Barfi! is about paisa vasool, not an entry for the Oscars

by Sep 29, 2012

So it’s fashionable to criticise Barfi! these days. My wall on Facebook is full of acerbic updates on the movie with a link to this YouTube clip. The movie borrows liberally from a host of other movies without giving them any credit.

Here is a list of a few such scenes in the movie. One of the most hilarious scenes is the one where Barfi! (played by Ranbir Kapoor) is trying to avoid getting caught by the inspector (played by Saurabh Shukla) via a sliding door. This scene has been lifted directly from the 1917 Charlie Chaplin film The Adventurer. Another scene where Barfi! wakes up from under a statue in front of a crowd is a copy from Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 classic City Lights.

The ladder scene where again Barfi! is trying to avoid the police is borrowed from the Buster Keaton’s 1922 film Cops 1922. Another scene where Barfi! grabs onto a bus to run away from the police is borrowed from the same movie.

There are clear influences from early Jackie Chan movies in the chase scenes of the movie. The overall plot of the movie is said to be inspired from the Hollywood film Benny & Joon (1993) and Korean film Oasis (2002).

The inspiration doesn’t end here. A small scene where Barfi! is trying to entertain Rimjhim (played by Priyanka Chopra) with a dummy on a sofa is copied from the hit 1952 Hollywood musical Singin’ in the Rain. (For a more detailed list click here).

Barfi! is not the right choice for Oscars. Image courtesy IBNLive.com

But the beauty of Barfi! is that all the copy-pasting fits into a coherent whole which is backed by some good performances (I thought Saurabh Shukla was fantastic in the movie), great music with some really soulful lyrics, stunning visuals of Darjeeling and an end which makes women cry (Well, when I saw the movie First Day First Show, I saw red-eyed women all around me. The only other explanation I guess could be conjunctivitis). All this made the movie a total paisa vasool experience.

But does that justify the copy-pasting? Hindi cinema has always had a culture of borrowing liberally from other sources without giving them credit. Sholay, the biggest Hindi film hit of all time, is a very good example of the same. As Anupama Chopra writes in Sholay – The Making of a Classic:  “They wanted to create a big action adventure, an epic confrontation between good and evil. The inspiration was the Hollywood western. All three (Salim-Javed, the writers and Ramesh Sippy, the director) had been greatly influenced by films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, and of course, the mother of the mercenary movie, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.”

The basic plotline of Sholay was borrowed from The Magnificent Seven, which, in turn, had been inspired by Seven Samurai. A lot of scenes in the movie have been shot like scenes in the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The water tank scene featuring Dharmendra is a straight lift from the 1969 Anthony Quinn movie The Secret of Santa Vittoria.

Mehbooba-Mehbooba, the movie’s most famous song featuring Helen, was a copy of Demis Roussos's 'Say you love me’. (You can listen to it here). The entire Veeru ki Shaadi scene is copied from a book called The House of Fear written by the grandmaster of Urdu crime fiction Ibn-E-Safi. The book was originally published in Urdu in 1955 as Khaufnak Imarat. (You can read about it in detail here).

And there was more. As Chopra writes, “Raj Khosla’s 1971 hit, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, the story of a one-armed man who reforms a petty criminal and uses him to protect their village against dacoits, loomed like a ghost in the background…The Bimal Roy classic, Madhumati, has a scene in which a boastful servant is caught by his master much like what happens with Soorma Bhopali (played by Jagdeep). And the coin motif – Jai (played by Amitabh Bachchan) tosses the coin before making any decision – came from the Gary Copper starrer, Garden of Evil.”

As is the case with Barfi, these influences fit into a coherent whole which the audience liked. The movie, even though it started slow, went onto become the biggest hit of all time. I still remember when Doordarshan broadcast the movie some time in the early 1990s. The city of Ranchi where I grew up was deserted that day. Ranchi Express, the local newspaper, carried pictures of empty roads in the city, the next day. Such was the power that Sholay had on the audience.

Deewar, the other big Bachchan hit of 1975, was a clever reworking of Dilip Kumar’s Ganga Jamuna. But that still doesn’t take away the power and intensity of the movie. The scene where Amitabh Bachchan tells Iftikar “main aaj bhi feke hue paise nahi uthata” is simply superb. If there is one scene that summarises the entire Bachchan era of the angry young man this was it.

Raj Kapoor’s 1970 mega dud Mera Naam Joker was inspired from the 1952 Charlie Chaplin film Limelight. Then there were also movies like Mahesh Bhatt’s 1992 hit Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi. The film is a total copy of the 1934 Hollywood hit It Happened One Night. Even the dialogues (written by the master Hindi writer Sharad Joshi) have been translated as it is from the English original.

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