So much Hoo Ha about India’s entry to the Oscar’s. Do you really care about the Oscars ?
Would you be prouder of Indian Cinema if an Indian Film won the Best Foreign Language film Oscar ? Only if you thought that the Oscar Committee, or whoever judges the films knew more about Cinema than you, me or even our audiences. Right ?
What particularly intrigues me is the assumption in this controversy that the Jury in India is infinitely inferior to the Jury or whoever votes at the Oscars.
Consider that most of the Members of the Academy (who’s Vote leads to the Oscars) that actually have time (but perhaps not the ability) to sit through a 2.5 hour film, retired 20 years ago and are approaching their 80’s. Those that are working certainly do not have time to go see a foreign language film in a theatre, unless of course someone, or the press, have recommended it in unusually strong terms. The word we use for that is Lobbying.
I would bet that if Satyajit Ray were alive today, and made Pather Panchali in this year, first the Indian Jury would have not even considered it, and if perchance they did, the Oscar’s voters would probably have walked out of it. UNLESS the critics and the press raved about it before the screening. And this is a film that is rightly considered one of the 10 best ever made. So who has the right to judge ?
Film can be a numbers game only on the Box Office. All other yardsticks are composed of opinions, prejudices, preconceptions and judgementalism. Reviewers are not called ‘critics’ for no reason. They criticize and judge you. So if you want to WIN the Oscar (as against merely being the Indian nominee), the only way to beat them is to play cat and mouse with those that will judge you.
I was once asked to judge the Miss India contest. While all of us male members of the jury were thrilled about the opportunity to select beautiful girls based on our own prejudices and fantasies, we were clearly told by the organizers that we must decide whether we wanted to choose a girl WE like, or one that can WIN. And we were given a criteria of what is likely to win and what is not. No wonder when you see a jury judging a beauty contest on TV they look so glum. Their fantasies have been turned into an intellectual exercise.
So how do you make a film that will appeal to the Oscar Jury and recover it’s cost in India ? Well, you can’t really. Unless you become an “Oscar Darling” by selling your soul to the critics. But if we are really serious about winning the Oscar, then lets take a pointer or two from the organizers of beauty contests. The Indian Jury must put down a criteria of selection. Which must be based on what is currently fashionable in the confusing world of the critics. And the Jury must be selected, like fashion designers, from those that are hobnobbing the world of ‘fashionable cinema’.
Which leads me to another point. Why did regional films from India not come into contention? Some of the best films today are not made in Hindi but in regional languages, as they tend to be much more rooted.
So which film had a chance ?
I have not seen ‘Paheli’, so thankfully cannot be dragged into the controversy on whether it deserved the nomination or not. But I can understand that it represents much more the essential folk form of Hindi Cinema, which is Nautanki. I have seen ‘Black’, which was great, but too much a hybrid, traversing the world of nautanki and realism in one film. Which is fascinating for me and all those that understand and love the basic ethos of Indian Cinema. But in my opinion would have left the Oscar Voters a bit confused. Lagaan was loved by the foreign critics because it was an unabashed celebration of the nautanki form, a fairy tale not alluding to any realism at all.
But I can tell you which film I think had a real chance –
A film called ‘Black Friday’ which is a brilliant film by Anurag Kashyap. It is, naturally, banned in India. For it is the story of the people responsible for the Bombay Bomb Blasts. It follows them through the planning, execution and till they either gave themselves up or were arrested. It exposes the events in each ones lives, for you to judge the morality of it all. Totally gripping.
But much much more importantly, it is so contemporary to a Western World deep in fear of it’s own mortality through terrorism. It would have caught attention without having to spend obscene amounts of money lobbying. Which no India producer can afford to do.
I think it could have won.
And for those of you still enamored by the artistic integrity of the Oscars, remember that the Oscars were first devised as publicity stunt to promote sagging box office figures in the US in and around March.