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Moviegoers claim 'Harry Potter' house elf looks like Russia's P

Saturday, February 1, 2003

MOSCOW -- What does the stern-faced commander in chief of a million-strong army have in common with a self-effacing elf from a popular children's film? Nothing -- except perhaps a longish nose, piercing eyes and a certain indefinable similarity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may not be green and wrinkly like Dobby, the house elf from "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," but moviegoers have been struck by a certain resemblance.

The British Broadcasting Corp. even set up a Putin/Dobby poll on its children's Web site. Out of 9,188 people who cast votes as of Friday, nearly 57 percent agreed that Putin does look like Dobby.

Russian media reported last week that a Moscow law firm was preparing to sue the makers of the Potter movie for intentionally modeling the character on Putin. However, no law firm has come forward to take credit for the idea.

Pavel Astakhov, a prominent Russian litigator, said the claim would be almost impossible to prove, though he acknowledged the resemblance.

"The more you look at them, of course, the more they seem to look alike," he told NTV television this week.

Artist Nikas Safronov, known for his portraits of the Russian political elite, took an NTV crew into his workshop to look for signs of Dobby in the many Putin paintings.

"This one here you could compare to your Dobby character," Safronov said, pointing to a portrait emphasizing Putin's full lips.

"He has pretty big lips, yes. But what can you do? They're normal men's lips -- tough," he said. "The nose has something similar too."

For Putin's critics, the president's physical resemblance to an irritating, self-hating gnome is a source of glee.

"The similarity becomes even greater when you observe poor Dobby's upheavals. Destitute, cowardly, ingratiating, he betrays his masters and beats himself for the sake of a sorcerer," the ultra-nationalist newspaper Zavtra said in a caption under Dobby's photo.

The Kremlin has been silent on the Dobby issue. But Putin's entourage has been sensitive in the past to jokes at the president's expense. In 2000, a group of St. Petersburg professors demanded NTV pull a Putin puppet from its satirical Kukly show. At the time, many believed the complaint was initiated by Putin's image makers.


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