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Winning Games

Oscar entries are not about the best films

Written by Leher Kala |
September 30, 2013 5:35:54 am

Most people who’ve watched The Lunchbox would have batted for it to be India’s entry for the Oscar’s foreign language film category. Instead,an obscure Gujarati film,The Good Road,that nobody had even heard of,much less watched (till it was selected for the Oscar’s) was chosen. While The Lunchbox continues to run to packed halls in most metros,The Good Road lasted barely two weeks in one theatre in Ahmedabad,where interest in it should have been a lot more considering it’s set in the Rann of Kutch.

In Indian cinema,it’s still rare for stories about heartbreaking realities to find an audience,so it’s probably a good thing that a gritty,off-the-beaten-track film like The Good Road got a lucky break. In India the process for selection of Oscar entries is notoriously opaque and nobody seems to know what criterion if there is one,is applied. Last year,inexplicably Barfi! was our entry,a bizarre choice considering it was the opposite of original and had scene-by-scene lifts from at least five famous Hollywood films. In 2010,Peepli Live was sent,which was a nice movie,but certainly not the best India had to offer that year. Does the jury choose the best movie or do they go with something they think the Americans will like,in the hope of improving our odds of winning that elusive statue? More interestingly,what keeps our interest in the Oscars alive,considering that India has been doggedly sending an entry almost every year since the foreign language category came up in 1956 and we’ve never,once won? The Oscar dream seems almost as hard to accomplish as the Olympic one,where we seem to have made a little progress at least: now that wrestling is back as an Olympic sport we’ve got a fighting chance at a gold again.

Our obsession with being validated internationally,whether it’s the Oscars or the Booker Prize for writers could have something to do with the fact that awards constituted in India have fallen into disrepute,marred by politics and scheming. Take the National Awards for film,that for many years seemed only to recognise boring,arty films that nobody watched but at least elicited respect as far as credibility went. That perception changed ten years ago when filmmaker and jury member Pradip Krishen famously resigned alleging discrepancies in selection,when Raveena Tandon won best actress for what has got to be one of the ghastliest films of all time,Daman. We may be glued to our TV sets for other film awards shows,for hosts Shah Rukh Khan or Ranbir Kapoor’s effortless wit and hilarious buffoonery,or analysing which female actor looks the most glamorous,but it’s more about entertainment than anything else. The Oscars hold the highest bar there is for popular credibility but are hardly infallible either. No matter how many awards it may have garnered,Lincoln,is generally acknowledged to be an extremely tedious film that was fortunate to release when the Americans were in an extremely patriotic mood.

Worldwide,there’s a huge gulf between jury opinion and the tastes of critics and viewers. The Lunchbox is no less of a film for not reaching the Oscars,it’s already proved itself and would win a far tougher people’s choice award,hands down. A shortlist or nomination has a lot to do with quality. What wins however,often seems more like a politically motivated popularity contest.

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