Meet Ranbir Keaton Chaplin

Ananya Sengupta and Archis Mohan

New Delhi, Sept. 25: As Ranbir Kapoor plays cat-and-mouse with police, now with a ladder and now across a sliding door, some among the audience gasp in wonder at the innovativeness of it all.

Some others, however, are saying they have seen it all before.

Several scenes from Barfi!, India's entry for the next Oscars, have provoked charges of plagiarism on the Internet, with uploaded videos playing both the "original" and "copied" versions side by side.

Some have drawn attention to the similarities between Ranbir's antics in the Anurag Basu film's first scene and Buster Keaton's ladder act in Hollywood movie Cops. (See chart)

The last scene, where an ageing Priyanka Chopra curls up in a hospital bed with Ranbir, has reminded many of The Notebook where the husband of an Alzheimer's patient snuggles up to her before they die in their sleep together.

Some of the sequences in between have been compared with scenes from Charlie Chaplin's 1917 film The Adventurer; another Chaplin starrer, the 1931 American silent film City Lights; the 1952 American musical comedy starring Gene Kelly, Singing in the Rain; and Bollywood's very own Koshish (1972), starring Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri.

Some have found the film's background score similar to that of Amelie (2001).

Film critic Rangan Bharadwaj has posted in his blog that only one kind of viewer would like Barfi!: "Those who don't watch European cinema."

"I feel cheated. The shots and scenes I had reacted to and remembered from the movie all seem to be lifts from other movies," Samaira Agarwal, a Delhi-based student, told The Telegraph.

"I had genuinely appreciated the ingenuity of the ladder scene and the sliding door scene. Now, these revelations have ruined the whole experience for me."

A netizen who gave his name as Sanjay reacted to the YouTube clips by saying "India will get embarrassed" because of the decision to send Barfi! to the Oscars.

"If we do (copy), at least have the courtesy of acknowledging or thanking the original creator," a poster, Amir, wrote on the blogsite which uploaded some of the earliest videos comparing Barfi! scenes with those from foreign films.

Asked for his comments, Anurag Basu said: "Last year's big Oscar winners, The Artist and Hugo, were inspired majorly (sic) by yesteryear films. The basic story of The Artist was similar to Singing in the Rain and was also heavily inspired by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton."

"Hugo too took from a lot of silent movies, including The Magic Box. The filmmakers are lucky that their films were not made in India; otherwise they would have been criticised like Barfi!

"Barfi! is an original story with original characters and the story is told by three narrators. Whatever is being called 'copying' is actually a homage to the great films and I have been mentioning almost all of them in the pre-release interviews. If the film is copied from a Korean film, how does it get selected for the Busan International Film Festival? Also, respected Indian filmmakers have chosen Barfi! as the Oscars entry this year; they know their cinema."

Both Basu and Ranbir have mentioned Keaton, Chaplin, Raj Kapoor and Mr Bean as inspirations and references for the character of Barfi but the screen credits do not say that any scenes were inspired by other movies.

Asked to comment on the allegations, filmmaker Manju Bora, the chairperson of the Film Federation of India (FFI) jury that picked Barfi! as India's official Oscar entry, said: "It is not possible for anyone to spot these anomalies. We haven't seen all the films that have been produced in India and abroad.

"However, we have made our choice and Barfi! will remain our entry for the Oscars unless it is decided otherwise on a later date."

Barfi! was chosen from a list that had films such as Paan Singh Tomar, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani, Deool, Eega, Vazhakku Enn 18/9 and Akasathinte Niram.

"Many regional-language films are very good but do not make the cut because producers fail to nominate them for selection," Bora said.

"Over 150 films are made in the country but only about 20 reach us, from which we select one. Regional films are regularly deprived. What we as filmmakers need to do is analyse our work ourselves so that we can honestly say that our film is original. Inspiration is fine, copying isn't."

Of the about 40 films India has sent to the Oscars down the years, most have been Hindi movies. Tamil films were picked on eight occasions, while Bengali, Marathi and Malayalam films were chosen twice each and a Telugu film once.

The FFI, the apex body for film trade in India, is now chaired by Vinod K. Lamba, a Delhi-based film distributor, exhibitor and financier. "There is nothing arbitrary about the FFI selection process," said Lamba, adding he was yet to watch Barfi!

"The selection of the film is a prerogative of the jury and the FFI has no control over it. Our jury members come from across the country. We have been doing this for 20 years now," he said.

"You have to understand that these things happen when one film is selected out of 20. Charges and counter-charges are always made. This happens even internationally. We are transparent and I think Barfi! won't be an embarrassment for the country."

Filmmaker Pritish Nandy, however, alleged the FFI selection process starts to falter right at the outset.

"First, the committee members are chosen because they are film association members. They have no idea of international films and thus gaffes are overlooked," Nandy said.

"Second, we Indians are star-struck culturally. Stars go to the Oscars, films don't. My films Jhankar Beats and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi were both short-listed for Oscars entry in the foreign-language film category but lost out to star films."

Nandy said India would look silly if the foreign media noticed the similarities between Barfi! and Hollywood films and began writing about them.

The Oscars are known to be strict with proven cases of borrowing, even if it has been done from one's own work.

Nino Rota's now legendary score for The Godfather was initially nominated for best original score for the 1973 Academy Awards. However, it became ineligible when it was discovered that Rota had repeated a motif from his own theme for a 1958 film, Fortunella.