The film releasing this week, Barfi, directed by Anurag Basu is about a cheerful deaf mute man, played by Ranbir Kapoor. Bollywood films rarely tackle disability with any degree of accuracy or compassion; so many films invariably end up making fun of any kind of handicap. Look at the way Tusshar Kapoor’s mute act is used at a comic gag in Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal films. Priyanka Chopra is reportedly playing a mentally imbalanced girl in the same film, and hopefully not being made to play the gibbering paagal of Hindi film stereotype.
The deaf-mute character brings to mind, Gulzar’s Koshish, made with a master’s touch, with utmost sympathy for the characters and yet not turning them into helpess victims. Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri Bachchan playing a deaf mute couple, who raise a normal child. The scene in which the lose their first born, who crawls out of the house, without their hearing him, was heart-rending, and the help they get from a blind uncle in the care of the second child, was very touching.
Theirs was a story of love, struggle and hope to live with dignity in a society not tuned in to the needs of the differently abled. When their son refuses to marry a deaf-mute girl, the anguish that pours out of the father (Sanjeev Kumar won a National Award for his performance) leaves the viewer stunned. This kind of film comes once in a life time.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali told the story of the daughter (Manisha Koirala) of a deaf-mute couple (Nana Patekar-Seema Biswas) with some high-powered melodrama, which is his style—it is still considered his best film.
Where the portrayal of the mentally disabled it concerned, Sridevi’s cute shrillness in Sadma is emulated by actresses till date. Kangna Ranaut in Woh Lamhe, and Konkona SenSharma in 15 Park Avenue have played schizophrenics with a very different approach to their characters. In recent times, the one who played an autistic character convincingly was Shah Rukh Khan in My Name Is Khan. Memories of film madmen, immediately bring to mind Shammi Kapoor in Pagla Kahin Ka, the melancholic Rajesh Khanna in Khamoshi, Sanjeev Kumar in Khilona, Anil Kapoor’s retarded gentleman and Salman Khan in Kyon Ki.
Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka are both good, hardworking actors, and they might just add to the list of memorable film characters—let’s hope Barfi gives them a chance.