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India's Oscars entry “Barfi!” draws copycat flak

Published Sep 28, 2012 04:44pm


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One of the clearest sources of inspiration is Charlie Chaplin: one scene shows Barfi dodging a policeman through a sliding door, just as the king of silent film did in 1917's “The Adventurer”. – Courtesy photo.

MUMBAI: India's entry for best foreign language film at next year's Oscars has become the latest Bollywood movie to draw flak for allegedly plagiarising foreign hits in a 'mash-up' of ripped-off scenes.

“Barfi!” has won over critics and cinema-goers for its portrayal of a love triangle between a deaf man named Barfi and two women, one of whom is autistic -- not typical subject matter in the prolific Hindi-language film industry.

But since its release two weeks ago, several videos have spread through YouTube and social media sites highlighting a number of scenes that appear to draw heavily from international classics.

Film buffs spotted stark resemblances with clips from Gene Kelly's hit “Singin' in the Rain” (1952), Jackie Chan's “Project A” (1983), Buster Keaton's “Cops” (1922) and “The Notebook” (2004) starring Ryan Gosling among others.

The plot has been likened to “Benny & Joon”, the 1993 film starring Johnny Depp, while the soundtrack has drawn further comparisons with the musical score from “Amelie”, the 2001 hit starring Audrey Tautou.

One of the clearest sources of inspiration is Charlie Chaplin: one scene shows Barfi dodging a policeman through a sliding door, just as the king of silent film did in 1917's “The Adventurer”.

“Barfi!” director Anurag Basu has hit back at critics, saying the film is intentionally paying homage to Chaplin in a similar way to “The Artist”, the black-and-white silent film that won Best Picture at this year's Oscars.

“If I would have changed the shot, twisted things around and made it my own it would have been stealing,” Basu told the Indian TV show Headlines Today.

“I did shot-to-shot because they are famous iconic shots and scenes from famous masterpieces, every filmmaker knows them.” Bollywood has come under fire before for remaking Hollywood flicks in the Hindi language, but “Barfi!” is under particular scrutiny because the movie-mad country is yet to win an Oscar in the foreign film category.

“So why would an Oscar jury pick a movie that reminds them of the very many movies they've seen before -- and which include films that are now Hollywood legend?” asked online magazine Firstpost.

In one of several earlier Bollywood copycat rows, US studio 20th Century Fox submitted a $1.4-million claim in 2009 against BR Films over “Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai”, alleging it was an illegal remake of “My Cousin Vinny”. The case was settled out of court.

Image consultant Dilip Cherian worried that entering “Barfi!” into the Oscars could cause embarrassment for India in the long-run.

“The fact is that critics will start wondering at which stage does plagiarism end in Indian movies and at what stage is it inspiration,” he told Headlines Today.

Only three Indians films have been shortlisted in the foreign film category at the Oscars: “Mother India” in 1958, “Salaam Bombay!” (Hello Bombay!) in 1989, and “Lagaan” (Land Tax) in 2002.

Manju Borah, who chairs India's selection committee, defended the latest choice.

“We selected 'Barfi!' because of its treatment and freshness,” she told the Hindustan Times. “In any case, every filmmaker is inspired by some cinema.” Film critic and curator Meenakshi Shedde said an “affectionate tribute” to world cinema, such as “Barfi!”, was not the same as stealing someone's ideas -- but she doubted for other reasons whether the film was the best selection.

“The criteria the Oscars look for is something uniquely Indian. Something that offers insights into the culture or society,” Shedde told AFP.


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Comments (14) Closed

Akhand Bharat Sep 30, 2012 03:51am
People have habit of labeling us as copycats. We received the same response when we made American Idol (read Indian Idol), Britain Got Talent (Read India Got Talent), and neither last nor the least our 'never conceived before show' India's Minute to Win It, which people confuse with the not so famous American show Minute to Win It aired on NBC from 2010-11. Soon we are going to start "Indian Oscar"- Now Take That People.
zubair Sep 29, 2012 12:41pm
Shameless and talentless Bollycats. Paki media are the only fools who actually cover them.
Muhammad Omer Sep 29, 2012 11:35pm
even 3 idiots has a lot of copied scenes, but indian film makers have mastered the art of plagiarism. maybe original ideas dont sell in india. i always liked the movie "welcome to sajjanpur" as it was original and showed the actual india. but it never became famous. shreyas talpade is a really good actor but still not as famous as ranbir, salman, saif.
Sy3d Sep 29, 2012 02:22pm
I don't understand why indian directors gives in to the influence from hollywood, bollywood is established now, it does not need any "copying" yet it seems like they can't help it, if it's not movie then the music, one way or the other they do it every now and then, bollywood is a "brand" itself and it should be inspiration rather than the other way around.
sohaib Sep 29, 2012 03:09pm
If they really wanted to compliment the world cinema and Charlie Chaplin, they could have put that in their credits. They dont and when they are caught, they backtrack and tell everyone such stories. Bollywood copying Hollywood isn't new. There have been styles copied from Raj Kapoor's times. Even whole stories have been picked up from Hollywood scripts with Indian soundtrack added. This has been going on forever. But somehow our gullible people get impressed and the simple reason we dont have any film industry let alone talking about originality!
Tamilslevan Sep 29, 2012 12:48pm
Most of the Bollywood movies are really copycats from the originals. Same with music too. Please pay some attention to regional movies produced in India be it in Tamil, Bengali or Malayalam. Bollywood is controlled by mafia like Dawood, Abu Saleem, (though it has come down a bit from Haji Mastan days). Most of the films produced by West will get a higher ranking when highlighting -ve aspects of India such as caste, religion, poverty, street living etc . Bollywood and Indian cinema have a long way to go. Now "Barfi" is a slap on the face of selection committee.
Rafiq Sep 30, 2012 12:49am
Pakistan won an oscar despite a non existant movie industry....Indians need to stop copying Hollywood and use their own imagination for a change.
MMKhan Sep 29, 2012 06:12pm
It requires some brain, taste, creativity and of course acting and directing skills to make it a good movie. The Indians lack pretty much all of them. All they make is some garbage variety shows.
siddharth Sep 29, 2012 07:18pm
its a feel good movie....refresing....scenes which were talking here, everybody knows they are from classics, director just keep them to remember the classics....the story line, acting is too good, which is the main reason one watches movies....its a very touching and wonderful movie....first one should watch, than comment
kamaljit Singh Sep 30, 2012 05:14am
Bollywood WAS with a brand of its own, no longer. That brand ended with Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Dalip Kumar , Nargis, Meena and their contemporaries of 50's,60's and up to late 70's with Amitabh and Rajesh . No more brand but poor copy of jerks and pelvic motions . There is neither any body to replace Mohd Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore or Mahinder Kapoor, Naushad, OP Nayyar or Khayyam and the list is long which ends with the end of these artists from the screen.
Scott Sep 30, 2012 04:03pm
most Hollywood movies are copies or similar to other Hollywood movies. It's hard to finance a movie that's original. It's too much of a financial risk, that's why there are so many "shoot em up" movies in the USA. Worst case scenerio you can at least recoup your money.
kashif Sep 30, 2012 05:32am
Agreed....Pakistani media is full of filler stuff
ahsan Sep 30, 2012 06:07am
is there any movie indians made without copying not just hollywood but all over the globe..not a single paki song is left uncopied. totally agree with zubair.
raj Sep 30, 2012 08:44am
not every indian south tamil and malayalam are making good "engeyum eppodum" a classic movies..deserves 100% more than barfi ...only bollywood sucks..mafia of kapoors and khans...nothing else..