New Delhi: Assamese filmmaker Manju Borah, who headed the committee entrusted with selecting India's official entry to the Academy Awards, said she is tired of defending 'Barfi', the jury's choice this year, and angry that her credibility is being questioned. The film is now under scrutiny because of charges of plagiarism but Borah said the 11-member jury was entirely justified in picking 'Barfi'.
"I lost my temper that day when someone asked me if we were paid for this (the selection exercise). Can you imagine? No, we weren't paid for this. We are all professionals. I left behind my work for 10 days to be on the selection committee. It's part of my duty," she said.
When told that Basu has been accused by bloggers and film critics of directly lifting scenes from several films, Borah said it is common among filmmakers to be influenced by the works of talented colleagues.
The film is under scrutiny because of plagiarism charges but Borah said the jury was justified in picking Barfi.
"Anurag Basu is a creative person and he should be honest to himself. There is nothing wrong in being influenced by great filmmakers. Many directors before him have been. Our issue was only to select the best film and Ranbir Kapoor portrayed 'Barfi' so well with his Chaplinesque act," Borah said. Most of the jury members were apparently moved when they saw 'Barfi'.
"If you are asking me why we chose Barfi, I'll tell you - something stayed in your heart even after the film was over."
At the time of selection the jury spotted the references to the silent era films - the obvious ones of Chaplin and Buster Keaton - but they hadn't thought Barfi was copied from other films, Borah said.
"The subject of Barfi is so depressing, dealing with disability. But the film wasn't depressing at all. It was celebrating life. At that time, that was what we were considering. If you see a film later, you will see it critically. You will spot weak points," she said.
Barfi is said to be copied from several sources, including Kikujiro, Benny & Joon (1993), Korean film Oasis (2002), Chaplin's City Lights (1931), Mr Bean's Holiday, Jackie Chan's Project A (1983), Buster Keaton's Cops (1922), The Notebook (2004), Mr Nobody (2009), Black Cat, White Cat (1988), The Goonies (1985) and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991).
"Barfi deserves to be sent outside. The selection was a very open process with three to four rounds of severe discussions and came down to the best film of the final three," she said without naming the other two serious contenders. Borah, herself a National award-winning filmmaker, said she was very clear about the issue of ethics. "I would never support plagiarism", she said, but maintained that it was common among filmmakers to be influenced by the works of those better than them.
"We should not exploit or destroy the medium of filmmaking. We are one of the world's largest film industry and we should make beautiful films with the human touch. See how the Iranian film industry has come up?"
There wasn't a Hindi lobby
She has also clearly had enough of the accusation that the Oscar selection jury chose a Hindi film over gems from the regional film industries.
"When we reached Hyderabad we didn't even know what films we were to screen. We weren't given the director's name or the names of the production houses. It was as transparent as it could get. We were just given a synopsis. There wasn't a Hindi lobby. We weren't there with a mission to promote Hindi cinema. In fact, though we all speak Hindi, there were no members from the so-called Hindi belt," Borah said.
The Film Federation of India is authorized to select one film for the consideration of Oscars in the category of the Best Foreign Language Film Award each year. The FFI had set up the selection committee to view the films entered for selection from September 15 in Chennai. It needed to submit the film to the Academy not later than October 1, 2012.
The Academy defined a foreign language film as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track. For an Indian entry, the films must be commercially released in India between October 1, 2011 and September 30, 2012.
It's a really expensive process
"I have often asked 'why aren't there more regional films in the selection process'? Now I know. The submission process is expensive and there is also very little awareness among independent regional filmmakers on what to do to get their films screened," she said.
"Take the example of Adaminte Makan Abu - what a beautiful film that was. Or 'A Separation' that finally won. I have seen both films and they are equally good. But there was no help for 'Adaminte', no government support. It is a very expensive process to promote your film after it has been sent for the Oscars nomination and Adaminte couldn't do it."
Adaminte Makan Abu, a film by Salim Ahamed, was sent as India's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards in 2011but it was not nominated.