Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi : influences of actor Takeshi Kaneshiro

The performance of actor Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi is a widely discussed one. Barfi came out in 2012 and it was not long before it witnessed immense success in India. It also gained popularity abroad. While Anurag Basu, the director, did not fail to conjure a heartfelt story of romance, he was slammed for plagiarism. Many viewers accused Barfi of having scenes directly derived from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton movies.

The movie, otherwise, consists of near-perfect representations of disabled people. In contrary to the negligible presence of disabled people in many other Bollywood movies, Barfi builds itself through the very lives of disabled characters themselves. The movie, by focusing its attention on the disabled protagonists Barfi and Jhilmil, accomplishes success in showing the various shades of such characters. Turning the limelight wholly onto such characters and their lives, Barfi attempts to bring out the inner side of its disabled characters onto the screen.

However, it does not do so without obvious influences from movies that already portray disabled people. In this article, we will study some of Barfi’s notable aspects inspired from the 1995 film, Fallen Angels. Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, it was the actor Takeshi Kaneshiro‘s character, He Zhiwu, that became an apparent inspiration for the 2012 blockbuster.

From top to bottom, Barfi and He Zhiwu  (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels) Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi
From top to bottom, Barfi and He Zhiwu (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

A beginning: Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi

Ranbir Kapoor undoubtedly reserved his position as a remarkable actor through his character Barfi in the 2012 film. Following his moments of old age at Darjeeling, Barfi takes us to a police chase. This was the viewer’s initial introduction to Barfi, as he was stored in the memories of people who knew him. In Fallen Angels, too, our initial encounter with He Zhiwu happened during his escape from cops. While hiding, he described himself as a former prisoner, hinting at regular events of such cop-chases. On the other hand, a now-retired constable confirmed Barfi’s own entanglement in cop-chases.

The cop-chase scene of Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi
The cop-chase scene (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

Such was a definitive move on part of Barfi in establishing the story of the mute protagonist, without any reliance on his own voice. This is the stark difference underlying both films. While He Zhiwu often engaged in monologues, Barfi engaged in none. The viewer hears the former through his soliloquies, emerging from the mute character’s mind. In the latter’s case, songs, friends and acquaintances spoke about Barfi, and the latter was never heard himself.

Apart from being the filmmaker’s signature trait, Fallen Angels also probably relies on monologues due to its apparent focus on more than one character. On the other hand, Barfi established its plot with a dominant limelight on Barfi. The chase itself can be an instance. In comparison to Fallen Angels, Barfi builds upon the cop-chase scene through an extended screen time. Moreover, while the different plots in the former(one with He Zhiwu and another without him) rarely intertwine, the latter revolves around Barfi at the very center.

Barfi, thus, often masterfully builds itself through references from Fallen Angels. A reference, for instance, is picked up and extended.

Expressions and gestures of Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi

Exaggerated bodily movements of Barfi and He Zhiwu
Exaggerated bodily movements of Barfi and He Zhiwu (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

The most notable of such references are the very similarities in appearance of both the characters. Often dressed in loose clothes that enable flexibility, both Barfi and He Zhiwu showed exaggerated body movements. Such dramatic movements become a medium of expression, alongside an occasional confused expression that adorned the faces of both.

The confused expression adorning the faces of Barfi and He Zhiwu
The confused expression adorning the faces of Barfi and He Zhiwu (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

However, knowing how to smile at adversity, their smirk often lightened the mood of the various accidental encounters of both. Also highly misunderstood, their dramatic movements in the abscene of voice aided in emphasizing their message for others.

The smirk of self-confidence even in times of adversity Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi
The smirk of self-confidence even in times of adversity (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

A playful nature is common to both. He Zhiwu called himself an optimist whereas Barfi appeared as one. Their jolly mood also impacted their actions of striking resemblance. Often reminding one of He Zhiwu, his dance-like movements are taken and elevated, sometimes leading to actual song and dance, in Barfi.

The playfulness characteristic of Barfi and He Zhiwu
The playfulness characteristic of Barfi and He Zhiwu (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

However, Barfi often makes a detour from Fallen Angels. For instance, the desperate hand movements of He Zhiwu often becomes an extended act of miming through Barfi. The cultural context, too, plays an essential role in this detour. The Chhauu mask, among other instances, enables Barfi to embrace an appearance different from that of his counterpart, mitigating any recognizable influences. Although not completely detached from He Zhiwu, Barfi shows mastery of the filmmaker in masking apparent influences. Attires, scenes of wedding and funeral root the personality traits of He Zhiwu in a familiar Indian context, through Barfi.

Father-son relationship

He Zhiwu narrated the death of his father only in passing, whereas Barfi built itself through this notable event. Although occurring in a similar manner with the father falling sick one evening and rushed to the hospital, as in Fallen Angels, the sickness of Barfi’s father itself triggered a set of events. His death soon after much struggle to acquire money, is also a dramatic expansion on the death of an essential member.

Common to both, the father-son relationship is characteristic of a father often scolding around his disabled, yet a son uncompromising on their playful nature.

The scolding that the disabled protagonists received from their fathers
The scolding that the disabled protagonists received from their fathers (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

While He Zhiwu’s father often remained silent, Barfi’s failed to communicate due to his son’s deafness. This probably reduced the latter’s case of communication to frequent silences, too, excepting the usage of some sign language. However, both movies confirm the intimacy of this relationship through certain instances.

Both the fathers also happen to be the only surviving parent of the respective protagonists. Both movies have the scoldings of father veiling a core of affection underneath them. Such affection is also resultant on the part of the disabled sons, who saw their fathers as pillars of support. He Zhiwu’s words concerning gaining of maturity following his father’s death finds an echo in Barfi through the moments of the father’s funeral.

The intimacy shared by father and son
The intimacy shared by father and son (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

Of love: Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi V.S. Takeshi Kaneshiro in Fallen Angels

The roses and thorns of love affairs of Barfi and He Zhiwu
The roses and thorns of love affairs of Barfi and He Zhiwu (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

If love is a common ground in both the movies, it also differs in many aspects. The trance-inducing vibrant Hong Kong nighttime in Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels is a setting for a desperate and dark aspect of love. He Zhiwu is a third protagonist alongside the two gang members sharing a love affair. The love affairs of He Zhiwu, however, contradicts this aspect with their inclination towards a humbler, optimistic side. However, by no means an elevated angel, the playful He Zhiwu often gave into fits of passion and displayed human flaws.

Barfi poses a different stance through its mute protagonist’s playfulness. His acquaintances described Barfi as a messiah of love, who “used to spread love wherever he went.” The playfulness of Barfi often came as exaggerations of an innocent soul. Even if he looted a bank, he did so out of compassion for his disabled friend.

Sighting the beloved by Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi
Sighting the beloved (Screenshots from Barfi and Fallen Angels)

With its vibrant setting of both rural and urban India, Barfi tells a tale of near-perfect love of two disabled people, highly misunderstood. Their ideal relationship, even leading to a shared death in the end, is the highlight of Barfi. Its romantic aspect, moreover, enhanced through songs, often of love, is typical to Bollywood. Although with its aspects of heightened giddiness, Barfi successfully narrates a disabled person’s attempts to spread love, despite his various struggles. No one could have been as innocently virtuous as Barfi and his approaching death would only rob a disabled yet unchained soul from the world. The lines of Hemmingway come to mind:

“A man can be destroyed, but not defeated”

Santiago, The Old Man and the Sea


In no way, however, this article wishes to categorize Barfi as an imitation of Fallen Angels. It only aims to shed light on certain interpretations based on noticeable resemblances to the eyes of a viewer. A viewer is no doubt much too inferior to a filmmaker. Moreover, it would only be an adherence to honesty to assert Barfi as a masterpiece. Although taking its references from Fallen Angels and probably other movies as well, the film perfectly blends such references with its storyline like fine wine.

As someone born and brought up in India, I myself found Barfi relatable due to its various settings and the specific way of unraveling the events. Characteristic of family dramas, embarrassment and awareness regarding mental health issues, and exaggerated forms of love and also its repression in cultural contexts, Barfi appears comparatively more familiar to me than Fallen Angels. Moreover, the performances of actors Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra do justice not only to the disabled characters themselves, but also manage in keeping their fairytale-like love-chemistry grounded to some reality. Even if mostly attracting a sympathetic appeal and attention due to a deaf and mute protagonist, Barfi is a fine example of representation of the disabled. It differs from previous portrayals of disabled people as additional or uninteresting characters, in Bollywood.

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