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The Gold Rush: Will Newton ensure our chance to win the Oscar race this time?

From our choice of jury to how we lobby in the US, every misstep mars our chances, says filmmaker Amol Palekar.

more lifestyle Updated: Oct 01, 2017 10:16 IST
Amol Palekar
Amol Palekar
Hindustan Times
Oscar,Academy Award,Best Foreign Language Film
Amol Palekar shooting Paheli, with Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh bachchan. The tale of a woman in love with a ghost was India’s Oscar hope in 2006.(Amol Palekar)

I fail to understand the high-pitched annual fervour, of the electronic media in particular, in covering the Oscars. “Why don’t we win the Oscar? Where do we go wrong? What are the challenges faced by the Indian directors?” The same issues get churned year after year!

I also fail to appreciate the fascination with these awards. Are we not mature enough to assess the quality of our films qua world cinema? Oscar awards are necessarily ‘local’ American awards in which American creative talent is commemorated.

When we are pitching for the ‘best film in foreign language’ category, the issue is how best can we trans-culturally represent the cinematic ethos of India as a nation? To identify indigenous ascendancies in Indian cinema that can be the denominator of American sensibilities while competing with other foreign entries of any given year is the key!

Out of the 67 awards given for foreign language films, 56 have gone to European movies. “How best can we woo ‘their’ sensibilities”, doesn’t offer a very fair deal to the South Asian milieu. Iranian cinema managed to crack the glass ceiling to some extent. With Newton, we too may.

I have to applaud the Indian jury for not choosing the kind of fourth-grade copy of a third-grade Hollywood film that we churn out without feeling ashamed of the plagiarism and celebrate as ‘commercially successful’ trash. Kudos to their unanimity!

We need to have clarity at various levels — are we selecting the ‘best film’ or a representative best film from all the Indian films made that year? We select the best film for our National Awards. How can we select only one film from so many films produced in various languages, to ‘represent’ Indian cinema? How can any one film claim to be representing the diverse bouquet of our flavours? Then why not send four or five ‘representative’ films as the official Indian entries?

Choosing the best film has been debatable every year for the Oscar jury as well. In 2017, for instance, the selection of La La Land over Moonlight or Hidden Figures was labelled a racist choice reflecting insular pleasures.

The Academy’s openness to stories of the marginalised has always been questionable. With popular culture becoming more divisive, any attempt to pick one best is necessarily going to be complicated and mostly wrong. Let’s not get fooled by the ‘White Male Lens’ giving us the best!

Should we believe that The Departed was the best of Martin Scorsese, and not The Taxi Driver or Goodfellas? None of us believes that Jai Ho was Gulzarsaab’s or AR Rahman’s best.

Let us be clear that, through the smear campaigns and whisper campaigns, these awards are political.

The reason behind our failure to grab the award is primarily two-fold. Firstly, it is because of our physical / financial inability to reach / tap the pool of Oscar juries for professional lobbying. Lobbying in the unprofessional, unethical and bad sense is prevalent all through our history of domestic film awards. Probably due to this mindset, we have not even tried to understand the American way of lobbying, which is completely legal and integral to the Oscars process.

It is high time we started playing that game professionally! Apparently no Indian producer could get this part right. I could have been privy to this process when Paheli was the official Indian entry to the Oscars in 2006. However, despite being the director, I was kept completely out of the process.

Secondly, we fail to select correct juries who will then choose an apt Indian entry. Familiarity with world cinema and knowledge of English should be a must; all members ought to be familiar with the latest rules set by the Academy; they need to have clarity as to what should be the norms of judging the representative cinema; they must not have conflict of interest with any film that is in the pool; neither government nor the film industry should interfere in the process of selection.

I have seen how the process gets channelised in an undemocratic way. Originality of content ought to be our unique selling proposition. Though indigenous, the theme ought to have universal appeal.

Let’s hope that Newton embodies all the right ingredients and will fetch the ever-elusive honour to us.

(Amol Palekar is an actor and filmmaker, and was director of Paheli, India’s official entry to the Oscars in 2006)

First Published: Sep 30, 2017 18:54 IST