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The Big Barfi! Battle

Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi!

Barfi!, that mouthful of sweetness that fills your heart and leaves you with a spring in your step, is India’s official entry to the Academy Awards in the best foreign film category. But the jury is still out if this Anurag Basu film was India’s best Oscar bet. t2 brings together five students who were eager to bite the Barfi! bait

Shambo Mukherjee (second year, Hazra Law College): Barfi! should not have been India’s entry to the Oscars. In a year that gave us films like Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar, even Gangs of Wasseypur, I think the committee appointed by the Film Federation of India should have given more thought to what should be sent as the Indian entry.

If we look at the history of the Oscars, we’ll see that only three Indian films have actually secured a nomination in the best foreign film category — Mother India, Salaam Bombay and Lagaan. And all three are movies completely based on India, movies that tell us something about India. So, I feel Paan Singh Tomar or Gangs of Wasseypur would have had a better chance.

Digvijay Singh (second year, Bhawanipur Education Society College): I completely support Barfi!’s selection. Some people are going to town saying that it shouldn’t have been India’s Oscar entry because it’s been copied from various films. But I don’t think that in any way takes away from the film. Barfi! delivers so many messages. It shows that actions speak so much more than words. It shows us how to find happiness in little things. I think it deserves to be the choice from India because this is no ordinary movie.

Abhinanda Datta (second-year, Jadavpur University): I don’t think Barfi! is a movie at all. It is poetry in motion. It is more of a painting with its colour scheme, the language of silence... everything! There is no reason why it should not go to the Oscars. Yes, it has parts that are copied. But if we think like that, all movies have been inspired by some film or the other. May be we are not aware of it. But does it mean that such a film cannot go for the Oscars? I definitely think Barfi! is India’s best movie of 2012.

Dipanjan Banerjee (second year, St. Xavier’s College): I do not support Barfi!’s selection. Though it was a very emotional and vibrant movie with beautiful camera techniques, I feel there were other movies like Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar that did a better job of representing their particular genres. And given the fact that Barfi! is facing flak for plagiarism, it really shouldn’t have been India’s entry to the Oscars.

Rahul Sen (third year, Presidency University): I think Barfi! is the perfect choice. Because, although it is a romantic comedy, its approach and presentation are absolutely novel. Here we have a man who is deaf and mute, and we have had many films in India where there have been deaf-mute characters, but here the romance shown between Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra is unique. The film, though a romantic comedy, also depicts loneliness and alienation that has been wrapped in a carton of amiability and joy and that is what makes Barfi! unique.

I do agree that this year has given us excellent films like Kahaani and Wasseypur but at the end of the day, you have to pick one and I think Barfi! is that one.

From left: Rahul Sen, Dipanjan Banerjee, Abhinanda Datta, Digvijay Singh and Shambo Mukherjee at the t2 office. (Pradip Sanyal)

Team t2: Do you think Barfi! will make it to the final Oscar nominations? Why, why not?

Digvijay: One of the arguments being levelled against Barfi! is that it has copied scenes from many classics but there have been many films that have been nominated for Oscars that have been copied, like The Lion King, which had many scenes and situations similar to the anime series Kimba The White Lion. Some scenes in Barfi! may have been copied but the heart of the film, the story, was very fresh.

Shambo: The Lion King is an animation film. Here we are discussing India’s selection for the foreign film category, which sees entries from all over the world! So, the comparison does not make sense. And why would a western motion picture award committee be interested in an Indian film that has copied from western films, like Singin’ in the Rain, The Notebook, City Lights or The Adventurer?

Don’t get me wrong. I loved Barfi!. It was a brilliant movie, but think of it this way — the people who are sitting to select the final nominations will be looking at what ‘India’ has to offer.

You say you are feeling bad for the deaf-mute boy and the girl with autism, but I feel equally bad when Vidya Balan’s husband gets killed defending his nation. I feel equally bad when I see the story of a person like Paan Singh Tomar, who could have got 100 gold medals for India….

I don’t think Barfi! will make the cut because it is simply a human interest story and does not depict anything about India. It does not show us reality. It is just the story of how two people fall in love.

Abhinanda: When you are talking about portraying India, do you mean how poor India is, how dirty it is, like shown in Slumdog Millionaire? Is that the only reality of India? Also is the philosophy or content of a film not important at all? There is a Telugu film (Eega) where a man dies and comes back as a fly to seek revenge. If that film can be part of the shortlist, I don’t see why Barfi! can’t make the cut. Scenes may have been copied from various films but look at the plot, look at how the movie has been made!

Shambo: People are not against Barfi! because it is copied. People are against it because in a country where in a year hundreds of movies are made, there are movies better than Barfi!.

Abhinanda: You think the mindless shooting and killing in Wasseypur was better than Barfi!?

Shambo: I think you need a different kind of mindset to appreciate Wasseypur. Abhinanda said that Barfi! was poetry, a painting... but for me poetry belongs in books and paintings in exhibitions, not Oscar nominations.

Abhinanda: I’m sorry I can’t accept that, especially being a student of English literature.

(Team t2 hastened to play peacemaker as the debate threatened to turn violent at this point.)

Rahul: One of the points being continuously raised is that Barfi! doesn’t contain any Indian sensibilities. But what is this Indian-ness we keep talking about? I cannot offer a precise definition of Indian-ness and I can never say that any one film conveys to me what India is. If Wasseypur conveys one facet of India, Barfi! highlights another. In this film, director Anurag Basu has also shown class disparity. He’s depicted the hurdles that may come between a rich girl and a poor boy. It’s not just about Barfii being deaf and mute.

I think Barfi! will make the cut because it is novel in its approach, it’s fresh and most importantly, I think the strong point of the film is that Anurag has shown to the world, through ‘plagiarism’, how a film can be an assemblage of pre-existing films but still make it new. I think Barfi! can be treated as a post-modern film, an instance of bricolage.

Dipanjan: I loved Barfi!, it really touched me and if there weren’t any better films to challenge it then I would have said okay. But after I found out about the plagiarised bits, my respect for the film decreased. It was also implausible on many counts — it is a film about a deaf and mute guy, on the run from the police, with a girl with autism in tow and though there are pictures of her in the papers, no one seems to notice!

Abhinanda: If depicting India is the key, then I think Barfi! depicts Calcutta and Bengal perfectly. There really were parties in those days in hill stations like Darjeeling where they sang My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean; there were small parties, people coming together, little bonfires. It also shows people’s prejudice against those living with disabilities. Ileana D’Cruz’s parents did not want her to marry Barfii not just because he was poor.

Digvijay: We cannot also ignore the brilliant manner in which Ranbir Kapoor portrayed the challenges a person like Barfii faces.

Abhinanda: People will compare Ranbir’s acting to Vidya Balan in Kahaani and Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar but you shouldn’t. You should just look at what Ranbir has done. He just said the word ‘Barfii’ five or six times but he spoke volumes through his actions, through his expressions and simply through his eyes! If you are comparing him to Charlie Chaplin, you are comparing him to a legend, he must be that good then. Priyanka’s acting touches your heart, even Ileana looks perfect as the Bangali bou. I think the acting, especially Ranbir Kapoor’s, will give the film an edge.

Digvijay: Ranbir and Priyanka conveyed so much without dialogue!

Abhinanda: Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar had the advantage of dialogues. But in Barfi!, Ranbir speaks only through his expressions and body language.

Shambo: I feel bad that just because the other films had dialogues they are not being considered as great works.

Team t2: So, if not Barfi!, which film should have been India’s Oscar pick?

Shambo: The members of the Oscar selection committee, who are not Indians, might have a bittersweet feeling after watching Barfi!, they may be moved, but they might not see a lot of ‘India’ in it. Paan Singh Tomar, on the other hand, shows a slice of the real India. There are places in the movie where you actually feel sad for the jawans in the army. Paan Singh never wanted to go into sports, he only participated to get more food! That is a reality in India.

I am not praising Gangs of Wasseypur for the mindless shooting or Paan Singh Tomar because he turns baaghi in the end. I am praising them because they are a realistic representation of India.

Team t2: What about Vicky Donor? Director Shoojit Sircar has expressed disappointment that his film wasn’t even sent for selection by the producers...

Shambo: Yeah, it was sad that Vicky Donor did not make it even to the shortlist of 19. It has a very unique story that has never been done before.

Dipanjan: It was a fun film and it was done brazenly and boldly.

Abhinanda: But do you really think it depicts India?

Shambo: Yes, it does. It shows how disgustingly people react to a simple issue like sperm donation. But I don’t think it was Oscar material.

Dipanjan: For me it would be Kahaani, which not only explores the fact that India has a government agency that can be compromised and is not safe from terrorist attacks, but also how one woman’s willpower can bring the corrupt intelligence establishment of the country to its knees.

The movie also has a very clear interpretation of what Calcutta goes through during Durga Puja, especially the Dashami sequence with Vidya Balan in the traditional red-border white sari hiding herself in the crowd. I think just that scene would have moved the Oscar selection committee and secured a nomination.

Rahul: You know, a Maharashtrian might look at Kahaani and say that it doesn’t show Ganesh Chaturthi so it is not my India, somebody from Wasseypur might come and say that what is shown in Paan Singh Tomar is not his India. I think one movie can’t convey Indian-ness, so, Barfi! not showing anything about India in particular should not be a deal-breaker for the selection committee.

Shambo: We have to keep history in mind. The only three Indian films to have made it to the nomination list of the Academy Awards in the foreign film category are Mother India, Salaam Bombay and Lagaan. That should say something.

Abhinanda: Well, they didn’t win anything, did they? So maybe we should give Barfi! a chance.

Team t2: What is the one thing that will help Barfi! make the Oscar cut?

Digvijay: The way the movie gives its messages — using action and silence, over words.

Abhinanda: It is not one thing but three. One is Ranbir Kapoor, I mean the entire package, then the execution of the film and the special Anurag Basu moments — they will sway the Oscar committee.

Rahul: The acting and the presentation of the movie. However, I just want to say one thing. Though I am supporting Barfi!’s selection, I feel the Indian committee is very Bollywood-centric. There should have been some regional films too. In Bengal itself, there have been some brilliant films in the past year.

Abhinanda: I still think Barfi! is the best choice. If not for anything else then for Ranbir Kapoor. I watched the movie thrice just for him. Though I loved the movie and it touched my heart, Ranbir made it even more special. There is a play by George Bernard Shaw called Arms and The Man, where Raina calls Captain Bluntschli her ‘chocolate cream soldier’; Ranbir is my chocolate cream soldier.

Chandreyee Chatterjee of t2 sat in on the chat

Do you think barfi! was the right choice for India at the oscars? tell t2@abp.in