Plagiarism,favouritism,lobbyism the debate around Barfi! being Indias official entry to the Oscars continues
The Dalits of Punjab,gang wars in the heartland of India,a rebels true run,a bees revenge,a womans wrath,effect of globalisation on Indias small towns,an old man on an isolated island these are some of the exceptional stories,characters and situations that represent India in films such as Anhey Ghorey Da Daan,Gangs of Wasseypur,Paan Singh Tomar,Eega,The Dirty Picture,Kahaani,Deool,Vazhakku Enn 18/9 and Akasathinte Niram.
This year,the Oscars Selection Committee under the Film Federation of India (FFI) had the task of choosing one of the above as Indias official entry to the 85th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film category. They chose Barfi! instead,interestingly taking its producer,UTVs tally to four films selected for Oscars in just seven years. Others were Rang De Basanti (2006),Harishchandrachi Factory (2009) and Peepli Live (2010).
Barfi! was endearing and joyful. It collectively had all the elements, reasons Assamese filmmaker Manju Borah,who headed the committee. Apparently,too dark,stark or real subjects didnt touch the jurys heart. But Barfi! with its differently abled characters,love story and Chaplin-esque humour did. But can it match up to the charm of Roberto Benignis Oscar winning film,Life is Beautiful? There are doubts,because ever since FFI made the announcement,the entire country is caught up in a debate. Also,why was Barfi! chosen when the list had critically acclaimed films to choose from,and when reports of the film being copied abound? The website Tanqeed.com uploaded scenes from The Notebook,The Goonies,Charlie Chaplins City Lights,Buster Keatons Cops and Jackie Chans Project A to prove the point.
Director Anurag Basu waved it off as inspiration. But plagiarism is not inspiration, corrects award-winning filmmaker Bhavna Talwar,whose film Dharm was overshadowed by the selection of Eklavya to the Oscars in 2007. Just like other films such as Udaan,Chak De! India,Mangal Pandey:The Rising,Black,Iqbal,Agnivarsha,The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi were given a miss over the years by FFI.
The selection of Barfi! has opened a can of worms and Talwar questions the working of FFI,one of the largest bodies of filmmakers authorised to select one film for Oscars Best Foreign Language Film Award every year. For the same,Oscars Selection Committee is formed,with 11 jury members from the world of cinema, says FFIs president,Vinod K Lamba.
As per the rules,one has to dish out Rs 50,000 as application fee and make sure the film is released. For instance,this year,the time limit was between October 1,2011 and September 30,2012. The submission has to be done by October 1,2012 and the film has to have a 100 per cent Indian producer and content. Borah agrees it is an expensive process,and regional films suffer because of financial handicap and a lack of awareness and information. Also,a producer needs to have confidence in his film to be sent for selection,something which Shoojit Sircar is agitated about. Vicky Donor was one of this years most original stories and was not even considered by Eros,its producers,to be sent for the jurys consideration. A lot of regional work has been overlooked because of the callousness of the producers and many good films bite the dust, says Sircar.
Saheb,Biwi Aur Gangsters producer Rahul Mitra feels there are vested interests in choosing Barfi!. The debate here boils down to lobbyism and to how much money the film made. Barfi! is a well-made film,but sending it for the Oscars is making a fool of ourselves,like we do every year. The Academy wants to see a film that has created a new world for audiences, he reasons.
The director of Anhey Ghorey Da Daan,Gurvinder Singh,is upset that India being the worlds largest film producing country still cant send the right film for Oscars. Since 1957,only three films out of the 44 sent from India under in the foreign film category have been nominated Mother India,Salaam Bombay and Lagaan. The strength of these films was their rootedness. Gangs of Wasseypur was brilliant,so were Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar. Look at the language of visuals in these films the depth,the layers,presentation. This is something Barfi! lacks. There is nothing indigenous about the film, says Ajit Rai,film festival organiser and film critic.
Once chosen,the film is selected democratically,insists Borah. As for the copying allegations,Borah is confident that it will not reduce Barfi!s chances as it is inspired. Each time a film is selected,there is a controversy. It will die if Barfi! gets nominated and wins, she hopes.