Anurag Basu's new film Barfi! follows the relationship between a deaf and mute boy and an autistic girl, played by Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra. The actors tell us about the making of the movie.
A flame-haired pop star. A sultry model catapulted to dizzy stardom. A bombshell who murders seven of her husbands in her quest to find the perfect man. These are just some of the personas donned by Priyanka Chopra on screen.
It's hardly surprising that the 30-year-old - also the winner of the Miss World title in 2000 - was cast in these glamorous, albeit sometimes dark, roles. Today, Priyanka Chopra is considered the quintessential Bollywood heroine.
In her latest film, Barfi!, which opens in UAE cinemas on Thursday, Chopra's character is one of her most unique yet - that of an autistic girl who happens to be the love interest of a deaf and mute boy. Set in 1970s India, the romantic comedy tells the story of Barfi (Kapoor) and his friend Jhilmil (Chopra) as they explore their feelings for each other.
"First of all, I was very glad I didn't have to put on any make-up when on the sets," Chopra says at a recent screening of the film in Dubai. She nods towards a poster of the film, which shows her barefaced, with short, black curls.
"When I first heard the narration, I told Anurag [Basu, the film's director] that I absolutely had to be part of this film because, to me, the story is magical. Once I had signed up and actually started researching the role I would be playing, I became very nervous. I didn't know how to approach this character - how to play this girl Jhilmil - for the first four or five days.
"It took me a really long time to wrap my head around what I was supposed to do. But after a point, I realised I was over-thinking it. And as soon as I stopped thinking about it, Jhilmil happened. And she happened really well."
Chopra pauses for breath and then adds: "At least, that is what I think. You will have to watch the film and decide for yourself."
Chopra's co-star and Barfi!'s male lead, Ranbir Kapoor, mirrors her sentiments when he describes the ease with which he fell into his role.
"When the film was narrated to me, I had all these preconceived notions - that this was such a great character for me to play as an actor and all that jazz. It was when we started shooting that it actually hit me - I had to play a complicated character who cannot hear or speak. How would he emote?" says the 29-year-old actor.
"As Priyanka said, though, you can think and then you can over-think. In the end, all I had to do was show up on the sets, put on my make-up and let the whole world of Barfi! and my character just flow. I had no dialogues to memorise so I was playing dumb charades on the sets every day."
For Kapoor, who delivered the monumental musical romantic drama Rockstar last year, Barfi! came as a "breath of fresh air".
"Rockstar was a very special movie for me. It gave me the opportunity to work with an extremely talented team. To be honest, it was quite an intense journey," he says.
"Barfi! is sweet, it's a happy film. It made me feel lighter and younger. I think that a huge part of the reason why I did this film was to work with Anurag Basu. He has this amazing childlike quality about him. That, coupled with the fact that I loved the script, my character and the other characters - well, it was a very easy film to say yes to."
Chopra agrees. "As a team, we are very excited about this film. This is a special movie. Well, at least for me. It taught me how beautiful life can be. It's got a very positive message and you come out of it wanting to do something great with your life. It's a film that comes from a fantastic place and I am confident that you will love it."
For Kapoor, the film drives home the fact that love transcends all boundaries.
"Love needs no language, and you don't need to be a certain kind of person to experience love. You can be differently abled, you can speak completely different languages, or not be able to speak or hear at all, but you can still love, and that's what the film is about. To sum it all up, just look at the tagline of the film: 'Don't worry, be Barfi!'. That's all we really are trying to say."
The making of Jhilmil and Barfi
"Ranbir plays a deaf and mute boy and I play an autistic girl, but when you watch the movie you will realise that these traits are extremely incidental in the film. After a while you will really forget that they even have these disabilities because you will just start enjoying them as people and see how much they love life and live it with so much peace and happiness. Jhilmil's character taught me to just enjoy every moment and fulfil myself with everything that I already have.
"I play an autistic character so yes I did a lot of research in terms of what autism is, how it should be portrayed and such. I spent a lot of time with autistic kids, with their teachers, and with their parents to understand them, but eventually I realised that autism has such a huge range. It can be extremely severe and it can be so subtle that you won't even be able to tell if someone is autistic. So at the end of it, we just created Jhilmil from scratch. There is no reference point to her."
"As an actor it's your duty to know the character you're playing, and when you're playing someone who's deaf and dumb, you have to be sensitive towards that. I spent a lot of time with people who are like that and I found that extremely normal. Anurag wanted this character to be really relatable, so if you see the movie, there is a lot of dumb charades and a lot of physical comedy. We wanted the audience to understand how Barfi is feeling and how he tries to express himself. Initially, I worried about how I am going to play him and that maybe I am not prepared yet, but Anurag knew the character so well and he really helped me through it.
"It was fun: no dialogues, just come, play dumb charades, laugh and have a great time. That's the whole mood of the film. It's all about positivity. It was there in the shoot and it translates onto the screen as well. I take so much from it. I take lovely relationships. I take this whole message of ' don't worry, be happy'. Life is too short. We have everything. What are we complaining about? Barfi tells you to live your life king size, and live it with love, with laughter, with a lot of cheer and spread happiness and love because that's what really matters."
The filmmaker Anurag Basu is known for tackling films with dark themes. His past work (Life in a ... Metro, Gangster, Murder) has dealt with adultery, drug-dealing and homicide, among other ills. Despite the morbid subjects that he frequently deals with on screen, his attitude to his work and his engagement with his team is always on the playful side.
"I love him," declares Kapoor. "He's a child. When you work with him, you work with somebody who is so playful and who's always running around while you're constantly trying to keep up with them. I love it that I had the opportunity to be a part of his vision, and of something that was so close to his heart. I really hope I get a chance to work with him again."
"I think he is one of the finest filmmakers that we have in this country," agrees Chopra. "He's very eccentric. His way of working is extremely different from anyone you've ever worked with. I think every actor should - at least once in their life - work with Anurag. He teaches you so much. He gives you an incredible amount of freedom as an actor.
"So many of the scenes we've done together, we've just improvised and they kind of just happened. They were never written. The whole film was narrated without a single piece of paper. It was all in his head. Plus he makes it such a fun journey. You would have thought that playing an autistic character for me would have been so stressful but it was a breeze because it was with him."
Barfi! will be released across the UAE today