Why Indian films don't make an impact at the Oscars

Why Indian films dont make an impact at the Oscars

India's official entry, 'Village Rockstars' couldn't make it to the final five nominations.


Khalid Mohamed

Published: Fri 15 Feb 2019, 6:10 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Feb 2019, 7:37 AM

As the countdown begins for the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, scheduled to take place on February 24 at Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, California, the guessing game about the 'sureshot winners' is intensifying. The favourites of the season are Roma, Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical account of his childhood in Mexico City, Vice, Adam McKay's look-back at the former US vice president Dick Cheney and The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos' period drama on two cousins vying for favours from Queen Anne.
Bryan Singer's Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and the third remake of A Star Is Born by actor-director Bradley Cooper, co-starring Lady Gaga, are other hefty contenders for the coveted Oscar trophy. Needless to harp, surprises - pleasant as well as unpleasant ones - are endemic.
Not surprisingly though, India's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film - Rima Das' indie Assamese film Village Rockstars - couldn't make it to the final five nominations. The film - which won the Best Feature Film 'Swarna Kamal' award at the National Awards presented by the central government - is a lively take on an underprivileged 10-year-old girl's dreams of forming a local band. The budget to promote and the canvas for attention in an overcrowded global arena was way beyond the filmmaker's reach. The sum of INR 1 crore gifted to her for publicity by the Assam government proved to be inadequate.
The only India-connect at the Oscars this time around will be Indian producer Guneet Monga's Period. End of Sentence, which figures in the final nomination checklist in the Documentary (Short Subject) category. Set in a rural village outside Delhi, it examines the issue of lack of hygiene for women, a theme that was also tackled by R. Balki in PadMan, starring Akshaye Kumar.
Although India still churns out one of the world's highest number of films in a year - with 1,000-plus films in over 27 languages - its cinema has featured only fleetingly at the hallowed Academy Awards. Often, an official committee - appointed by the Film Federation of India - is blamed for selecting an inappropriate entry. For instance, Shekhar Kapur had once protested vociferously when his gutsy Bandit Queen (1994) was bypassed. Four years later, there was a hullaballoo when the brain-scrambler of a musical, directed by Shankar, Jeans, was selected by the committee.
Over the decades, the selection committee has been under the fire constantly. This time around, however, it had made a judicious choice in Village Rockstars, but, unfortunately, went under the cracks due to aforecited financial constraints.
Quite distinctly, fortune hadn't favoured Mehboob Khan's Mother India way back in 1958. Widely considered a cult classic today, actress Nargis' career-best film reportedly lost out by just one vote to Federico Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, an Italian neo-realist depiction of a woman's dogged search for true love.
Other Indian films that made it to the finals of the Best Foreign Language Film category - Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay!, Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan and Deepa Mehta's Water - lost out to Sweden's Pelle The Conqueror, Bosnia's No Man's Land and The Lives of Others in 1988, 2001 and 2007 respectively.
The Mumbai-born Ismail Merchant, who produced films directed by his partner James Ivory, earned Best Picture Nominations for A Room with a View (1985), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993). However, the enterprising producer never took a trophy home. Belatedly, last year Ivory won the Best Adapted Screenplay Award for Call Me By Your Name, nearly 12 years after the passing away of Merchant.
In the technical stakes, two Indians have been recipients of Uncle Oscar (as the trophy is nicknamed). Rahul C. Thakkar, an Indian-American software inventor, jointly won the Academy Award for Scientific and Technical achievement in 2016 for creating groundbreaking design for DreamWorks Animation Media Review System, a scalable digital film review platform. Last year, the Pune-born engineer, Vikas Sathaye, shared the Scientific and Engineering trophy for his contribution to the conceptualisation, designing and implementation of the Shootover K1 Camera System.
Besides that, only five Indians have been honoured with the Oscars, starting with Bhanu Athaiya for Best Costume Design for Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982). A decade later, the master Satyajit Ray received the Honorary Lifetime Achievement during the last lap of his life, the trophy presentation being heart-rendingly video recorded at his sick-bed.
Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (2008) proved to be a bonanza for A.R. Rahman, who was fêted with two Oscars on the same night for Best Original Music Score and the Best Original Song, Jai Ho. The latter was shared by Gulzar, the rousing song's lyricist. Quite ironically, the song had earlier been rejected by producer-director Subhash Ghai. C'est la Bollywood perhaps. Slumdog Millionaire also fetched the Best Sound Mixing trophy for Resul Pookutty.
That's where India's Oscar story rests for now, underscoring the point that with a higher degree of quality control, right entries and (alas) a cushy publicity budget, Indian cinema could make far more waves at the prime prize celebration of the world. Fingers tightly crossed!

More news from