This year’s list of possible Academy nominations in the foreign language category will have a film from Pakistan.
The country, which had a thriving movie industry before it shifted to Mumbai after 1947, had last sent a film for the Oscars 50 years ago.
Every country can submit a movie, which is then considered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for nomination under foreign language. Normally, a country sets up a committee of experts which zeroes in on the film to be submitted for the Oscars. Cinema directors, producers, writers and even actors can be on the panel.
Pakistan has formed the committee, and since the Academy does not require government sanction, the panel has not sought State approval.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who won Pakistan’s first Oscar for co-directing the 2011 short documentary, Saving Face, will chair the committee. Also on it will be writer Mohsin Hamid (whose The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a now a motion picture helmed by Mira Nair), directors Mehreen Jabbar (Ramchand Pakistani with Nandita Das playing a lead), Akifa Mian (Inaam) and Samina Peerzada (Inteha), actor Rahat Kazmi and arts academic Framji Minwalla.
With the movie industry enjoying a revival, the Obaid-Chinoy panel will have a basketful of films to choose from. There have been 21 releases this year, and with several weeks to go before the October 1 deadline for the submissions, there can be more coming in.
Of course, compared with neighbouring India, Pakistan’s number of movies may seem like a tiny drop in the ocean. Yet, for Pakistan, the very decision to be part of the Oscars race in 2014 may well be thrilling.
Pakistan has sent only two films since 1956, when the Academy instituted a prize for foreign cinema. They were Akhtar J. Kardar’s “Jago hua savera” in 1959 and Khawaja Khurshid Anwar’s “Ghunghat” in 1963. (This is not to be mistaken for India’s 1960 Ghunghat by Ramanand Sagar.)
British-Pakistani helmer Hammad Khan, whose debut feature “Slackistan” was banned in Pakistan, told Variety this week: “Pakistan has not officially submitted any movies for the Academy Awards’ consideration in 50 years, because the state has never taken film seriously, neither as a cultural art form nor as a valuable communal experience. In all those years, Pakistan has been so preoccupied with coups, wars and religion that cinema has only been reduced to low entertainment by the powers-that-be. It is, of course, monumentally idiotic to ignore the power of cinema in the development of any nation’s narrative.”
Khan’s assertion may sound like dichotomy, given Pakistan’s fastidiousness about what it allows to be seen by its masses. Often Indian movies are banned in that country. Some of them which were refused screening rights in recent weeks are Raanjhanaa, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Chennai Express. The reasons may be as varied as hurting religious sentiments to protecting the local film industry.
For the 2013 Oscars, India sent Anurag Kashyap’s Barfi, about a romance between two physically challenged people.