offers his own up on a plate and is met with rejection. With no dialogue, Kapoor uses his physicality to convey Barfi's every emotion in a manner that makes you question the need for words.
In the cleverly constructed slapstick sequences, there are allusions to Harold Lloyd, Chaplin, Benigni and an homage to the inimitable Raj Kapoor. And while Barfi's irrepressible spirit is infectious, there are moments where the sense of his loneliness in his silent world is palpable. It's a finely-tuned and faultless display of histrionics by the unmatchable Kapoor.
Priyanka Chopra is barely recognisable as the autistic child-woman Jhilmil. Employing physical quirks and mannerisms to great overall effect, it is a highly laudable performance and she captures with startling realism the innocent spirit of Jhilmil, misunderstood and trapped in a world of her own.
Ileana D' Cruz makes a strong Bollywood debut and is perfectly cast as the beautiful Shruti, battling her internal conflict as she is compelled to turn away from love.
Anurag Basu has elicited strong performances from all the cast, who contribute to making the heartfelt story of Barfi! whole. But the performances are just one element. It's Basu's poetic vision, the evident love with which he has crafted every shot and the beautiful and inventive cinematography that lends depth and resonance to the film. The only down side is the slightly erratic timeline.
Harking back to a bygone era of innocence, Barfi! is a dose of idealism and purity in an age of item numbers and dirty pictures. A deeply moving story about those who unexpectedly touch your life with love, and the search for that one person who truly understands you. A poignant reminder to love for love's sake and nothing more.
It is with some reluctance that we leave the beautiful world of Barfi!, but we do so with the knowledge that the Kapoor family legacy is safe in the hands of Ranbir, who can already lay claim to the title of the finest actor of his generation.