While Barfi! reads like the other side of Black, both are manipulative renditions of disability, thinks Sudhish Kamath.

It's tough not to draw parallels between Black and Barfi! with so many striking resemblances, overlapping themes and equally emotional popular response.

Yet, they are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, despite their distinctively different European treatment.

If Bhansali and Ravi K Chandran chose to paint their canvas in shades of Gothic Black, Basu and Ravivarman bathe their film in beatific light.

If Black tried to make you cry, this one tries to make you laugh.

If Black chose to focus on characters trying to overcome their disability, Barfi! chooses to focus on the characters’ ability to see the world differently.

If Black was about a character battling old-age and schizophrenia and another coming of age, Barfi! is about the return to innocence as the lead characters celebrate their ‘disabilities’.

While Barfi (Ranbir) has the ability to put a smile on your face though he can't talk or hear himself, autistic Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) sees the world through the wide-eyed innocence of a child.

They are not trying to compete in this world or trying hard to prove a point like the characters in Black. They are happy living a life together, far away from the madness of materialism of today. Remember the seventies when songs about life used to be about how life was a song? Barfi! totally milks music for old-world charm.

It's a Ranbir Kapoor show all the way as Barfi makes you smile and applaud with his antics without needing a single line of dialogue. It’s a fitting tribute to Charlie Chaplin and Ranbir’s grandfather Raj Kapoor, the original Indian tramp, and he proves once again that he’s the best actor of his generation.

Priyanka too is just wonderfully restrained for most part. However, the best portions of the film do not belong to their story. Their scenes together look blatantly cutesy and manufactured.

Almost like Basu wants to say: “Look how much spirit these two cheerful characters with special needs have. Please smile for them, they don't need your tears.”

Though a far cry from Bhansali's “Look how much spirit these two characters have to fight their disability. Shed a tear for their struggle and triumph,” Barfi! gets problematic by reminding us of their disability all the time — even if it's for laughs.

Why do filmmakers need to treat disability like a show-pony irrespective of whether they want to make you laugh or cry? Barfi is the other side of Black. Equally manipulative. Which is why Iqbal despite its budgetary constraints seems like a more honest film — it makes you completely forget that Iqbal cannot talk or hear.

Even if you are to overlook the plot contrivances here (don't you just hate it when characters are bumped off conveniently to get the story moving forward?) and the desperate efforts to manufacture conflict of an epic scale, there's that leisurely pace that might discourage repeat viewings.

The first hour of the film is picture perfect, especially, the scenes with Ranbir charming Ileana and their relationship. This is Anurag Basu's finest hour with the visual medium. He shines with his craft, using non-verbal communication, flawless physical comedy, superbly employed metaphors and leitmotifs to a fetchingly French background score by Pritam that is really the soul of the film.

And then, one of the biggest cliches of Indian cinema (the hero needs money for the kidney operation of a loved one) kicks in a convoluted plot of kidnapping and needless suspense to make up for conflict.

Still, there's a lot to love in this film once you buy into the platonic Barfi-Jhilmil relationship. It just doesn't seem right when it turns into a love triangle because clearly one of them is still a kid at heart.

Which brings us to the film's biggest strength — it's so family friendly. Pretty much every member of your family is probably going to love this film and many will swear it's the best film of the year.

Strange that many looked down upon Basu’s last film Kites though it was the adult version of the same story: Love knows no language and it happens when two people are on the run. While Barfi channels Chaplin and French cinema, Kites paid homage to Tarantino and Rodriguez.

Barfi is a safe bet. Populist, instantly likeable, charming and unfortunately, a tad too light.

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Sudhish KamathMay 11, 2012

Barfi! releases in JapanAugust 22, 2014