Too much hype? Is the Oscar really what we should be aspiring for?

Now that Chaitanya Tamhane's 'Court' has been declared India’s official entry for Oscars, we try deciphering the hype surrounding the Academy Awards.

Are we going out of our way to be accepted by an industry, which might not even understand our sensibilities, let alone our style of film-making?

A still from Shwaas
A still from 'Shwaas'

Mahesh Bhatt minces no words, “The truth is that we haven’t set our own internal measures of excellence yet. Despite being the world’s largest producer of films, we don’t have a setup to appreciate Indian cinema the way the Academy Awards nurture American cinema.

Court is India’s official entry to the Oscars this year
Court is India’s official entry to the Oscars this year

This shortcoming can be traced back to the fact that cinema in India flourished not because of the government, but despite it.” Bhatt’s soulful film, 'Saransh', which was about a father fighting with the system to get his dead son’s ashes, was selected as the official entry for the Oscars in 1984 in the Best Film in the Foreign Language category.

According to Hansal Mehta, Oscars are over-rated. “It is an American award for Hollywood films. They just have one category for foreign films,” Mehta points out. Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra, however, doesn’t want to underplay the importance of the awards but points out that it shouldn’t be the ‘be all and end all’.

A still from Harishchandrachi Factory
A still from 'Harishchandrachi Factory'

“All the good films in the world needn't get an Oscar. If a film doesn’t make the cut, life still moves on,” he says.

Veteran filmmaker Ketan Mehta airs similar sentiments and says, “Oscars are not everything. They are just an international awards ceremony and getting hyper about it is not necessary”.

Too much hardwork?
Once a film is chosen as the official entry, the travails begin. The producer has to spend a huge amount of money to promote the film and make sure it is shown in the ‘right’ circles. For instance, a small and humble Marathi film, Shwaas, caught the attention of the jury in 2004 and was chosen as the Oscar entry.

ketan mehta, filmmaker
Ketan Mehta, Filmmaker

The film narrates the story of a grandfather who wanted to help her grandson see the world before the young boy loses his eyesight. It received much critical acclaim in the country. But the makers didn’t have the financial backup to promote it abroad. Finally, a group of eleven NRIs pooled in money for it.

Arun Nalavde, the actor and producer of the film, says, “The promotion of the film is very important. There has to be an awareness about the movie. You have to make sure that the the maximum number of juries watch it. It’s quite an expensive process where you need to organise screenings. Planning is required to market a film. You have to hire a good company there that specialises in these things.” However, despite all the effort, Shwaas couldn’t make it to the final nominations.

However, Paresh Mokashi, the director of the witty Marathi film, Harishchandrachi Factory, which was also an official Oscar entry, clarifies, “Actually there’s a lot of misconception about Oscars in the film industry. Once a film is chosen as the official entry, the Oscars campaign stops and then one can’t do anything.

Promoting your film during the Oscars is not valid. In past few years there have been cases where the jury has cancelled the entry, as the producers and members associated with the film were acting smart. People go there and unofficially organise the screenings. It is the same process what we do here and apart from this you really don’t need to do anything else.”

Other oscar entries

Starting in the 1950s, with Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, we have been sending films to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars. Here’s how we have fared over the last 15 years

2014: Liar’s Dice
The film was pit against Rajkummar Rao’s Shahid, Kangana Ranaut’s Queen and Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom. However the maximum vote went to Liar’s Dice featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Geetanjali Thapa.

2013: The Good Road
The Gujarati film emerged as the nomination in the said category. However, initially the Irrfan-starrer The Lunchbox was a popular choice until Gyan Correa’s film came to the limelight.

2012: Barfi!
There were several films to be considered this year like Paan Singh Tomar, Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2. While there were several objections, Anurag Basu’s film made the cut.

2011: Adaminte Makan Abu
This Malayalam film directed by Salim Ahamed was selected to represent India in th Oscars.

2010: Peepli Live
The movie on farmers’ suicide created an indelible mark and was the popular choice to be sent to the Oscars. The film was pitted against Sanjay Singh’s Udaan.

2009: Harishchandrachi Factory
This cult Marathi film, which showcased the start of the Indian film industry was a popular choice for the Oscars.

2008: Taare Zameen Par
Aamir Khan’s movie on autistic children became a popular choice for the Oscars. And it was a unanimous decision.

2007: Eklavya — The Royal Guard
This selection received the maximum flak. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya was picked over Chak De!, Gandhi My Father and Guru.

2006: Rang De Basanti
The film, Rang De Basanti, which was based on freedom fighters Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad got precedence over Rajkumar Hirani's Lage Raho Munnabhai.

2005: Paheli
Amol Palekar’s Paheli, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukerji, made the cut. Although, several movies like Black, Mangal Pandey, Parineeta, Page 3 were in the running.

2004: Shwaas
This Marathi film spoke about a child who was about to lose his eye sight. Directed by Sandeep Sawant, Shwaas was nominated in the Foreign films’ category for the Academy Awards.

2003: No films were sent

2002: Devdas
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas was chosen as the Oscar entry from India over films like the Legend of Bhagat Singh starring Ajay Devgn.

2001: Lagaan
Aamir Khan’s Lagaan was one of the three films that went to the Oscars and was nominated in the final round. Unfortunately, we still didn’t win.

2000: Hey Ram
Kamal Haasan’s movie on Gandhi received critical acclaim and was nominated to the Oscars. The film was made in both Hindi and Tamil.

Independent Oscar entries
2014: National Award-winning film Dhag and Girish Malik’s Jal were sent as Independent Oscar entries to the Best Foreign Language film category.

2012: Nila Madhab Panda’s Jalpari— the Desert Mermaid went as a solo entry.

2006: Vidhu Vinod Chopra sent his film Lage Raho Munnabhai as a solo entry when it didn’t get selected as the nation's choice for the Oscars.

2005: Jahnu Barua sent his film Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara as the film was not nominated. The same year Mahesh Dattani also sent his film Morning Raga for the awards.

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