Why are Indian filmmakers sending their films to the Oscars on their own?

With more and more filmmakers independently sending their films to the Oscars, does it mean their faith in the official choice is lost?

Several Indian films have made their way into the eligibility list to contend for the Best Picture category at the 87th Academy Awards in February 2015. 

The National Award-winning Marathi film Dhag is about a youngster wanting to break free from traditional jobs in his low caste family

The recently-released list by The Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences has 323 films. The Indian films include two Marathi movies — Shivaji Lotan Patil’s 'Dhag' and Mrunalini Bhosale’s 'Kapus Kondyachi Goshta'. The list also includes Ritesh Batra’s 'The Lunchbox', Girish Malik’s 'Jal', Soundarya R Ashwin’s 'Kochadaiiyaan', Vashu Bhagnani’s 'Youngistaan' and Ravi Kumar’s 'Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain'.

Jal’s music has also found itself on the list of 114 films that have advanced into the second stage in the Best Original Score category of the Oscar nominations. The music has been composed by Sonu Nigam and Bickram Ghosh. AR Rahman with three of his films — 'Kochadaiiyaan', 'Million Dollar Arm' and 'The Hundred Foot Journey' — is on the list too.

In the past
It is not the first time that so many Indian movies have been sent to the Oscars. In 2012, Nila Madhab Panda’s film 'Jalpari — The Desert Mermaid' was sent as a direct entry to the Oscars. The film took on the subject of female foeticide.

In 2006, when Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 'Rang De Basanti' was nominated, Vidhu Vinod Chopra sent his film 'Lage Raho Munnabhai' as an independent entry. Again in 2007, when Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 'Eklavya' was chosen, Sheetal Talwar, the producer of the film 'Dharm', had threatened to send his film to the Oscars. Jahnu Barua had also done likewise when his 2005 movie 'Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara' failed to get a nomination by the Film Federation of India (FFI).

Weighing the options
So does it mean that filmmakers are losing faith in the FFI or is it more beneficial for them as direct entries? Producer Guneet Monga, who is credited for bridging the gap between Indian films and foreign buyers, says, “There is a sincere need for the process to be more transparent in India. Irrespective of which film goes, we need to weigh the merits of the movie in the right light and its entire campaign dynamics.’’

Guneet is happy that independent entries are being sent by filmmakers. She points out, “I think it’s great that filmmakers are taking this in their own hands — it’s empowering. Ultimately, if the film is good and has people supporting its journey, then more power to them.’’

Of course, there is a disadvantage too. She adds, “With the regulations of the Academy Awards being such, when you apply directly, suddenly you are competing with all the films in the main categories and not in the foreign language category. The competition is tougher, especially with the who’s who of studios competing with you.’’

Something’s amiss
Filmmaker Hansal Mehta had been vocal when the FFI chose 'Liar’s Dice' this year over other films including his film Shahid. He has filed an RTI to know about the selection proceedings.

Hansal questions, “Did we have faith in the FFI in the first place? Their process and their credibility to send films for the Oscars is questionable. My RTI on their process, criteria and requesting crucial information on the FFI’s own eligibility filed nearly two months ago is yet unanswered. I’ve noticed that people are entering their films directly, but they are unable to enter their movies for the foreign language section where the rules (unlike the Golden Globes) allow for only one entry per country.”

Director Girish Malik feels that the FFI has a tough task in choosing one film for Oscars. He says, “It is difficult to say which one would be the right choice and which one would not be. It’s a creative medium and opinions differ. I believe they try to make as best a choice as they can.’’

Girish sent his National Award-winning film Jal as a direct entry. He says, “I always had confidence in my film and my content, so we decided to send Jal as a direct entry. Jal is the kind of work that cannot be repeated and so, even when I was not getting a lot of support earlier after the film was completed and at the time of release, I was sure that I will take it to as big a platform as possible and kept trying. The film has been recognised on different platforms for its different aspects — cinematography, visual effects, the screenplay has been invited to the Oscar library and, of course, the best original score and the best picture contention at Oscars.’’

Wide reach
Girish does agree it is going to be a tough competition. He says, “Jal is a small independent film with no studio support. I am happy it is being noticed on the biggest platform for cinema. It gives me a lot of hope and courage to make the kind of cinema I believe in. I do believe in my film and though we have little means, we will try our best
and hope for the best. It was a complete surprise and we will now start planning our Oscar campaign.’’

Opens new markets
While Girish is looking at giving his best to promote his movie, there is another National Award-winning film, Dhag, starring Usha Jadhav also in contention for the Oscars.

Nisha Joseph, who is managing the promotion of the film says, “The reason for taking Dhag for the Academy Awards was its content. It was one of the best films recently made in Marathi. Even though the movie was made two years ago, its run was between January 1 and December 31, 2014 which helped it to fulfill the eligibility criteria.’’

She adds, “It is tough to get a nomination, but the Oscar contention itself can open up international markets for the movie for which a marketing campaign is simultaneously on. Above all, getting a venue for competing with international projects is a different experience altogether.’’

The FFI’s process and their credibility to send films to the Oscars is questionable 

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