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Foreign language Oscars are so unpredictable

The race for the Oscars will hot up in the weeks to come, and the one for the foreign language film evokes a keen interest in India. Here's perhaps why India has had an abysmally poor record on the Academy awards night year after year...

india Updated: Nov 15, 2010 17:31 IST

The race for the Oscars will hot up in the weeks to come, and the one for the foreign language film evokes a keen interest in India. Though the country of a 1000-plus annual movie production has had an abysmally poor record on the Academy awards night year after year, the passion to push a film onto the big international screen remains abstracted from perennial failures.

This year’s Indian entry for a possible shortlist nomination is Paresh Mokashi’s Marathi work, Harishchandrachi Factory. Though this is one of the better Indian movies sent up, the Oscar battle is wide open.Too wide for anybody’s comfort

The foreign language section is one of the most unpredictable among the Academy honours. While awards such as the Golden Globes provide some clue to what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may decide, they are usually poor indicators when it comes to the foreign language cinema.

Also, the voting procedure is somewhat flawed with nine choices made by the jumbo Academy voting body (six) and a compact foreign language steering committee (up to three). Out of this, five nominees are picked. Often, these and even the winning film are at considerable odds with what critics and festival selectors see as clinchers.

Last year, Japan’s Departures took home the Oscar beating all-round favourites like France’s The Class and Israel’s Waltzwith Bashir. The prize shocked many, but it merely proved that prediction was getting harder by the year.

This year, the picture appears even more blurred. A reason for this is that many countries have not nominated their frontrunners.A master storyteller and craftsman like Pedro Almodovar has been snubbed (once again) by his native Spain. His gripping Broken Embraces, a favourite for the Golden Globes, will not make it to the Oscar short list. Not in the foreign category, though it is eligible to be included in other sections – Best Picture as well – because it had an American release, a precondition for participation in the main Oscar categories. Spain’s hope at LA this season isThe Dancer and the Thief, a heist drama from Fernando Trueba.

Chile has a similar story. Sebastian Silva’s The Maid won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and has got the Golden Globes nod, but was surprisingly not considered Oscar material by the country’s selectors. Instead, Chile has gone with Miguel Littin's Dawson Isla 10, a 1973 political movie that follows the coup which brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power.

Oliver Assays’ Summer Hours has garnered many trophies and favourable write-ups from critics in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. But France chose Jacques Audiard’s prison drama, A Prophet for its Oscar war.

There are other such examples of a film dazzling international juries and some of the harshest reviewers, but failing to impress the country’s selectors. John Woo's action epic Red Cliff (China), Chan-wook Park’s blood-thirsting vampire romance, Thirst(South Korea), Cary Fukunaga's immigrant saga Sin Nombre (Honduras) and Anne Fontaine's fashion biopic Coco Before Chanel. (France) are some.

In India, excellent works of masters – Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Aravindan, John Abraham and Adoor Gopalakrishnan – were never considered Oscar worthy.What were movies like Jeans and Eklavya: The Royal Guard. If they sank in the ocean of Oscar without so much as a ripple, India should not be disappointed. For, it deserved no better.

- Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on Indian and international cinema for over two decades.