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How far will Water flow?

How far Water reaches in the run-up to the Oscars, depends on the competition that it faces, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2006 11:51 IST

Even if India does not officially make it to the short list of five nominations in the foreign language film category at next year’s Oscar ceremony, scheduled for late February, chances are that a filmmaker of sub-continental origin might find her name in the hallowed list.

Deepa Mehta’s art house success, Water, which had a strong run in the North American circuit earlier this year, has been nominated by Canada as its official entry for the upcoming Oscars.

The Hindi-language film, which homes in on a community of widows in pre-Independence India, is a full-fledged Canadian production but, given its theme, the nationality of its cast members and the origins of its director, it might have qualified to represent India in the Academy Awards race.

John Abraham and Lisa Ray in a still from Water.

But for that to have happened,

Water

needed to get past the Central Board of Film Certification and into the metropolitan multiplexes in India. Now that it hasn’t, India’s loss could well turn out to be Canada’s gain on Oscar night.

Water has obviously benefited from a crucial change in the rule book that was introduced after Asif Kapadia’s critically acclaimed The Warrior was disqualified as Britain’s official Oscar entry in 2003 on the grounds that the film had been made in a language (Hindi) that was “not indigenous to the UK”.

The Academy had argued back then that Kapadia’s film might have made the cut had it been set among Britain’s Hindi-speaking Indian expatriate community, instead of being what it was – an epic drama located in a mythic space.

But all said and done, Canada’s nomination of Water for the Oscars is a happy augury for Indian cinema because Deepa Mehta is after all an Indian, a globally recognised filmmaker whose sensibilities and training are very much grounded in the creative and cultural ethos of the subcontinent.

Water, which was the opening night film of the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, is the sort of well-crafted humanist drama that has the innate potential to appeal to the nearly 5000 members of the Academy on whose vote its eventual fate would rest. The film blends cultural authenticity, social protest, skilled storytelling and a universal narrative idiom in a way that elevates it to a level that is well above the ordinary.

But how far Water can flow in the run-up to the Academy Awards will obviously depend on the competition that it is going to be up against. Offhand, two Spanish-language films, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar’s Volver  and Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel, are expected to be the frontrunners in the race this year.

These two titles justifiably have admirers all around the globe, while Water hasn’t even seen the light of day where it should have as a matter of right – India.

But underdogs are often known to sneak in ahead of more fancied entries when the Academy members get down to casting their vote. In any case, Water has much going for it as a cinematic work of substance. It’s a neat, nifty piece of filmmaking that taps into the considerable emotional force of its urgent thematic concerns while tempering it with a wonderfully apt air of artistic detachment.

So don’t be surprised if Deepa Mehta and Water are still in the frame when the envelope is opened on the night that matters.