The year 1957, brought many lucky stars for India. It was for the first time that India submitted its first film for the Academy Awards and stunningly the evergreen classic ‘The Mother India’ even managed to score a nomination at the 30th Academy Awards. Fascinatingly, the film was lauded by the Academy but lost to the Italian drama ‘Nights of Cabiria’ by just one single vote. What is however more appealing, that just 10 years after its Independence India had progressed so much in the world of cinema, that it managed to get into the race for winning the most honorable award for the art of film making. Sixty years after that historical film, India has just managed to score two more nominations at ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category. With the critically acclaimed ‘Newton’ being India’s official entry for the Oscars, we take a closer look at the bizarre relation the country has had with the Academy.
The years after ‘Mother India’ gave rise to the masala genre which continued to roar at the box-office but the international audience and academies found way too spicy (read cheesy) for their taste-buds. That was probably the reason, India nearly vanished from the eyes of worldwide cinema until 1988, when Mira Nair’s ‘Salaam Bombay!’ was nominated for the award- it took 31 years, yes 31 years for India to again get a chance at the Oscars! The realism of the film depicting the lives of street children struck a chord with many prominent film critics who called it one of the best films of the year. Despite this the film lost the award to Denmark’s ‘Pelle the Conquerer’ . Ironically, legendary film critic Roger Ebert gave ‘Salaam Bombay!’ a full 4 star rating, a score higher than he gave to the ‘Pelle the Conqueror’. 2002 again saw a glimmer for India when Ashutosh Gowariker’s innovative sports drama ‘Lagaan’ created quite a buzz abroad but despite the film’s excellence, the golden statue was bagged by Bosnian war-drama ‘No Man’s Land’. India is among thirty other nations whose films have at least been nominated but never won .While India has thankfully tied hands with realism or Oscar-bait quality film-making in recent years, it is yet to make a historical mark in the contemporary cinema. It is not that India did not make quality films all these years. Remarkable pieces like ‘The Guide’, ‘The Bandit Queen’, ‘Taare Zameen Par’ have continued to impress critics here and beyond yet the striking work of European filmmakers always seems to outshine them.
The most notorious culprit for the country’s lack of representation is the Film Federation of India- a bench comprising me of eleven members chosen for selecting the best of the country. The FFI has come under scrutiny for its ignorant selection of films every year wherein it generally chooses mainstream over regional cinema. It had earlier decided that films winning the best picture at the National Film Awards were to represent, but this action has not been implemented and it was only in 2015 that ‘The Court’ was chosen for submission. Unfortunately, this isn’t just one of the Committee’s fault. In 2012, ‘Barfi!’ which was criticized for plagiarism was chosen for Oscar submission over the much-appreciated biographical drama ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. The FFI was again attacked in 2013 when it chose the hazy drama ‘The Good Road’ over the universally acclaimed epistolary drama ‘The LunchBox’.
Film producer Karan Johar disapproved of the FFI, tweeting,
‘The Lunchbox’ had every factor working in its favour,we may have just lost our golden chance. Sad.”
Despite it not making to the Academy’s foreign language category it will be a disaster if we say that India has no representation in the awards. Indian and Indian origin stars have continued to make a lasting impression every year, with this year Dev Patel being a fine example. Costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, phenomenal film maker Satyajit Ray, influential lyricist Gulzar and talk of the town these days A.R. Rahman have all secured the prestigious award. Many filmmakers and directors have taken India as an inspiration to make flawless works of art. Their portrayal of India has won many hearts, exploring the culture of India as truly it is-rich and diverse. ‘Gandhi’ became the film to win an Oscar with an all India background and from then the list has continued- ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ – a story set in Indian slums went on to win 8 of those coveted trophies. And more recently ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Lion’ received major nominations and although not winning the best picture both of them had a heartfelt Indian story to tell.
Indian cinema and the country itself shares a unique bond with cinema and Hollywood. It might take some time for Bollywood to bring home the Oscars but Indian has already won hearts and represented itself at the distinguished awards.