Actor Kabir Bedi recounts an incident during the 1988 Oscars, when he found himself holding the statue as a winner -- a British sound recordist -- took a loo break
“The beginnings of all things is small,” said Cicero, the Roman philosopher. The first “Oscar Awards” on May 16, 1929, was attended by 270 people at a private dinner function at the Art Deco-style Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. It was presided over by Douglas Fairbanks. Since then The Oscars, watched by over a billion people now, have become the oldest and most popular film awards in the world.
Winning an Oscar is a hallmark of achievement. But how are the winners chosen? The Oscars, officially called Academy Awards of Merit, are decided by the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).
Almost 6,000 members from 23 branches of film-making, including actors, directors, cinematographers, editors and composers vote. Actors make up 22 per cent of the Academy. I’ve been a member since 1982, nominated by Peter Ustinov and Roddy McDowell, with whom I’d starred in The Thief of Baghdad (1978), for my work in Europe.
Membership of the Academy has many joys. First, we are sent individually named and watermarked DVDs, to prevent piracy, of all films that are eligible to be voted. From this year, we can also stream them online. Second, we get to vote for the Oscars. In the initial round, starting in December, members can only nominate candidates from their specific branch — in my case, actors. But everyone can nominate the Best Film.
After the nominations are decided, they are voted on by all the voting members in the third week of February. In other words, peers decide who is nominated, and all members collectively decide the winners (the only exceptions are some categories like Best Foreign Film and Best Documentary). Finally, if picked for the seats reserved for Academy members, we can attend the coveted Oscar Ceremony itself: a 1 in 4 chance.
I got my ticket to attend the Oscars in early 1988. The ceremony was held in downtown Los Angeles, at the big-domed Shrine Auditorium, capped by red turrets reminding me of Mumbai’s iconic Taj Mahal Hotel. I walked down the red carpet waving to the European press.
Inside the cavernous auditorium, I was seated some rows behind some of the eventual winners: Michael Douglas (Best Actor, Wall Street), Cher (Best Actress, Moonstruck), Sean Connery (Best Supporting, Untouchables) and Bernardo Bertolucci (Best Director, Last Emperor). It felt good to be close to the greats.
I was looking forward to a night of exciting action on stage. It turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. Every time there was a commercial break — and there were many — the audience was left to chat among themselves. Many a musical or dance act had been pre-recorded so we saw only a few live acts. People whiled away their time, rubber-necking to see the other celebrities. But we all cheered loudly for the emotional winners of the evening.
That coveted Oscar night lasted an eternity, well over four hours. Towards the end, nature called urgently. I hurried to a distant toilet. Afterwards, as I dried my hands, a British sound recordist rushed in with an Oscar in his hands. “Here hold this, I’ve got to go,” he yelled, thrusting the gold-plated statuette.
“I’m holding an Oscar!” was all I could think. It was a strange and magical feeling. “Will I get ever my own?” I wondered. Well, that hasn’t happened yet. Years later, the Italians did make me a Knight, but the Oscars remain Hollywood’s Holy Grail.
Kabir Bedi is an actor with a career spanning Bollywood, Hollywood and European films. He’s a voting member of the Oscars Academy, and a Knighted Cavaliere of the Italian Republic. He tweets as @iKabirBedi.
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