I had no intention of seeing Barfi!. The "whimsical" trailers were insufferable, I'm generally allergic to movies with an exclamation point in the title, and the film's premise—deaf boy (Ranbir Kapoor's Barfi) falls in love with autistic girl (Priyanka Chopra's Jhilmil)—seemed way too calculated an appeal to the audience's sentimentality.
My feelings of aversion weren't helped by the controversy over all the scenes in the movie that, depending on your point of view, are either homages to or borrowed without attribution from other films. In support of the "homages" argument, a few of the borrowed scenes (some Chaplinesque chase scenes, and some Donald O'Connor moves from Singin' In The Rain's "Make 'Em Laugh," an Arthur Freed-Nacio Brown song itself "inspired" by Cole Porter's "Be A Clown"—meta-plagiarism!) seem like they are meant to be instantly identifiable. But several scenes are borrowed from films that are more contemporary or less well known. And writer/director Anurag Basu has borrowed before: he notoriously lifted the central plot of his 2007 movie Life in a...Metro virtually scene by scene from Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960).
But my resistance to Barfi! wore down—I enjoyed Amélie (2001), one of Barfi!'s obvious models, after all—and when we finally saw it I found a few things to like. Among them was Ileana D'Cruz as Shruti, a woman who inexplicably falls in unwavering lifelong love with Barfi. (Now I want to see some of her Telugu films, which look like fun.) Alas for Shruti, Barfi only has eyes for Jhilmil, the autistic neighbor girl played by a virtually unrecognizable Priyanka Chopra. Priyanka's roles often emphasize her beauty and glamour, so I was amazed by her transformation as Jhilmil:
The film's portrayal of severe autism, though, has been criticized for lacking realism and employing stereotypes. That's not a debate that I'm qualified to join; I do think, though, that Priyanka deserves praise for taking on a role that is so much against her usual type, and that any shortcomings in the way the character is conceived are more likely to be the responsibility of the writer/director.
Anyway, despite its unconventional aspects the movie is basically a love triangle. So Basu tries to disguise the simplicity of the story with multiple flashbacks and flash-forwards, and lots of shtick for Ranbir (thus the homages/borrowings). That I lost the thread more than once is probably due mainly to my own after-work tiredness, but Basu's complicated screenplay—Jhilmil is kidnapped twice, once in each of the two flashback time frames—may bear some of the blame as well. Ranbir shows once again that he's a versatile and talented actor, even when he's working with warmed-over material.
Your response to the movie is likely to be predicted by the title. "Barfi" is the way everyone refers to Ranbir's character because it's the way he pronounces his own name, Murphy; barfi is also a sweet made of condensed milk and sugar. If that makes you go "Awww...How clever!" you may like Barfi!; it makes me feel like I've eaten far too much barfi.