The 2018 Oscars are months away, and yet India seems to have lost a chance to win the elusive statue already. The final nominations for Oscar awards started trickling in a couple of hours ago. Our entry in the category of Best Foreign Language Film-Newton, failed to make it to the final nominations. Nothing surprising or new to us.
Year after year we send out great films to compete at the Oscars on the global level. But most of the times our films shockingly fail even to make it to the final nominations.
No lack of good content
Indian cinema has no dearth of good content. Even in the trashy decades of the 80s and 90s, we had a handful of great films from both Bollywood and regional cinema. Almost all of our official entries to the Oscars are justified. Newton, for example, is one of the best films made in Indian film industry in 2017. The movie has a great screenplay, story and direction. It boasts of a compelling performance by Rajkumar Rao, who recently won the best actor award at Asia-Pacific Screen Awards for the film. The movie has a sound message for the audience. And yet, it failed to find a spot in the list of final nominations.
Previously, our entries from regional cinema like the Tamil film, Visaranai, or Marathi film Court before that failed to get final nominations as well.
Lack of understanding of how the nomination for Foreign Language Film work
The way nominations work is quite complicated. It’s not as simple as just sending your film to the Oscars, where a jury views it and decides its fate. The jury members responsible for short listing the final nominations, can only watch a limited number of films from the giant pool of entries in this specific category. Hence, it’s the producer’s responsibility to showcase his film at the Oscars and create a buzz around it. The more members of the jury come to watch it, the greater the chances of the film qualifying into the final nominations.
Till 2017 only three Indian entries have made it to the final nominations in Best Foreign Language Film category – Mother India, Salaam Bombay and Lagaan.
The common perception of an Indian movie is that of a masala entertainer, with lots of shimmer and song and dance routine. The members of the jury at Oscars seem to carry this perception as well. So, unless we start releasing more of our well-crafted films worldwide, this perception is not going to change.
Tough competition and our lack of understanding of International Cinema
The second stage where we lose the battle is when our films do make it to the final nominations. Of the three times we have managed to find a place in nominations, we faced tough competition, and lost to worthy winners. For example, Lagaan, the only film people from our generation probably remember as a successful entry to the Oscars, lost to the Bosnian film No Man’s Land. A loss which was surprising to Indians but not if you watch the latter film.
When we hear the result, we think “Oh! Lagaan lost at the Oscars.” Instead, we should ask ourselves how much do we understand global cinema.
Instead of blaming Oscars for favouritism and bias, first, we should acknowledge that in India, we know squat about the craft of cinema.
Our vision does not go beyond regional and Hollywood films. Only a handful of us actually watch foreign language films. Then why on earth do we think that we deserve to win in a category that we don’t understand fully.
Love it or hate it, we still yearn for that golden statue
We can dismiss Oscars as an award show partial to entitled white men. We can claim that they do not understand our sensibilities and hence our cinema. It won’t be entirely false that the Oscar jury is leans towards films based on themes of war, loss and peace. But it would be a lie to say that we do not care for Oscars anymore. It’s like an elusive treasure which we hunt year after year. Though the treasure seems to have lost some of its sheen, it is the accomplishment of finally holding it in our hands, that we want the most.
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Dr Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.