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We don’t need an Oscar...yet

Getting an Indian film to the Oscars means something else than just making a good movie, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2007 23:50 IST
Indrajit Hazra

Among my many sound principles, one of the soundest is: I don’t want what I haven’t got. It protects me from all kinds of ugly moods. Take the time when I first returned to Calcutta after a few years of living the bylined life in Delhi. The newspaper where I was working at that point of my till-then textually constipated life had thoughtfully provided me with a Sunday column space. Imagine my delight to find a few juniors from my old school recognising me at a pub and commending me for my writings. For the first time, people other than those in my immediate bloodline had something nice to say about my newspaper job. So there I was, a beer in each hand, shaking hands with the other, and wagging my finger with yet another hand to explain why HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi was such a ridiculous man (how little things change in that ministry)........when, in walked an old classmate of mine. “The BJP is desperately seeking to become the new Congress,” I was telling the gathered. But the crowd dispersed as soon as one of the juniors exclaimed, “Hey, look, it’s ___!” The tribe of goggle-eyed ones moved lock, stock and pitchers to the other table to entertain my old classmate, a business reporter with one of the national television channels. Instead of breaking into an old film song depicting heartburn, however, I remained visibly unperturbed. I never wanted to join television, so I didn’t care if I don’t get the notice.

Which brings me — admittedly, in a very long-winded way — to what might be bothering Bhavna Talwar, the director of Dharm, who was pipped to the post in the ‘India’s Official Entry to the Oscars’ race by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the director of Eklavya. Ms Talwar simply can’t believe that her film has not been selected by the committee. So as is wont with anyone not getting what she thinks is her due, she’s gone to court insisting that the selection committee was full of Chopra’s pals. Hmm, I just wish Bhavna had mentioned all this before Chopra’s film got picked. With her not taking the Karan Johar-line — Who needs to impress firangs when you can make films for NRIs? — she sounds like she’s got a serious carafe of sour grapes.

Even otherwise, Bhavna and others (who seem to be convinced that a box-office flop can’t possibly go to the Oscars) may be appalled to know what getting a nomination, let alone one of the anatomically ridiculous, gold statuettes, implies. Even 15 years after British film critic Derek Malcolm wrote on the occasion of Satyajit Ray receiving a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1992, “...half the Academicians probably think Pather Panchali is a curry”, getting an Indian film to the Oscars means something else than just making a good movie. And the rules apply to White Californian producers almost as much as their Brown, aesthetically differing cousins in Bombay.

Harvey Weinstein, legendary producer of Miramax Films (Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Shakespeare in Love, Gangs of New York, Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2, The Queen, etc), talks about how in the late 1980s he didn’t have the money “to do screening after screening, busing people in, having lavish parties” — prerequisites of even getting an Academy jury member to even consider to look at a film poster. What helped him get his foot into the door were two things: one, screener tapes — copyright protected, moderately cheap tapes that could be sent out to individual Academy members; and, two, persuading directors and producers of specific films to relocate to Los Angeles to work the Hollywood old-boy network, whose votes weigh so heavily in the outcome of the Academy Awards. Thus, doing the same kind of things that Vidhu V. Chopra’s been accused of doing in Bombay before he left for Sunset Boulevard last week.

If that shocks you and Ms Talwar, munch on this: Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver lost to the Sylvester Stallone-starrer, Rocky, in the Best Film Oscar stakes in 1976. So who needs these Academy Awards any way? Until we get one, we certainly don’t.