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Raju Goes to the Academy

He travelled to the Cannes Film Festival last year,bagged the Student Academy Award for the Best Foreign film right after,and now,in 2012,Raju is prepping for the Oscars.

After Smile Pinki and Kavi,it’s the turn of Raju to shine at the Oscars. But why does “underdog India” need a foreign hand to make it to the nominations?

He travelled to the Cannes Film Festival last year,bagged the Student Academy Award for the Best Foreign film right after,and now,in 2012,Raju is prepping for the Oscars. The small-budget Indo-German film,which was shot in Kolkata,has been nominated in the Short Film (Live Action) category for the 84th Academy Awards 2012. Casting director and actor,Taranjit Kaur,can’t contain her excitement. “Oscars are a dream come true,” she says in elation.

But the fact of the matter remains that when it comes to the highly-rated Academy Awards,the Indian sub-continent continues to be showcased in a stereotypical fashion and the features that make it to the Oscar list are the ones made by filmmakers of foreign origin. Take Kavi,for instance. Directed by American documentary filmmaker Gregg Helvey,this 19-minute feature was nominated in the Short Film (Live Action) category in 2010. Another small film with a big smile that made it to the Oscars and won in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category was Megan Mylan’s Smile Pinki (2008).

Interestingly,all of these films have been about poor children — their struggle and the exploitation they face. Even Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was the typical underdog story. And so was Ashvin Kumar’s Little Terrorist,which was nominated in the Short Film category for Oscars in 2005 and was the story of a 10-year-old Pakistani boy,who strays into the Indian territory.

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While India’s presence at the Oscars has been all about short films with big impact,Indian filmmakers,barring a few,are yet to make their mark. “That’s because we are not necessarily interested in making good films,” confesses actor-filmmaker Rajat Kapoor,who adds that the Oscar jury is still stuck in the ‘oh-so-poor-India’ mindset,” he adds.

“A French filmmaker once told me that when it comes to the Academy Awards,there are certain set parameters that don’t seem to change. If it’s China,they look at political subjects; Hong Kong is where the action lies and India and Iran are all about ‘realistic cinema’. It’s been 15 years since he made this observation and it stands to date,” says Kapoor.

Perceptions,he feels are more convincing than reality and to make it to the Oscars,Indians need to revisit and reinvent their own cinema instead of foreigners doing it for them. Film critic Taran Adarsh agrees. “Better films always work,and the best work with the Oscars,” he says.

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Film producer Guneet Monga,who worked on Kavi,is nevertheless buoyed by the nominations India is getting. “India gets catapulted into the limelight and it brings in equity and business. Films such as Smile Pinki,Kavi and Raju create more awareness about child labour,adoption rackets and trafficking and the world needs to see this,” says Monga,who is co-producing a film on human trafficking,called Sold. According to her,if anything needs to be checked,it is the Indian selection committee that shortlists films to be sent to the Oscars.

Is “poor India” the only saleable commodity at Oscars? “No. Slumdog Millionaire and Smile Pinki won because they are high on hope and dreams. These films proclaim from the rooftop that we can do it and make our dreams come true,” says Nandini Rajwade,the field producer for Smile Pinki. Like Monga,her contention is that all these films,which were made on shoe-string budgets have helped children out of their misery.

Some contend that the story may be Indian but the issues are global. “Bonded labour and slavery are global issues that affect people in many developing countries,” says Helvey,who is now rewriting the script of Kavi to be made as a full-length feature. For this,he is supported by a California-based NGO,Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking,which works towards bringing about a legislation in the Californian senate against slavery.

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On the other hand,Stefan Gieran,who produced Raju,says that it’s challenging and rewarding to open one’s mind to a foreign culture. Post Raju,his team has started working with an NGO called We Help,to save children from the international adoption racket. The success of Smile Pinki brought about The Smile Train,that provides free cleft lip surgery to poor children in India. Gieran sums it up when he says,“Films know only two currencies: revenues and awards.”

First published on: 26-01-2012 at 12:04:58 am
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