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Elephants Whisperers and RRR wins make this year India's best at Oscars: Here's how we fared over the years

BySantanu Das
Mar 13, 2023 12:30 PM IST

India's road to the Oscars has been a decades-long journey into the making. With two historic wins at the 95th Academy Awards, India has more reasons to cheer (and dance) like never before.

"Do you know Naatu? Because if not, you're about to," said Deepika Padukone on stage at the 95th Academy Awards, as she introduced the Naatu Naatu performance. She was interrupted twice because of the cheering of the audience, and deservedly so- moments later when the foot-tapping dance number ended, those seated at the Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, stood up and erupted in a standing ovation. (Also read: RRR's Naatu Naatu performance gets standing ovation at Oscars, Deepika Padukone introduces it; Priyanka Chopra cheers)

Bhanu Athaiya (top front), MM Keeravani and Chandrabose (top right), A. R. Rahman and Resul Pookutty (bottom right) with their Oscars.

India had reason to cheer loud at the 95th Academy Awards. 'Naatu Naatu' from RRR and the film The Elephant Whisperers created history by winning in their respective categories. 'Naatu Naatu' won in the Best Original Song' category and The Elephant Whisperers won in the Best Documentary Short Subject race, in what has now turned into an historic year for Indian cinema at the global platform.

Apart from the winners, India also left a spot in the Best Documentary Feature category, with Shaunak Sen's All That Breathes, although it was Daniel Roher's Navalny that took home the gold. This is the second consecutive year where an Indian documentary has secured its place in the category: last year it was Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh's Writing with Fire. Can India score a hattrick with Against the Tide, which won the Cinema Vérité award at Sundance Film Festival this January, in this category? Only time will tell.

At the 30th Academy Awards, it was Mother India, which was nominated in the Best International Feature Film category and famously lost to the Italian film Nights of Cabaria by one vote. Fali Bilimoria's The House That Ananda Built was the first Indian film to be nominated in the Best Documentary Short category. Ishu Patel was nominated in the Best Animated Short Film category for Bead Game in 1969. Then, it was K.K. Kapil whose An Encounter with Faces secured a spot in the Best Documentary Short next year at the 51st Academy Awards. Indian film producer Ismail Merchant scored two nominations in two different categories, with The Creation of Women and A Room with a View in the Best Live Action Short and Best Picture respectively.

The first ever Indian to win an Oscar was Bhanu Athaiya, who won for Best Costume Design at the 55th Academy Awards for her work in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, the biographical film that was co-produced by the National Film Development Corporation of India. Ravi Shankar was also nominated in the Best Original Score category for his work on the film. "It's too good to believe," Athaiya said in her speech, accepting the Oscar in a shiny blue sari. She also thanked Attenborough for "focusing world attention on India."

The attention then quickly settled on to Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay! and Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan, both of which were nominated in the Best Interntional Feature category in 1988 and 2001, but lost to Pelle the Conqueror and Bosnia's No Man's Land, respectively. The Academy then chose to award one of the most revered filmmakers of the country, whose work has long been admired by the West. It was director Satyajit Ray, who was bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.

After several years, it was Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which put India front and centre at the 81st Academy Awards, winning 8 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. A. R. Rahman won two Oscars that night, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Jai Ho, shared by lyricist Gulzar. Resul Pookutty also won the Oscar on the same night in the Best Sound Mixing category. Even though the Danny Boyle film divided Indian media and critics for its portrayal of poverty and child labour, it was a huge win for India. Rahman also scored two another nominations for 127 Hours, in the same two categories at the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011.

Next in 2013, it was Bombay Jayashri who was nominated for her work in Ang Lee's Life of Pi, in the Best Original Song. A win for India came close, a few years later, with Period. End of Sentence, winning the Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards ceremony in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category. Although set in Delhi and centred around the stigma of menstruation in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, the film was directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi.

With two Academy Award wins this year, India has had a groundbreaking year at the Oscars, and undoubtedly there is more to come. Guneet Monga, whose Oscar speech was unfortunately cut short at the ceremony, had the best response after her win. On her Instagram, she concluded: "The future is audacious and the future is here."

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