Now playing: Barfi! | Bleader

Now playing: Barfi!

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Priyanka Chopra and Ranbin Kapoor star in Barfi!
  • Priyanka Chopra and Ranbin Kapoor star in Barfi!
Having learned that it just became India's entry for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, I decided to check out Barfi! while it was still at the River East 21. I could understand at once why it's such a hit in its native country. Ranbir Kapoor (grandson of the great director and movie star Raj Kapoor) is a wonderful mime, and his expressive performance as an impish deaf-mute is about as accomplished as Jean Dujardin's in The Artist. Writer-director Anurag Basu raises the bar pretty high for Kapoor by having him re-create gags from Modern Times and the Buster Keaton short Cops in the film's first 15 minutes, but he rises to the occasion, executing many difficult feats of slapstick across the lengthy running time.

For better or for worse, the movie feels less like a silent comedy than a live-action Disney cartoon. (It's worth noting that the film's production company, UTV Motion Pictures, has been a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company since February of this year.) Barfi's relationship with an autistic girl (Priyanka Chopra)—whom he befriends, adopts, and ultimately falls in love with—is meant to illustrate an innocent, pure love, but the film has to elide many unpleasant details about autism and physical disabilities to maintain the fairy-tale tone. The mawkishness is clearly a product of good intentions, much like Disney's awkward attempt at revisionist history in Pocahontas, but I found it hard to swallow all the same.

As with any Disney feature, it's easy to enjoy this for the colors and movement alone. I most enjoyed the sequences with Saurbh Shukla, a heavyset comic performer who plays Barfi's lifelong rival, a rural police inspector who chases the scamp all over town.

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