'Barfi! is my favourite sweet,' I wrote on my Facebook page the evening I watched Barfi! in the theatre. For someone who does not prefer sugary things - be it food, emotions or films - Barfi! seemed to be the incredible exception; saccharine sweet, yet lovable. Until it became apparent that chunks of it were plagiarised from The Adventurer and City Lights featuring Charlie Chaplin, The Notebook, Singin' in the Rain, Cops, Amelie (musical score), our very own Koshish and even a Korean film. The barfi has crumbled.
I am sure, like me, many of you would have laughed your hearts out while watching on screen the antics of Barfi, the hearing- and speech-impaired character played by Ranbir Kapoor. Only to feel cheated later as these madcap acts were lifted from multiple movies.
I don't blame Ranbir. He was only translating into action - and exceptionally well, I would still like to add - what his director Anurag Basu had conceptualised. Those who have watched Rockstar would know what a fine actor he is. And despite the flak that Barfi! has drawn, he is likely to win the Best Actor honours. I do, however, wish his career-best performance had come in an original film.
The shocker is the Film Federation of India (FFI) selecting Barfi! as India's Oscar entry in the foreign language film category. Even after it has been proven - courtesy reports in newspapers and videos on the Net playing the "original" and "copied" versions (go to tanqeed.com) - the FFI jury does not want to reconsider its decision.
Is the FFI blind? Or does it think that the Academy of Motion Pictures jury, which decides the final nominations, will not be smart enough to spot Barfi!'s similarities with earlier films? The FFI seems to think we live in a world where secrets can still be kept. Obviously, it has no knowledge of the internet.
The unofficial reason for Barfi!'s selection is that it is a Bollywood film. It was chosen ahead of Paan Singh Tomar, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani, Deool (Marathi), Eega (Telugu), Vazhakku Enn 18/9 (Tamil) and Akasathinte Niram (Malayalam). Bollywood seems to enjoy such fan following and clout among FFI members that it numbs their senses and judgement. They probably think that a Bollywood film, because of its frills and exhibitionism, has a greater chance of making it to the final list of nominations rather than one in any other Indian language.
The truth is the Academy jury is truly - and for the better - myopic, when judging a foreign language film. It won't distinguish between a Bollywood film (in Hindi) and one in any other Indian language.
What matters to the jury is whether the film is intrinsic to the country it comes from - in its plot, context, characters and sensibilities. In that there is nothing Indian about Barfi!; it could have been made anywhere in the world. All it has are slick production values, Indian names in its cast and credits, and great performances by Ranbir and Ileana D'Cruz. Those, unfortunately, are not quite enough to get an Oscar nomination, as our dismal record over the years shows.
One may debate the benchmark of Oscar-nominated films, and yes, that can be debated. But if we are participating in the foreign language film race year after year and returning empty-handed each time, isn't it time we learnt what the organisers are looking for in the contenders? If only the FFI would understand.