‘Barfi!’. An exceedingly positive film. Granted. Spectacular performances by the cast. Accepted. Foot-tapping, soul-stirring numbers. Impressive. Plagiarised content. Silence.
Anurag Basu’s recently-released film, ‘Barfi!’, has swept many off their feet with the flawless acting of its leads and the straightforward innocence of its storyline. This 2012 release, shot in the beautiful, picturesque mountains of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal and the foothills of the Himalayas in that part of the country sure calls for heaps of praise. The spirit and the essence of the northern part of Bengal have been done a considerable amount of justice to. There are hardly any doubts about that. But what has struck the most is that heinous crime called plagiarism.
As recently as a week back, ‘Barfi!’ was selected to compete under the Foreign Film Category at the Oscars next year. The move, decided by a jury comprising of 22 members, was one that gave rise to a plethora of emotions in people. While many welcomed the decision, several others – who were perhaps aware of the repercussions of that decision – were aghast at the choice. The film, after all, will be one that is to represent the country and its 100-year-old film industry in the international market. And to send a film that is dodging the many poison-darts of charges of plagiarism is sure sending waves of dissent across various quarters.
Not finding the incessant pot shots of criticism waning any bit, the director resorted to the defence mechanism best suited for such a situation – he called his work “inspired” from other, more famous works, travelling to the extent of saying that his ‘Barfi!’ is actually a tribute to Charlie Chaplin. This “inspiration”, for the sake of information, is the 1917 Charlie Chaplin classic ‘The Adventurer’. Anurag Basu steers nowhere near the other obvious, copied scenes. The Rowan Atkinson-starrer movie, ‘Mr. Bean’s Holiday’, too, is one that has magically “inspired” ‘Barfi!’, but without finding any mention in the director’s self-defence. The 2004 film ‘The Notebook’, is another case in point. The filmmaker, however, doesn’t mention that as an inspiration. Sigh.
Anurag Basu, despite tall claims of being ‘original’ and defending himself against charges of plagiarism branding it as “inspiration”, needs to wake up. And so do many others. They need to either stop blatantly picking up other people’s works and calling them their own, or come to terms with that deafening word called ‘plagiarism’. Period.
‘Barfi!’ has been praised to the heavens by people for the sheer brilliance of the story and the unblemished performance of its cast. The film dispels many of the preconceived notions about physically challenged people as being pitiable or worth sympathy in any manner whatsoever, and it could really have carved a niche for itself in the echelons of world film history – perhaps if Anurag Basu would have paid a little more attention to the details. In his bildungsroman of a deaf and mute <i>matwala</i> Murphy/Barfi and an autistic Jhilmil, Basu falls prey to the exact same notion that he sets out to wipe away – one of assumption.
The director, in some insentient whim, might have assumed that his audience – or the ‘commoners’, as Shakespeare would have called them – are not as ‘film-educated’ as he is. Hence, he commits this grave mistake of copying scenes – in entirety – literally, picking them up and placing them in ‘Barfi!’ without paying any heed whatsoever to what the act would entail.
Cut to the jury members. They were heard defending their choice by saying that ‘Barfi!’ was the best of the lot sent to them for their approval. The ‘lot’, incidentally, includes films like ‘Kahaani’, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur I-II’, ‘The Dirty Picture’, ‘Gattu’ and the like. Obviously, the much learned and film-experienced jury had nothing to choose from the ‘lot’.
The fact that such a beautiful film as ‘Barfi!’ is one that is so deeply embedded in plagiarism was devastating enough. And then nominating it for the Oscars increases that manifold. India has produced many other, entirely ‘original’ pieces of work this year too. The question that would undoubtedly appear on every sensible person’s mind is the validity of the decision to send ‘Barfi!’ to the Oscars. The category we are competing for there at that platform is not of the Most Originally Plagiarised Film. That is another realm altogether; as of now, not felicitated at the Oscars.