The 83rd Annual Academy Awards or the Oscars as it is commonly known, is just around the corner. 27th February 2011 will be the day when the Awards ceremony will take place in Hollywood, USA. Every year the best of films and the best of talents on screen and behind it get due recognition and vie with each other for the ultimate trophy – the Oscar Award. But even if a film gets nominated, is a good sign for the producers and other people associated with the said film as it means more publicity and more audience rushing to catch the film and finally more revenue.
However, the Oscars are limited to English language films except for one category – Foreign language film where the Academy Awards jury invites the best non-English language film from around the world to compete with each other. And the Oscar is awarded to the one of the five films in the final nomination list that makes it to the red carpet.
With the biggest film industry nested in India, it’s surprising that despite India making hundreds of films every year in all languages especially Hindi, yet only three films from India has made it to the nomination level in the final round for the Best Foreign Language Film. And none of the three films managed to bring the coveted trophy home. Why? The first film that was nominated was way back in 1958 when India’s maiden entry, Mehboob Khan’s epic story Mother India made it to the finals. However, it ultimately lost out to Le Notti Di Cabiria, (Nights of Cabiria) an Italian film by Federico Fellini, a director par excellence. If Mother India was a film about a mother who struggles to raise her two sons amidst poverty and hardship and ends with the mother killing her grown up bandit son, Le Notti Di Cabiria was a film full about living life with a smile and moving on with it despite all the adversity. Everything about the film was brilliant especially the lead character Cabiria played by Giulietta Masina. However, the positive side of this maiden entry by India was that Mother India lost by just one vote to Le Notti Di Cabiria. There was hope for the future of Indian cinema at the Oscars.
Post the nomination of Mother India, India had to wait another 30 years before another Indian film could make it to the final nomination round. It was Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay, a film about street children that managed to thwart away competitions from other countries in the preliminary round and make it to the nomination level. However such a long wait ended on a bitter note when Salaam Bombay lost out to the Danish film, Pelle Erobreren (Pelle The Conqueror) in 1988. Pelle Erobrenen wasbrilliant in every sense and the story was about a young boy who moves on with his life despite all the odds. A true winner.
And then a decade later, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan was selected by out Film Federation of India to represent India at the Oscars. Luckily, this film too like Mother India and Salaam Bombay made it to the nomination list at the Academy Awards. A film about a bunch of common people in pre-independent India, who take on the mighty Englishmen in a game of cricket and stand tall, was an ideal film to win an Oscar that year. Whether it was the game of cricket which the Hollywood folks are not too aware of or whether it was the timeline of the film, Lagaan eventually lost to Bosnian tragic war drama movie, No Man’s Land that year.
India despite having a thriving film industry has failed to win an Oscar in the foreign language category though it has been regularly sending in entries since 1958 when Mother India represented India for the very first time. However lately, lot of controversies has erupted over the choice of films to represent India. Going by the kind of films that has been selected since Mother India, often it has been a case of either favoritism or sheer lack of celluloid intelligence to select the best India had to offer for the Academy Awards. How else then can one justify choice of films like Eklavya, Paheli or the drunk world of Devdas or the faux paux Aishwarya Rai starrer Jeans. If the above choice of films surprise you, then what about the Rishi Kapoor starrer Heena or Saagar? Can someone from the Film Federation of India justify the selection of these two films? Over time, such selections have generated quite a bit of controversies when there were more deserving films from across the country and not just the ones from Bollywood.
In one case, not surprisingly, a producer decided to independently arrange for his film to be sent to the Oscars when it didn’t find favor with the selection committee at the Film Federation of India. And yet, a certain section of Bollywood feel that that an Oscar approval doesn’t necessary mean additional business nor does it appeal to Bollywood to win an Oscar.
What the selection committee fails to identify in its selection of films to represent the country at such a prestigious event is the true color of India as a core message of the film. India has been one of the oldest living civilization to boast off. Hence, a film like Paheli with a supernatural story line or this year’s selection Peepli [Live] that revolves around a farmer’s suicide doesn’t exactly paint a positive picture of the country nor the film is optimistic in any sense. No wonder that Peepli [Live] didn’t make it to the final nomination list. Considering the broader film industry spread across the country, there are gems from regional films that can give the other countries tough competition in the race for the Oscars. It’s just that the selection panel needs to move out of its Hindi domain and concentrate on regional films as well considering that since 1958, only a handful of regional films had been selected and a lot others loosing out in spite of it’s sheer brilliance.
Looking at the best foreign language film winners from across the world over the years, one can’t fail to note that almost all these films have quality written large across it. Every department, every actor, every technician stands out in sheer prose. Considering some of the Bollywood films as well as from other regional film industries, if one looked with open eyes and without any biasness, one can definitely find an Indian gem that can bring home the coveted trophy. Only if the selection panel works a little extra hard and scrutinize each entry minutely, 2012 might be the year to bring home the best foreign language film Oscar which has eluded us for the last 50 years! Recently, the Film Federation of India has taken the right step in revamping the selection process to wipe out any trace of favoritism and biasness. Whether it’s effective, time will tell. It’s in the hands of our learned selection committee to stick to protocols without prejudice!