Priyanka Chopra has played countless glamourous roles in her almost 20-year-long Bollywood career but the role of an autistic girl, Jhilmil, in Anurag Basu’s Barfi remains one of her most admired characters. In an old interview, the actor said that she could see the film slipping out of her hands when director Anurag first came to narrate the script to her. He didn’t feel convinced about his choice after he saw her in a glamourous avatar and felt that he should look for someone else.
Priyanka had asked Anurag to give her five days and do a workshop with her to see if she could actually play the role of an autistic girl. Despite not having any dialogues, Priyanka and co-star Ranbir Kapoor pulled it off like pros once they settled into their characters.
In an interview to film critic Anupama Chopra for Film Companion, Priyanka had revealed that when Anurag came to meet her at her house and saw her in a glamourous avatar as she had just returned from an event, he said, “I don’t know if this can happen, I think I’ll go. I think I made a mistake. I think I should cast a real autistic girl only. This is a stupid idea. How can I expect Priyanka Chopra to do this, look at you.” He said that he wanted someone who was very innocent and believable.
The actor then convinced him to give her five days and do a workshop to figure out if they could do it at all. “We did a four-day workshop. I spent a lot of time with autistic children, did a lot of research and reading. There is such a range of autism, we had no reference for Jhilmil. First, we decided the pyjamas because autistic people are like kids.” She said they had to create the scenes from scratch as they didn’t have any lines and it was completely impromptu.
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“This is bizarre to me how Barfi got made. I don’t even know,” she said while talking about how they created a forehead touching scene to show a connection between Jhilmil and Barfi. Priyanka said it was her idea as any other couple would have kissed to show love for each other but autistic people don’t like physical proximity. She added that after the first two days of shoot, ‘it was just flying’ for her and Ranbir, as they got into the groove.
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