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.”