Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Barfi! Barfi!

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Note 1: 'Barfi!' has been copied in the title of this post.

Note 2: Note 1: 'Barfi!' has been copied in the title of this post.
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I had a truly amazing cinematic experience when I watched 'Barfi!' last week. My facebook feed was filled with updates hailing the movie of the sheer brilliance and the joy this movie is. News came, 'Barfi!' is now officially this year's entry to the Oscars from India. Within a few days, the tides turned. People were now sharing clips of movies from which 'Barfi!' has been copied. Like this, this and this. People seem saddened and disappointed. Something they connected to, felt proud of, brought them joy, only to later discover that it is a copy! Oh, the blasphemy!

I understand.

Let's talk movies now, let's talk Oscars, let's talk about the disappointment, let's talk about our country now. Let's talk some sense.


First, 'Barfi!' is India's official entry to the Oscars this year (The complete year-wise list is available here). It has NOT already been nominated to the Oscars (and chances are, it won't be). There is going to be a ballot, first round of shortlisting, the list ultimately cut down to 5 movies, which will compete against one another for the Oscar for the 'Best Foreign Language Film 2012'.


Let's talk Oscars now. The Oscars are NOT an international awards. They are NOT the United Nations of movies. They are an American awards institution. To understand which movies will/will not win at the Oscars, we need to try to understand it from an American social-cultural point-of-view. It is difficult for us to understand that, because we are not Americans. It is for this reason that we find it so difficult to understand why 'Slumdog Millionaire' won 8 Oscars. Of course, Hollywood ships amongst the best movies in the world, so Oscars definitely is a good indicator of the quality of movies that win them. There is truly great cinema out there in the world which do not find any mention at the awards. Does that make those movies bad? All dogs are animals, but all animals are not dogs.

Do we need a stamp of approval from a body that is NOT Indian to make us appreciate what good cinema is, and what is not? We lack a good governing body for cinema awards in India. Of course there are the lack-luster National Awards, which is a pretty good indicator of good cinema in our country. Filmfare Awards could have been the Oscars of our country, but that is a lost cause now. 'India's entry to the Oscars', irrespective of how the movie performs at the Oscars itself, is a good recognition for a movie, because it is picked by an Indian governing body.


Let's talk movies now, and the "originality" of the great movies. Directors refer to old classics all the time. They sometimes acknowledge it, they sometimes don't.


The iconic opening text crawl in 'Star Wars' (winning multiple Oscars across the 6 movies) was directly "inspired" from Flash Gordon TV Series.

The classic 'The Lion King' (1994) (4 Oscar nominations) "heavily borrows" from 'Kimba: The White Lion' as analysed here.

The iconic scene in which Sonny Corleone is killed in a car in the classic 'The Godfather' (1972) (nominated for 11 Oscars, won 3.) is directly "inspired" from the final scene of 'Bonnie and Clyde' (1967) (nominated for 10 Oscars, won 2.)

'The Shining' (1980) has an iconic scene which has Jack Nicholson breaking his way through a door. It has been "inspired" from this scene in 'The Phantom Carriage' (1921).

The steps scene from 'The Untouchables' (1987) (nominated for 4 Oscars, winning 1) was inspired by this scene from 'Battleship Potemkin' (1925).

Tarantino's 'Reservoir Dogs' was "ripped-off" from 'City on Fire'.


...and then there are remakes.

Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' (1954) nominated for 2 Oscars, remade as, 'The Magnificent Seven' (1960) nominated for 1 Oscar.

'Män som hatar kvinnor' (2009), remade as, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2011), nominated for 5 Oscars, winning 1.

'La cage aux folles' (1978) nominated for 3 Oscars, remade as, 'The Birdcage' (1996), nominated for 1 Oscar.

'Infernal Affairs' (2002), remade by Martin Scorcese as 'The Departed' (2006), nominated for 5 Oscars, winning 4 Oscars.

'La bonne année' (1973), remade as, 'Happy New Year', nominated for 1 Oscar.

'Profumo di donna' (1974), nominated for 2 Oscars, remade starring Al Pacino as 'Scent of a woman' (1992), nominated for 4 Oscars, winning 1.

...and many, many more.

If movies weren't enough, let me also give you an example of actors being "inspired" for their characters. Heath Ledger's Joker is probably the most iconic super-villain ever played in a Batman movie. EVER. His brilliant performance in 'The Dark Knight' (2008) fetched him an Oscar. Check out this video of his fellow country-man Tom Waits from the 1970s:




I do not deny that 'Barfi!' has references to several great classics. Maybe even a scene-by-scene copy. But from classics! 'Singin' in the rain', 'City Lights', 'Life is beautiful' are AMAZING movies! Among the best I have ever watched! 'City Lights' is my most favorite movie in the romantic genre. That's the point! The director did not "copy" from the obscure movies, he did from the classics, which is why I am willing to give the film-makers the benefit of doubt. This would have been "caught". But does that make 'Barfi!' anything less than being good cinema? An emphatic NO. Few scenes are copied, yes, but the heart of the movie is true, original, and fresh.

I am a little disappointed, yes, but not to the extent of stupidity.

What is wrong with our country?! We went into the theater to watch good cinema. We experienced joy and happiness, we experienced good cinema. That feeling was real. Cherish it. The fact that we discovered a few scenes in a movie were "copied" from great cinema around the world, does that make anything we felt inside the theater any less real? Why is it suddenly a matter of national shame and disappointment? Cinema is a big deal for me. I like to talk about it. I love the experience it can offer. I speak to a lot of people around the world, and try to understand what their cinema is, and I tell them about the great cinema my country has to offer. 'Barfi!' is a movie about which I am going to tell people around the world. With pride, that my country produced this gem in film-making. I am going to share this with the world. And I know they would appreciate it. And so should you.

31 comments:

  1. Very nice article and deeply researched!

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  2. My feelings exactly!

    A very well researched and impressive article. Kudos!

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  3. There is only one fallacy to your argument. If making good copies is ok, then I guess Pritam should never be chided for what he does. He lifts good tunes and makes good songs out of them ... but they are copies nonetheless.
    Having said that, I liked Barfi, and I do no mind if it is copied or anything - as long as it's good cinema it's ok. The problem here is that apparently "most" of it is copied, and when you send it as the official nomination from the country, it just presents a sad state of our film industry (which maybe be bad, but we do not need to advertise it ourselves). Again, considering some of the travesty that we have sent in years gone by (read: Jeans), I would take up Barfi anyday. On the flipside, considering we had some good original stuff happening this year, the decision is only a bit naive.

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  4. @Ritwik: I agree. _Maybe_ Gangs of Wasseypur would have been a better choice (although, to a keen eye, it is apparent where that has been inspired from). But I do get your point, and I agree. The point I want to make here is, we do not need to obsess over the awards, and should not be so fickle about "good cinema".

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  6. Nice Article... Few points... U r being Diplomatic... U r saying "something is bad BUT it is not Bad too" .. All remade Oscar awarded movies are officially announced as remade before releasing the movie... Its like new DON movie remade of old one...
    BURFI! got lots of Copycat scenes .. Let me say it again .. SO many KEY scenes where u find the heart touching moments and those are stolen... In a BURFI dialogue "khusiya choti choti sizzoo may hoti hai -- by iileana" --- If those heart touching moments r stolen from other movies then how the movie feelings are original .. Sorry but it don't deserve to be in Oscar.. At least what reast of the world ll think .. Peace

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    1. Diplomatic?

      And yeah, don't worry, it's not going to be in Oscars, exactly because it doesn't deserve to be. :)

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  7. Completely agree to what you have said.But IMO, others ideas can be implemented but others implementation shouldn't be copied.For that matter 90% of hollywood muvies are adapted from novels, which is implementing ideas.

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    1. So, in your opinion, there should be no remakes?

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    2. No Remakes can be done , with proper crediting. For instance,The Magnificent Seven is an americanised version of seven samurai and i like both the films. Don't just lift a few parts of seven samurai and insert it into some other genre film , is what i am trying to say.

      And also anurag basu has this habit of lifting scenes exactly they were made.(one part of "Life in metro" is lifted from "The apartment").All muvie classics are public base classes to him. :P

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    3. Okay, I get it, and I agree. Not crediting *is* a HUGE problem, I completely agree.

      Now, I want to throw a few ideas. Let's forget Anurag Basu's habit. From a purely movie perspective, would it have made everything acceptable if it was shown that Ranbir Kapoor's character is big on watching movies (despite him being deaf), and there are a few scenes where we see him watching 'Singin' in the Rain' on a portable television, and then him re-enacting the scene later in the movie? Something like how it happened in 'Wall-E'. I think it would have really worked. Anyway.

      PS: I *got* "public base classes". Yay!

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  8. I liked your blog, I liked the research and I agree with your point that copying should not be the only criteria to judge a film. However as you are comparing hollywood classics with Barfi to make your point, there are few points I would like you to consider.

    1. Category of oscars: It is an important factor missing in this research. Example, The Lion King had won oscar in the music category. I would like to see where from the music was copied than the characters.

    2. USP of the film: A movie is considered to be a masterpiece or classic or worthy for certain reasons. It can be due to a brilliant story, action, screen play, direction, music, accurate/true/original depiction of some event/era/phenomenon etc. Or may be combination of several of these/other factors.

    3. Type of copy: If the whole scene is copied (which means concept is copied) and execution doesn't have any merit over the original scene (looser in this regard also) then it doesn't make sense to give any credit to the movie for that specific scene. we may still like the scene if we were unaware of the original content. However, if there is an improvement (in terms of execution) than the original one then it calls for due credit to the movie. Improvement can be on any aspect better acting, direction, screeplay, relevance to the story etc. A copy can earn accolade based on brilliant execution.

    4. Extent of goodness: There is a difference between a 90% good movie and a 10% good movie. You can still find positive/negative similarities but it doesn't mean anything more than that. Almost All students copy in exams but there are extremes: "copied once in his entire life" to "never did anything original" and there are all levels in between.
    So people can earn money by copying others but it doesn't make them a legend (better than others).

    5. Extent of copying: You copy one good scene is fine, copy two may also be fine,..... copy all good/sensible scenes may not be fine. I would have liked this article more had you put forward a single example of an oscar winning/nominated with several cases of copied content.

    As for Barfi, There were some good scenes and Priyanka Chopra did a great job. So emotional Indian people liked the movie. However, It is a very ordinary movie because

    It is full of bollywood cliches. I t is predictable. It has no objective (it covered issues such as romance/love triangle/women empowerment/police corruption/conspiracy/crime-investigation/poverty/disability). The story is very weak, highly dramatic, non realistic. The movie has several forced scenes. A weak acting of the protagonist. It is unnecessarily long. There are several under-developed chracters. ........

    I don't see a point to prefer such an ordinary movie with the likes of GOW, Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaani, The Dirty Picture etc.

    I find it Blasphemy! I find it Madness! But then This is (Emotional) India!

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I could reply to your comment point-by-point, but the resulting discussion would become a drag, so I'll avoid it. I'll just answer your question in point (5)

      Avatar (2009) (nominated for 9 Oscars, including 'Best Picture', winning 3), from 'Princess Monoke' (1997)

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    2. Avatar provided the best 3D experience till date (USP of the movie). Avatar is really dumb/average in terms of story/plot/character development/acting. It scores on princess mononoke in terms of execution. Remove the visual aspects and Avatar will bore you to death. Avatar promises you a great 3D experience and doesn't disappoint.

      Is there any such aspect of Barfi (USP)?

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    3. So now you know why I didn't want to reply to the whole comment. 'Best Picture' *Oscar* nomination for the best "3D experience"?! Are you kidding me?

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    4. Avatar had more influence from 'Dances with Wolves' more than anything else... otherwise to be honest Avatar is more entertaining experience than Princess Mononoke, at least for me....
      Secondly I would like to point out every year films are compared to their peer films only... and to be honest Avatar was 10 times better a movie than Hurt Locker..... so, I think that year's awards indicate very little about films qualities...

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  9. Interesting take on copying. 2 points - the originals should be given due credit to ensure the copied tag changes into an 'inspired' tag. That way no one feels cheated. And Barfi! is good cinema.. because we enjoyed while watching it.. very few movies can take that credit these days...

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  10. I can't agree more. I am fed up of explaining to people that Barfi is much more than some scenes copied from some very good movies.

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  11. I haven't seen 'Barfi!' yet, so I skipped that bit and read your take on copying in cinemas. (Tip: I recommend adding another link to 'Everything is a Remix'. They did a brilliant bit on Tarantino movies in a similar way, and your point on referencing the classics and the cult favourites stands out there.)

    Ritwik and you covered a chunk in your comments(damn! there went GoW and other cards), and yes, given that Indian cinema has been churning out good stuff consistently of late, I think sending 'Barfi!' might be too naive (but again, I haven't seen the flick yet).
    Having said that, I still don't think the Oscars should be a stamp we aspire to. You said the National Awards here are dull, but I feel that in the serious circles and even among us amateur viewers, we hold them in much high regard and am glad about that.

    About copying(finally!), there is a difference between paying homage to earlier works and ripping something off, which quite a few people don't seem to get. They might say that copying a plot is easy, but I think adding the flavour of an entirely different culture to a skeletal plot is commendable in its own right.

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  12. Pulkit...Today, 26/09/2012, 12 days after the release of the film, I am still to wath this movie. I heard lots of good things about the movie in the first week but for the last few days there was a noise of scenes being lifted from other movies. I am for sure going to watch this movie, not because it has come into a controversy now or for any wrong reason, I am going to watch this movie because of the excellent performance that Ranbir Kappor has given in the film and your post above has solidified my belief.

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  13. loved you analysis, feeling better. After getting to know that the scenes have been copied entirely, felt sad about Bollywood. But your article bought some respite. Thanks

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  14. Very nice article. The film should be judged based on concepts,story,emotions and at then end whether it has reached to people heart. BARFI did better than all other movies and deserve to be in OSCAR. Even few scenes are copied this will not have any impact as all the film makers and film faternity knows very well no film is original. There will be atleast few similarity with each film , bring on light- camera - sound.......

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  15. Good blog you have written there. I don't care about the Oscars but I do care about the originality.
    You are trying to justify a wrong action with the wrong action done by someone else!

    Let me ask you a question.
    Assume that you have a painting done by some great painter say, Vinci or MF Hussain.
    You look at the piece of art and feel proud and boast to your friends about it.
    Now if you were to find out that the painting is a copy of the original and not the actual painting.
    The differences indistinguishable to you or your family and friends.
    Of course its an excellent painting but will it hold the same value it used to hold when you did not know it to be a copy?

    In arts and everywhere in the world the originality is valued and must be valued.
    The copied or 'so called' inspired piece of arts should be graded below an original one.

    BTW please watch "Benny and Joon". You will see how the theme of happy go lucky boy getting involved with a mentally ill girl is not original.

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  16. VERY WELL WRITTEN....AND SENSIBLE TOO..i HOPE LOT OF PEOPLE WILL START THINKING THE WAY U DO ABOUT CINEMA BY READING THIS. THANKS

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    1. Haha, thanks for the load of crap from your ideal brain.
      PS: Get over percentages, man. And learn to type.

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  18. If it had just been the Chaplin, Keaton, Kelly and even Jackie Chan bits, I don't think anyone would have any problem accepting the similar scenes as 'tributes.' But what of the Notebook or the Korean films - are those considered 'classics'? It is these that cast a shadow over the honesty of the whole enterprise. See this side by side video here:
    barRIPOFFfi
    Then Anurag Basu defended himself by saying he was merely paying homage to Chaplin and Keaton. But as you can see in the clip barRIPOFFfi 2, he has also paid tribute to the third comedy genius of the 1920's, Harold Lloyd. Why did then Anurag Basu never mention his name? Or was he thinking this at least would never be caught?

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  19. I agree with you sir. The expressions and the body language of the actors so close as if they were shown those classics before the shoot.
    Even the dressing style and some say its ok. It might be ok here but why being sent to oscars?
    No inspired director whom the above article refers might have did that before.

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  20. As i see it, artists are respected in every society because they imagine, create and execute things that not all can but if u see a painter copying da vinci , Picasso, dali etc and make a painting will you say it's ok? Barfi to me is a shame. As you have rightly pointed out scenes paying homage to classics is abundant but they are one or two in the whole film and that could be called paying homage. also many of the remakes u refer to have been made after acquiring copyright and acknowledging the original. The visionary director Anurag Basu has had a track record of copying stuff from 'Saayaa' to 'Life in a metro'his only original work was 'Kites' which we know was terrible. Also i wonder when we spend so much to decide the best movie of the year through the national awards why we send a different film for Oscars? the argument given is that Oscars have a different kind of taste but to that i say how well has this theory worked for us so far. Anyway, nice blog, but i don't agree with your "it's copied but still good' point of view. Cheers.
    P.S. Don't know of any movie called Princess Monoke but i was amazed by studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119698/

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    1. I read this interesting article about the Oscar shortlisting for this year. http://www.popcracker.com/index.php?page=blog-detail&blogid=534&catid=28

      PS: I knew someone was going to point out 'Monoke'. It happens, you know. Just like I don't know of any movie called 'Saayaa' but I was shocked by Basu's 'Saaya'. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0371922/

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