Mahesh Manjrekar sounds flustered, resigned too. “In the year of Astitva, they chose Jeans as the official Indian entry to the Oscars. It felt like a slap on my face then. At least Barfi! is better than Jeans.” Manjrekar’s unusual Marathi tale of amour, Kaksparsh, is one of the 19 films Barfi! beat in the race to Kodak Theatre, Los Angeles, as India’s official entry to the Oscars. And, as it happens every year, the choice has ruffled many feathers. Especially after a post on www.tanqeed.com detailing scene-by-scene lifts from foreign films went viral. The blatant plagiarisation apart, filmmakers are foxed over the entire process of selecting films for the Oscars, a modus operandi the industry itself seems ignorant about.
“As a filmmaker who’s been around for long,” says fimmaker Rituparno Ghosh, “I don’t even know what is the procedure to apply.” The Film Federation of India, which manages the show, does post a notification on its website inviting entries and stating that “necessary intimation in this regard has been given to all concerned film trade bodies as well as to NFDC”. However, says Rituparno, “there is no letter, notification or ad in the papers in the public domain. Filmmakers in Bombay may be aware but we only get to know every year when the official selection has been announced and there is a controversy surrounding it.”
Acting as a further dampener is the Rs 50,000 application fee to enter a film for selection. Small change perhaps for big Bollywood producers, but it’s daunting for small independent filmmakers on shoestring budgets. “Why should I be paying the steep amount?” asks Anurag Kashyap, whose Gangs of Wasseypur was up for selection but didn’t make the cut. “It’s a huge amount for small and regional filmmakers,” adds Marathi filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni, whose satire on the commercialisation of faith, Deool, was one of the entries.
“Every region should be invited, the regional boards should be made responsible,” says Rituparno. Instead, in India’s race to the Oscars, only Bollywood competes with Bollywood. “Ever since Lagaan got nominated,” says Rituparno, “it has become Bollywood’s birthright to represent India at the Oscars.”
Since 1957, when India began sending entries to the Oscars, there have been only eight Tamil, two Malayalam, Bengali and Marathi films each, one in Telugu, the rest have all been in Hindi. Stalwarts like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Kasaravalli, Rituparno, Shaji Karun, among many others, have never had their films nominated as India’s entries.
Then there’s the air of mystery around the jury itself. No one knows who its members are, or the criteria or process of selecting them. Ask jury chairperson Manju Bora, and she pleads her inability to reveal the 11 names. All she concedes is that “they’re all craftsmen, very senior, competent and renowned people”.
Gossip, in fact, has it that Barfi! was far from a unanimous choice; it was opposed by at least three members who were more inclined towards two Marathi films. Bora, however, says it was an open vote, with the majority favouring Barfi!.
For Barfi! director Basu, though, it’s all a case of sour grapes. His film was selected in a democratic process, he says. And if the Busan, Taipei and Morocco film festivals picked it up, why doubt the Indian jury’s selection to the Oscars? And the minor detail of plagiarism? “Last year’s Oscar winner Artist channelled so many silent era films. We celebrated it, we were not cynical about it.”
So can Barfi! do an Artist at the Oscars? Only if the likes of Michael Haneke’s Amour, Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta and Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills allow it to.
Your article on the ‘lifting operation’ of Barfi! (Quite A Sweet Tooth, Oct 8) was a delight to read. This must be the only Indian entry to the Oscars with such a huge list of scenes ‘inspired’ by other films.
Anant Savanur, on e-mail
Totally agree with Outlook. Barfi! may be sweet for Indian audiences, but not delectable enough fare for the Oscars.
Amrita Muttoo, Mumbai
Anurag Basu has totally taken the Indian film-going audience for granted. My issue, though, is not with Basu; he is obviously very confident about his work. It’s that a bunch of veteran filmmakers, critics and prominent, competent cinephiles sat in a room to watch a movie laden with patches of great classics, ignored these violations, and chose it over original films.
Sambit Padhan, New Delhi
A very nice article indeed.First of all when Mr. Anurag Basu said about last years Academy award winner "Artist" that it channeled so many silent ear is he trying justify his act of totally copying the scenes and plots to make his imagination works? I have been watching a lot of interviews of him where he just plainly dismissed all these allegations.He says things like Chaplin genre which has been perhaps very hugely exploited by Indian film industry only.And some obvious inspiartion like Notebook he just dismissed it saying it only feels similar because the genre is same people are drwaing comparisons.He has totaly taken Indian audience for granted and he is not to be blamed he had previously did the same thing with Life in a Metro and audience loved it so its a tried and tested formula.
But my issue is not with Mr. Basu because whatever he did he believed in it and obviously confident about it .But when a bunch of veteran filmakers ,craftsmen, very senior, competent and renowned people with a vast experiences sit in a room watch a movie like "Barfi" and ignored all these major shortcomings and chose it over a bunch of original film than that is a matter of huge concerns.
But as you mentioned this matter is not as simple as it looks like .Lets say just in case they selected a movie like "Koormavatara" made by Mr Girish Kasaravalli who is not willing to spend extra one crore or so for the promotion of the movie than what's the use?Govt can very easily say how can we take the responsibilty of promoting the movie in country like USA ?Suppose govt invests one crore or so for the promotion which is the tax money of public they wants result.Can Mr Kasaravalli gaurantee a result.Mr basu also cann't atleast he is not asking monetary help from Government. May be thats why he can justify the slections.At the end of the day you as an artist it yours responsibility also to promote your art and try to show it to more more people.After that you will only rip the the benefit,is n't it?
As Mr. Anurag Kashyap once said in an interview he has stopped making 100% honest movies because it may be boring or not appealing to mass audience but that doesn't mean you still can not make an entertaining original movie with some market potential.Thats what he tried to do with movies like Dev D and Gangs of Wasseypur and he succeded to some extend also.
As far Academy awards is concerns in my opinion it is a upgarded version of filmfare award where they still choose popular movies but they don't have to always go for unoriginal ones because the audience there are matured enough to make an Original movie succesfull.So you have addressed some important issues and showed some loopholes in our current system but in my opinion no one can blame the jury also because as its filmmakers duty also to influence the jury to take the decisin in your favour. Only if you really careo therwise you don't have any rights to challenge their decisions also.And Mr. Basu best of luck in explainig the obvious inspirations to the audience in USA.I am sure you will have the last laugh...that will be the laugh of shame when they will laugh at you.
"Barfi" is a colourful collage of plagiarised snippets.
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