Anurag Basu’s Barfi! can be passed off as a comedy movie that depicts the life of differently-abled people in a positive light, but that would be a very basic understanding of it.
Though the movie is enjoying a blockbuster success, and is liked by most people, there are a few things that I find problematic.
The representation of the differently-abled is highly questionable. The character Barfi (played by Ranbir Kapoor in the movie) is deaf and mute since birth. Nevertheless, he is a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving guy who takes life as it comes despite his limitations. He usually gets into trouble or gets caught making mischief which leads to certain “comic” scenes in the movie. This very depiction is extremely dubious. The differently-abled are not a source of comedy to the society. It is ethically wrong to stand at a distance and make them a pit of all your jokes, which is precisely what the movie does.
The bond between Barfi and Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), his autistic soul mate, is very strong, but their love is on an abstract plane and has no ground whatsoever. It is a completely desexualized depiction of the two characters in particular and the differently-abled in general.
In a way, Basu has erased the very fact that makes them human and a regular part of the society.
In the movie, things have been sugarcoated. The director has been extremely picky about the incidents in the lives of the characters.
With her mother being a chronic alcoholic, her siblings ill-treating her, and her father longing after her money, Jhilmil’s character has some amount of problems, but nowhere in the movie has Barfi been shown to have any serious problem except when his father is on his death-bed and the he has to arrange money for the operation.
The movie fails to show the hardships in the life of a deaf-mute man. It essentially focuses on how “light, bright and sparkly” one’s life can be even when one does not have the ability to either speak or hear. The movie undermines the whole idea pertaining to inculcate sensitivity within people towards the differently-abled.
Basu’s sanitized version in Barfi! is overtly sweet. There seems to be an extra effort put into deliberately making the movie cute.
This being said, the movie hides the difficulties of the characters by wrapping them up in charming and delightful boxes.