For perhaps the first time in the history of Indian cinema, the Film Federation of India (FFI) has sent a formal letter to the director of a film, asking him in no uncertain terms to shut up, or face the music.
For the uninitiated, Ritesh Batra’s directorial debut The Lunchbox received critical acclaim from across the nation, and was backed by Bollywood biggies like Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap as the surefire contender for the official Oscar entry from India this year. When the 16-member jury of FFI snubbed it in favour of The Good Road, a furore ensued in film circles.
Kashyap, Batra and others openly dismissed the federation’s decision. Even a fortnight after the federation’s choice was declared, the controversy refused to die down. And now, the federation seems to have finally reached the end of its tether and is in no mood to entertain the brouhaha any longer.
In a scathing letter to Batra that has been also marked to Anurag Kashyap, UTV Software Communications Ltd and Dharma Productions, the federation has asked Batra to apologise for his comments on various channels and social networking websites.
The letter, signed by Secretary General Supran Sen, opens with a stern denunciation: ‘We have been hearing and reading about your various unsavoury comments either through the film industry grapevine or through your Twitter/Facebook posts about the selection of The Good Road for Oscar. As a citizen of a democratic country you have every right to express yourself, but when a certain boundary is crossed time and again, one cannot take it lying down’.
It goes on to say: ‘The Film Federation of India takes umbrage at the way you have gone about demeaning a film when an eminent jury has selected it as India’s entry.’
Not mincing its words, FFI raps the one-film old Batra for questioning the unanimous decision of the eminent jury, and reminds him that they have selected the film based on its merits, and not on the merits of marketing of a film: ‘You will note that some members of the jury are icons in their own right with umpteen National awards... yet you with just one film under your belt have openly scorned their choice and attributed it as ‘lack of vision’!’’
The letter in no uncertain terms also warns that the Federation will take up the matter with the Information and Broadcasting committee and also the Oscar academy. The Good Road is produced by NFDC: ‘What you have recently posted in your Facebook account about ‘there being corruption’ in the process is a serious allegation. As you are aware, The Good Road is produced by NFDC, a government of India undertaking. Are you suggesting that the I&B Ministry, ie the Government of India, has made a successful attempt in bribing the jurors? Very serious allegations indeed... we are taking up this matter with the I &B Ministry’.
Sen signs off with the demand of an ‘unconditional apology’ from Batra for his ‘derogatory remarks’ about the federation and the Oscar jury.
When MiD DAY called Supran Sen for his comments, he disconnected after saying he was busy at a meeting. Ritesh Batra said, “I am mentoring an NFDC script lab in Goa. I have not received any letter. The audience and critical acclaim for the film are my awards. I wish my friend Gyan and his film luck, but if they are sending me a letter, I hope that it comes inside a lunchbox’.
‘Are you suggesting the Oscar is rigged?’
The letter also questions Batra about his claim that Sony Classics would back his film and make sure that it gets a good run at the Oscars. The letter questions the credibility of such a claim. Sony Classics holds the US rights for The Lunchbox.
The letter says, ‘You and the team have been stating time and again in various interactions in the media that once (note not ‘if’ but once!) Lunchbox is selected from India, you have been assured by Sony Classics that it will have a spectacular run in the Oscar. Tacit hints have been dropped at strategically organised media conferences about winning an Oscar! You, in fact, even term the selection of The Lunchbox from India as a mere technicality! Excuse me!!! ...What we are very interested in knowing is how you are making such claims? ... Are you suggesting that the Oscar is rigged? We are lead to believe that you have a letter from Sony Classics which is the reason for your confidence... can you share it with us?’
The story so far...
>> Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox had managed to make quite a bit of news in the festival circuits, partly thanks to the content of the film and partly due to Anurag Kashyap, who was the part producer of the film along with Guneet Monga. Later, when Karan Johar watched the movie, he was so impressed that he decided to be a producer too, and so did UTV’s Siddharth Roy Kapur. With the bigwigs joining forces, the movie’s promotions soon reached different heights altogether.
>> The Lunchbox gained momentum and as most critics and viewers gave it a thumbs up, it managed to make good business. Subsequently, a group of supporters, led by Kashyap and Johar, started pushing it as the top contender for the official Indian entry for the Oscars on the social networking site. However, the FFI went against popular opinion and chose to send Gyan Correa’s The Good Road for the Academy Awards instead.
>> This decision invited a tide of criticism, as fans of The Lunchbox and later the people involved with the film started openly lambasting the FFI’s choice. Apart from going on a rampage on social networking sites, Anurag Kashyap even went to the extent of warning the FFI jury members that their choice would never make it to the five nominations at the Oscars. Later, Kashyap deleted his Twitter account.
>> Karan Johar had Tweeted on September 21, “Really shocked and dissapointed...#LUNCHBOX had every factor working in its favour... we may have just lost our golden chance.... SAD!!!”
>> Batra too has gone about town giving interviews and expressing concern over how India seems to have missed its only shot at getting an Oscar to India. He had added that the film’s US distributors Sony Pictures were disappointed, saying that the company thought that this was one Indian film that could have gone all the way. The head of jury Gautam Ghose had offered an explanation, saying that the decision to select The Good Road was a collective one taken by the 16-member jury. He had added that ‘judging anything on earth is a thankless job’.