'Barfi!': Sweet victory or bitter truth behind Oscar entry?

The Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra-starrer has Bollywood fans in a tizzy as Twitter and Facebook erupts in plagiarism claims from Charlie Chaplin classics and other Hollywood fare

Sweet tidings were not fated for India’s official entry to the Oscars this year as “Barfi’s!” seemingly benign selection has turned into a controversial plagiarism row that has resulted in unprecedented media backlash and heated social media chatter amongst critics.

The Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra starrer, which has crossed Bollywood’s coveted Rs1 billion mark in box office earnings according to trade pundit Taran Adarsh, has seen director Anurag Basu accused of lifting as many as 12 scenes directly from several Hollywood classics and a few international films.

A YouTube video has also found itself in circulation, with a scene by scene dissection of “Barfi!”and its comparison to classics that include several Charlie Chaplin films, which are aped in the Kapoor-starrer including the ladder swinging sequence that is seen in the 1922 film “Cops”.

Another controversial scene is one that sees Kapoor attempting to rob a bank, where he ends up playing hide-and-seek with a cop; the play of events bear a resemblance to Chaplin’s 1917 film, “The Adventurer”.

Even the award-winning Gene Kelly-starrer, “Singin’ In The Rain” is not spared, with two scenes, including the one where Kapoor gets his nose bent and the dance with stuffed dummy are moments that Donald O’Connor’s on-screen Cosmo Brown immortalised on screen.

A few scenes from the Ryan Gosling-starrer “The Notebook” also bear an uncanny resemblance to moments in “Barfi!”, while, a scene that sees Kapoor using the open-air facilities in the fields is similar to one in the Korean classic, “Lover’s Concerto.”

Social chatter

Twitter chatter has ranged from simple criticism to stark outrage, with tweets such as one by Mr Tippler who said: “Oscars committee might recommend that Barfi should be preserved as a perfect example of 'Plagiarism in Cinema'... for educational purposes.”

Dr Raminder Jit Singh said: “Barfi is sweet but this one is bitter with scenes copied from international classics.”

Rushabh Doshi wrote: “Lost all respect for Barfi. My friend just showed me all original scenes - all copied frame to frame.”

Meanwhile, the quote a minute actor, Kamaal R Khan said: “If Barfi will win a single Oscar award then I shall walk from my office to Ekta Kapoor’s office without cloths. It's my promise.”

Others are also incensed that more noteworthy films that had ‘original’ scripts such as “Kahaani”, “Gangs of Wasseypur” and “Paan Singh Tomar” did not make the cut.

Joy Das said: “Glad Barfi and not Paan Singh Tomar was nominated for the Oscars. The latter is too good a movie to be insulted by nominating and then not getting award.”

Is it plagiarism?

In an interview with Hindustan Times, India’s Oscars committee chairperson Manju Borah has defended the selection and the plagiarism controversy that has seen film director Basu bear the brunt of the backlash, saying: “The maker didn’t conceal that from the audience.

“In the beginning, it says it’s inspired by Chaplin. Ranbir’s mannerism is Chaplinesque. But what you take away is purely “Barfi!”.”

He goes on to say the film was selected “because of its treatment and freshness. It leaves you happy and hopeful. There’s no moment of sorrow. And every Oscar movie is about hope and happiness.”

When Emirates 24|7 contacted producers UTV Motion Pictures, they declined to comment on the controversy, but simply stated: “We are thrilled with the audience response to the film and its superlative box office performance, and the Oscar entry from India is the icing on the cake.

“We are happy to have been selected and hope to do our country proud.”

Borah added: “Had we selected any other film, we would have got the same response. I’m not bothered.”

In the recent past, the Aamir Khan produced “Peepli Live”, which was selected as India’s official Oscar entry in 2010, also found itself bearing the brunt of a similar controversy, when Hollywood actor John Travolta went on record saying the same.

He was quoted in the media as saying: “I am astonished to learn that India's official entry for the Oscars, ‘Peepli Live', was inspired by ‘Mad City', my best film as an actor. Please convey my heartfelt compliments to director, Joydeep Ghosh for his excellent sense of cinema.”

Fan Krishna Shorewala‏ seemed to simply not trust the Oscars committee, saying: “I don't think Barfi! was a great choice for the Oscars. But the committee has a lot more to account for in choices like Jeans and Paheli.”

In the past decade, the Indian Oscars committee has received a lot of flak for lending weight to commercial cinema over regional fare, with films such as the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer “Paheli”, along with Aamir Khan’s “Rang De Basanti” and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “Eklavya”, which had bombed at the Indian box office.

This year’s selection of the commercial “Barfi!” has also promoted veteran Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh to tweet: “I haven't seen “Barfi!, so I cannot comment on its suitability or unsuitability for the Oscars. What I'd like to point out is that all Indian Oscar nominations have come from Bollywood, barring a few 'politically perforced' Marathi films. Why this discrimination?"

While the debate continues, the controversy surrounding “Barfi!” has actually helped the film’s box office run, say insiders, adding that even bad news can work wonders for a film today.

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