Too much of a sweet thing can kill at times and that’s what Anurag Basu’s Barfi (2012) has become to symbolize. Praised for its poignant portrayal and sweet emotional moments, Barfi was loved by most till it was selected as the official Indian entry for the Oscars. Since then every new day reveals a film or a scenes from various films from across nations and generations that seem to have ‘inspired’ Barfi. The whole idea of a film representing a country at the Academy Awards is that it should display something unique about the nation of its origin.
Consider last year’s winner A Separation and you just can’t disassociate Iran from the fabric of the film. Now, Barfi might symbolize something Indian depending on how you view it but what about the liberal doses of inspiration from someone as obvious as Chaplin to something as obscure as an unheard by many Korean film? When looked deeply Barfi has instances that were simply lifted from Takeshi Kitano’s Kikujiro (1999), Benny & Joon (1993), the Korean film Oasis (2002), Chaplin's City Lights (1931), Mr Bean's Holiday (2007), Jackie Chan's Project A (1983), Buster Keaton's Cops (1922), The Notebook (2004), Mr Nobody (2009), Black Cat, White Cat (1988), The Goonies (1985) and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) to name a few. There is a very fine line that divides plagiarism and inspiration. Quentin Tarantino has in the past incorporated sequences from his favorite films directly into the ones he’s made and he happily considers himself to be a thief. Tarantino believes that “Great artists steal; they don't do homages” but to reimagine moments from a million films for the one that you are presently making is perhaps stretching it a little too far. But Basu plagiarism or inspiration isn’t the real thing to notice here for his has always been a cinema of inspiration (more about that in a bit).
No. The bigger thing to worry about is the selection committee that picked it over something like a Paan Singh Tomar (2012). Tigmanshu Dhulia’s biopic is a film that is something uniquely Indian with a global attitude as far as cinema is concerned. Agreed that the whole hullabaloo about Barfi being as plagiarized as photocopied document is relevant only till the nominations are announced and that perhaps Paan Singh Tomar might not make the cut as well, at least the damn film is an original! Basu’s previous films Murder (2004) and Life in a Metro (2007) had complete plots lifted from Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful (2002) and Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). When asked about the Sharman Joshi-Kangana Ranaut-KK segment from Life in a Metro being too Wilderesque, Basu simply raised his hand and said that it was his homage to one of his favorite films.
This time around, too, he banally argues that if Devdas could inspire Dev. D (2009) then why couldn’t Chaplin enthuse Barfi? This argument is so silly when you consider that Anurag Kashyap was very clear about Dev. D being a modern adaptation of Devdas, which could be the book or the two previous cinematic adaptations. There have been instances in the past like Brain De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987) where the iconic Odessa Steps massacre from The Battleship Potemkin (1925) served as a straight inspiration for the famous pram rolling down the Chicago Union Station staircase but The Untouchables gave due credit and in any case it was just one sequence. To send Barfi as a contender for the most popular honor in the world for films and expect that it’s dial-an-inspiration method of filmmaking wouldn’t show India in bad light is being foolish. This act suggests that as always originality isn’t something that the world’s biggest film-producing nation respects.
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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