As the Oscar nominations were being announced, three Bollywood personalities were at Mehboob Studio in Bandra talking about the awards. Karan Johar, Kiran Rao and Imran Khan, all film buffs themselves, were discussing the films in the running this year for a TV show that airs later this week. HT Café was on the sets, and spoke exclusively to the three of them, not just about the nominations and potential winners, but also India’s place at the world’s most prestigious award show.
While several international films are in the running every year, why is it that Bollywood films, or most other Indian films, for that matter, rarely get considered? Kiran does not mince words when she says, “We just need to make a good film, to begin with. Our films are still not of the world standard. I think we lack content that is exceptional.”
Karan Johar talks about Lagaan (2001) that earned a Best Foreign Language Film nomination, saying, “It was an exceptional case. It was a fantastic film. I don’t think even they (makers) planned that journey. But that was 12 years ago and there was nothing after that.”
The two filmmakers also spoke about other factors, such as content that must appeal to a global audience, and positioning of our films in the international market.
The Oscars are arguably the most prestigious cinematic awards. What factors need to be looked at for a Bollywood film, or any Indian film, to compete there?
Karan: I think there are many factors that go into it. There’s studio support, the required infrastructure, there’s also planning — lots of such factors determine an Oscar nomination. You can’t simply make a great film and expect it to be nominated. The positioning of your film worldwide, so that it gets attention, also matters. India is very capable of making the right kind of film, at least in terms of content and soul, but I think somebody really strong needs to back that film and take it forward. It’s definitely a possibility, but it will need a lot of work.
Kiran: Even the grammar and the syntax of our movies are so different that there are very few films that can actually appeal to the world audience and, especially, to the Academy audience. So I feel it could be a while (for an Indian nomination to come along), because we really have to improve the content of our movies.
Bollywood films are very dramatic and often over the top. Do you think that’s one hindrance?
Kiran: It’s not so much just the drama element, it’s more the language of our cinema. It’s the emotional pitch (of our stories) that the west has stopped making 30 years ago. I think they kind of have less emotion in their films. Hindi films have always been the what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort. It’s going to be a while before a larger audience connects emotionally with our films. I don’t think the grammar of our films is something they connect with. Every actor would like to be part of a movie that receives global appreciation. No one ever sets out to make an Oscar winner, but there must be certain factors one looks at.
Imran: Frankly, we don’t even set out to make a hit film. All you can set out to do is make a film that you would like to watch yourself. You need to believe in it, be interested in it and be proud of the fact that you’re associated with it. When we start off, we never know whether the film will be a hit or a flop; it’s not something we can predict. For me, I honestly just want people to speak well of my work, my films and remember them years from now.
Do you keep yourself up to date with world cinema?
Imran: On and off. When I have free time, I watch absolutely anything and everything that comes my way. When I’m shooting, I fully shut off. In the past year or so, I’ve watched very, very few films.
When you watch international films, do you make some sort of mental notes and incorporate a particular aspect of them in your own films?
Kiran: No, not actively. As far as possible, I try to shut down all the critical faculties and watch movies as an audience. I try not to think like ‘Oh! That was a good shot,’ and that I could do something like that in my film. But I think, consciously or subconsciously, all filmmakers absorb from good works by others. It also gives you the push to do something better. I don’t think you actively take notes about anything, but it does open up your mind and perspective about filmmaking techniques, how people approach stories and other such things. You learn when you watch world cinema, and I watch it as much as I can.
Karan: I think I stopped being a audience when I became a filmmaker. And that’s God’s honest truth. I think you stop because you not only become judgmental, but you also become self-critical: You think ‘Oh! I can’t do this.’ or ‘Oh! I can do this.’ It just suddenly becomes about you. It’s no longer about the film, and I can’t help it. It’s like you want to switch that filmmaker button off. But I find that very difficult. When I see world cinema, I keep wondering, ‘That was so brilliant and I can’t do this,’ whereas when I watch other Hindi films, I think I can do better than this (laughs). Also, sometimes you feel very tiny when you watch great movies.
Which film do you think has the highest chances of winning the Best Film Oscar this year and why?
Kiran: Most certainly Lincoln. It’s surely a favourite. Politically, it’s a film that aspires to do great things. It says all the right things, and it’s beautifully made. The performances are fabulous and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t win the Best Film.
Imran: I definitely think it will be Lincoln. I actually haven’t seen the film. But the thing is that the kind of political situation that is there currently and the way people are responding to it, and the fact that it’s by Steven Spielberg, plus that it has Daniel Day-Lewis… I think I’d use the word juggernaut. I think there’s no way it can be stopped.
Karan: I agree. Not that I’m a fan of Lincoln, but I think it will win. I’m not politically aware enough to appreciate the magic of the movie. I don’t think I have the exact political knowhow. But I think it has great elements and a brilliant protagonist performance. Daniel Day-Lewis is so great. I think there’s so much going for it and with so much happening in America in terms of politics, I think it’s an aspirational film. Personal opinion aside, I think it’s definitely going to score.
India’s Oscar connection
Bombay Jayashri, Carnatic music vocalist (Nominated for original song): “I am grateful to God and for the opportunity of being a part of Life of Pi. Ang Lee had heard my CDs and for Pi’s lullaby in the film, he wanted me to write simple lyrics, just as a mother would speak to her child. This is the only song that got featured in the movie, so I believe I was able to deliver what they wanted from me. Indian music has such a reach, and when it is featured in an international movie like this, it gives the film additional value.”
Anupam Kher (actor): “It’s a great honour to be going to the Oscars next month. Director David O Russell called me yesterday to thank me beforehand for contributing to his film, Silver Linings Playbook. We expected five or six nominations all along, but eight nominations is fantastic. The most exciting thing for me is that I have worked with two of the nominated directors — Ang Lee and David. It’s a nice journey from Saransh (his first film; 1984) to Silver Linings Playbook (2012).”
Irrfan (actor): “I am ecstatic. There was so much competition this year with some very good films, so to receive 11 nominations for Life of Pi (2012) is beyond my expectations. I’m very proud of the film, and it has been great working with director Ang Lee and Fox Productions on this film.”