Oscars: And the nominees are...

In India, the attitude towards the mounting pyramid of awards has been of love-hate. Everyone wants to win one but pretends that they care a hoot for them. By contrast, the Oscars are the ultimate trophy for their power and influence.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards. Other widely feted Malayalam films like Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Elippathayam and G. Aravindan’s Pokkuveyil, were ignored. Bengal’s Rituparno Ghosh was left looking askance.
And imagine this: none of the masterworks of Ritwik Ghatak or Mrinal Sen and the unkindest omission of them all, Satyajit Ray, made the grade for the nominations of the Best Foreign Language Film at the world’s most quality-conscious awards ceremony.
Some of the best Indian films were found unfit for the final nominations at the Oscars. Others haven’t been recommended by the Film Federation of India, the official body entrusted with zeroing in on the most Oscar-worthy entry. Endemically, every year the federation attracts fierce flak. Take the instance of Shankar’s Jeans — a hopeless mishmash of a musical, which was thumbed up quite absurdly. And by any standards, the federation’s selection of the Shah Rukh Khan-produced Paheli was an oddity.
Debutante director Bhavna Talwar was furious enough to file a case in Bombay high court when her spirituality-suffused Dharm was bypassed in favour of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya: The Royal Guard. Anurag Basu’s Barfi!, on being finalised for consideration, was blitzed with charges of plagiarism. Clearly, India’s link with the Oscars would make for a chortle-out-loud if not farcical chapter in the history of Indian cinema.
So there’s something quite “deja” suffered about the controversy — exacerbated by the tweeterati — which has erupted over the federation’s selection of Gyan Correa’s The Good Road, over Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox which has been appreciated by the mandarins as well as the masses, feted at the top-rung festivals, besides being picked up for global distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. For sure, here was a judicious choice. Supported messianically by one of its co-producers, Anurag Kashyap, its exclusion was surprising, and the backlash set off unbridled rage. Hell, indeed, hath no fury like Kashyap scorned!
Be that as it may, the core point is: Is The Good Road good enough? Right off, doubts have been raised that the selection of the Gujarat-located film has political undertones. And there’s no turning away from the point that its instantaneous endorsement by politicians hasn’t been a healthy sign. Moreover, the statement by Goutam Ghose, chairman of the jury appointment by the federation, has added fuel to the fire. He has lamented, “...It is sad that that it (The Lunchbox) didn’t get chosen, but it was very close.” Sad? Any chairperson must keep his sorrow to himself in deference to majority decision, or resign from the jury which he so differed with.
As it happens, The Good Road — which narrates three interlinked stories unfolding on a highway — hasn’t been previewed extensively to justify the bashing spree. Knee-jerk reactions are thick in the air without sampling its content and impact. And that’s where the rub is. Praise it or demolish it, but not without seeing it on screen. Piquantly, the National Film Development Corporation involved in the production of both The Lunchbox and The Good Road, finds itself caught within the crossfire. Its official response is, “We’d rather take the positive, and ignore whatever else has been said.”
Alas, ignorance can’t be bliss indefinitely. In fact, a well-reasoned article in America’s film trade magazine takes up cudgels on behalf of The Lunchbox, as well as Japan’s Like Father, Like Son, and France’s Blue is the Warmest Color (winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes) which won’t be considered eligible for the next Best Foreign Language Film. Japan has submitted another film, The Great Passage, while the theatrical release of Blue is the Warmest Color falls outside the September 20 deadline stipulated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The suggestion is that the policymakers at the Oscars drastically overhaul the selection procedure for the Best Foreign Language film and fast. It cannot be assigned to official committees the world over. To bolster the argument, it is pointed out that cinema greats like Yasujiro Ozu, Jean-Luc Godard, Andrei Tarkovsky and Abbas Kiarostami didn’t cross the first hurdle of making it to the nominations.
Undoubtedly, the authority and composition of the federation’s jury for the Indian entry to the Academy Awards demands scrutiny and revision. Similarly, so do the various self-appointed selectors for international festivals. In fact, be it Cannes, Berlin, London or Venice, the authorities there bank largely on individuals in Mumbai who are prone to subjective recommendations. Don’t chum up with them, and even excellent films can be overlooked.
Incidentally, the Best Foreign Language Film category — sparked by the worldwide acceptance of European arthouse films — began in 1956 at the Oscars, which were initiated in 1929. Since then, over 50 of the awards have gone to European filmmakers.
In India, the attitude towards the mounting pyramid of awards at home has been that of love-hate. Everyone wants to win one but pretends that they care a hoot for them. By contrast, the Oscars are the ultimate trophy for their power and influence. Expectedly, the chronic awards-hater, Aamir Khan, had no hesitation in heading to Hollywood for the ceremony when Lagaan made it to the final five checklist, a status shared with Mother India and Salaam Bombay.
C’est le cinema. Seriously, so how about relishing our lunch boxes in peace please, without a bitter after-taste?

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director

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I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.