New Delhi: First the good news, Ranbir Kapoor is indeed Youngistan's undisputed Rockstar. Next the not-so-good news, his new, hugely acclaimed film Barfi has been accused of 'lifting' generously from old classics. Finally the worst, how dare Barfi race past movies that are both Indian (in theme and essence) and original to be selected as India's entry to the hallowed Oscar's.
There is a glorious saying which warrants airing, I laugh so that I may not weep. Fact is the kill-joys and losers continue their impassioned one-point programme of taking panga and shoving a spook in the wheel, at any cost. They should be clean ignored. Ever since the Kapoor kid entered the frame in Sawariya, he has consistently stood out, irrespective of the fate of the film. Starting out, (pursuing lineage in true Kapoor style) with the rom-com slot, he very soon startled the crap out of all Ranbir-watchers, when he suddenly switched lanes, played the dare game and did Wake Up Sid and Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year.
No Kapoor from Prithviraj to dad Rishi or uncle's Shammi or Shashi had ever seriously attempted to experiment (risk?) with his roles and career-graph, so early on in his innings in B-town, be it another era, insecurity to step out of the comfort of star-zone, or less accommodating/open audiences, whatever. Ranbir Kapoor had the desire and courage to move away and each time it worked. Fortune favours the brave and talented and he appeared to be the right actor in the right place doing the right role at the right time.
Wake up Sid worked brilliantly in the metro-centric multiplex space. Rocket was a critical success demonstrating RK's ability to do de-glam roles powered solely by his acting skills. Even Bachna... and Ajab Prem exhibited his versatility and hunger unlike most other young heroes to explore and expand his acting bandwidth along with his cool, killer looks. Nothing however showcased this intent better than Rockstar and now, Barfi.
Rajneeti can be said to have been a promo of the shape of things to come. A Mahabharat-meets-Godfather khichdi, cleverly put together by Prakhash Jha, RK's Michael Corleone act was smooth and cool. Despite a cast of powerful actors- Ajay Devgn, Manoj Bajpayee, Nana Patekar, the young man held his own, whether romancing the lovely Katrina or cold-bloodedly supervising the mayhem, he was outstanding, prompting the director to exclaim "RK was truly a surprise package."
Rajneeti was just a starter. Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar was a revelation. Playing a grungy, unwashed, street-smart Romeo from the hinterland with dreams, a voice to match and heartbreak as a catalyst to reach the desired destination, RK let fly an amazing performance that was charming, credible and explosive. Both he and his talented director, fittingly, swept the awards scene that year proving that he was truly a Rockstar. The jewel in the crown was however yet to arrive in the shape of Anurag basu's Barfi. Playing a happy-go-lucky, deaf-dumb hero, the young actor unleashed a performance that was truly chaplinesque; the painted smile hiding a broken heart.
This film marked his astonishing maturity and development as an actor to look out for, one who's constantly looking for opportunities to raise the bar, push the envelope, totally ignoring anything to do with the popular Rs 100 crore club or projects that are typically formulaic embracing masala-dripping ingredients 6 pack abs, item songs, special effects, hi-jinx action, crazily exotic locales, NRI sentiments and continue to follow is intuition and heart. No wonder he is teaming up with Basu again for his ambitious biopic on Kishore Kumar. Anurag Kashyap too has got him on board for his forthcoming Bombay Velvet as has his brother Abhinav (Dabangg) who has signed him up for his next, Besharam. His best friend Ayan (Wake up Sid) Mukherjee too has him as centre-piece co-starring Dipika Padukone in Yeh Jawani Hai Dewani.
Okay, cut to the charges of plagiarism. This is a non-issue and totally laughable for a number of reasons. Firstly, right from the Ashok Kumar starrer Mr. X - lifted from The Invisible Man - in the fifties to tons of movies across the decades, Plagiarism is Bollywood's middle name, so what's this sudden hulla-gulla about? What's the big deal? Wasn't Gulzar's Koshish inspired by a Japanese film? Parichay, by Sound of Music? Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin by It Happened One night and Murder, Unfaithful?
Get one thing straight. Bollywood's mainstream movies have always had 3 simple things on mind - entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. They have never ever pretended to follow Francois Truffaut's classic definition of Cinema, "Truth at 24 frames per second." They have been manufactured (seldom created) as FMCG to be mass-consumed and the entertainment-starved and star-crazed constituencies have dutifully stormed the theatres for that willful suspension of disbelief.
Secondly, how many of Barfi's audiences - at home or abroad - have ever heard or seen the films from which scenes have been reported to have been filched. The Notebook, Singing in the Rain, The Kid, City Lights, The Adventures? So okay, Anurag Basu has recreated scenes from these classics, but did they hamper the narrative, disturb the flow, ruin the overall impact of the film? If anything, it added value.
Bhatt's Dil Hai... was a charming trans-creation of the original that worked because of its brilliant connect with the Indian viewer's psyche. Same with many of the adaptations. The B-town guys are not claiming their spot at immortality, but hoping to give the harassed and stressed-out crowd a good time, in their own way, be it Ek Tha Tiger or Barfi, that's all. Also it might be good to remember that an inspired copy that entertains is far more palatable than an artsy, pretentious and corny original.
Finally (y-a-w-n) the Oscars. When has there ever been a controversy-free consensus all rooting for the same film selected as India's official entry? Shock, bewilderment, depression, disgust, frustration, resignation, even sometime wild laughter has greeted the choices made, right? Be it Payal ki Jhankar (1980) or Jeans (1998), it has mostly been bizarre with no one quite figuring out how and why these films got in to compete for the biggest movie prize on this planet. Regional film-makers continue to be ignored prompting the celebrated art-house director Rituparno Ghosh to acidly observe, "Ever since Lagan got nominated, it seems to have become Bollywood's birthright to represent India at the Oscars."
The Rupees Fifty Thousand application fee too works as a roadblock to many small-budget camps as does the astronomical promo costs that go with the lobbying and canvassing activities. Many gifted film-makers remain convinced that not merit but power, influence and knowledge about which strings to pull is the name of the game to gain entry. Confusion is further confounded when no one knows any details relating to members or procedures except the committee comprising very senior, renowned, competent craftsmen who know their job very well.
At the end of the day if Anurag Basu and his entire Barfi team are over the moon about their film being selected as India's official entry to the Oscar's, more power to their vision, passion and commitment. For the carping critics and snide comments from other camps it is clearly a case of sour grapes. Admittedly, there were other fine films too, but hey, this comes with the territory.
How many times where films from Ray, Sen, Ghatak, Benegal, Door, Aparna, Rituporno, Buddhadev, Gautam Ghosh and a host of other brilliant regional directors, ever greased this roster? Console yourself, however with one fact, whether or not Barfi makes the cut is secondary, but one thing is certain, the beautiful, lyrical, warm, sensitive, butter-sweet tale of love and loss will definitely cause you a lot less embarrassment than some of the junk that preceded it. You can at least return with your jeans on.