Ranjona Banerji: Did critics ignore Barfi’s ‘borrowings’?

27 Sep,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


The film Barfi has been sent as the Indian entry to the Oscars in the foreign language films category. All the reviews which appeared in the traditional media called it charming, refreshing and although a tad predictable, heart-warming nonetheless. I have not seen the film, I confess outright.


Not one of the reviews that I read however mentioned anything about plagiarism. It took a bunch of bloggers to painstakingly point out how the film had copied scenes from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films, Singin’ in the Rain, the Mr Bean series as well as from much more recent films like The Notebook. Some of the music for Barfi has also been lifted from the French film Amelie, which has won an Oscar in the same category. For those who feel that Amelie might be an obscure film, I must point out that it is shown on television every other day. There are other sources for the film’s charming, refreshing feel which can be found on this link: http://www.bollywoodlife.com/news-gossip/video-the-sources-from-where-barfi-was-copied-exposed/


This is renowned film critic (and also an old friend) Deepa Gahlot “reviewing the reviews” on this website: http://www.mxmindia.com/2012/09/reviewing-the-reviews-barfi/


It is embarrassing enough that we send a film to an international film competition which has borrowed liberally from international films. Here is director Anurag Basu’s defence, using the usual Hindi film industry excuse in these circumstances, “homage”: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/barfi-director-anurag-basu-responds-to-plagiarism-charges/295385-8-66.html


But the question being asked here is something else: have Indian film critics become so inured to plagiarism in the industry that it no longer registers on their radar? Meenakshi Shedde and Rajeev Masand, both friends whom I respect, shrugged off the plagiarism charges to Sagorika Ghose on CNN-IBN. The chairman of the selection committee, Assamese filmmaker Manju Bora, disseminated – only one film can be chosen, we have not seen every film ever made – and tried to concentrate on regional films getting short shrift.


Yet dedicated bloggers managed to find the similarities between Barfi and a host of other films and managed to track down their references as well. Certainly no one can be expected to have watched every film ever made but some like Chaplin are classics and others like the Mr Bean scenes were popular hits and I would at least expect a critic to be familiar with those.


I sympathise that the job of a film reviewers entails watching hours of the rubbish churned out by the Hindi film industry. It is not a job I would personally do even if you had an AK 47 pointed at me. But having chosen to do this job, some more rigour would be appreciated. I reject the argument that Hindi cinema is so terrible on the whole that it can get away with theft just to create something a little higher than the norm. Make singing and dancing fantasy films all you want: but if you steal, it needs to be pointed out.


When Fareed Zakaria lifted a few lines of fact without crediting another article, he was suspended from his job and there was a huge hue and cry. Yet we send a film to the Oscars that has happily “borrowed” from other films and have no problems with it.


Plagiarism is plagiarism. And perhaps our film reviewers might now apply a higher standard to the films they watch.


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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Did critics ignore Barfi’s ‘borrowings’?”

  1. You bothered to even comment, rather ‘Barf’ instead.