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Oscar for India, by India

entertainment Updated: Feb 21, 2009 18:14 IST
Kirti Mehta

As India comes within touching distance of an Oscar this evening, HT City asks directors why India makes it to the Academy Awards only when a foreign filmmaker turns their camera on this country.

Case in point, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (eight awards) and Slumdog Millionaire (10 nominations, with at least three likely). When Indian directors touch on the same subject — poverty — the world doesn’t seem to care.

Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor does not think nationality matters at all. “It’s not relevant who has made the movie, whether Indian or European. In this film, everyone from the actors to the technicians is Indian.”

However Anees Bazmi, director of the flick Singh is Kinng feels the problem arises because Indian directors cannot sell the concept as well as foreign filmmakers. “The foreign awards function are such that there are various screenings and you need to have great PR. Foreign filmmakers can promote the concept of ‘a nation that makes snakes drink milk’ with more enthusiasm than an Indian director can because the latter is well versed with it.”

Changes? Don’t think so
Despite the success of Slumdog, Indian filmmakers don’t think ‘poverty’ will suddenly become marketable. Director-producer Mahesh Bhatt feels the theme of poverty will never work in an industry catering to an escapist mindset.

“Indian viewers want to get rid of poverty, but for foreigners, poverty is exotic... that’s what they want to see in India,” he says, pointing out how Sudhir Mishra’s Dharavi (1992) and Rabindra Dharmaraj’s Chakra (1981), both set in the slums of Mumbai, went unnoticed.

Director Harry Baweja believes there is a certain something that a foreign jury looks for in an Indian film. “I read that A Wednesday [a film on terrorism] was not selected in the foreign film category because its content was not what the jury expected in an Indian film,” he says.

So what does a jury expect in a ‘meaningful’ Indian film — is it always poverty, feudal background, historical events?

Let’s just point to the evidence: the three Indian entries at the Oscars this year — Slumdog Millionaire, The Final Inch and Smile Pinki — all deal with poverty and disease.