Is India ready for the Oscars?

Oct 1, 2006 Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, Oct 1 (IANS) Even as the media hype surrounding the selection of "Rang De Basanti" as the country's official entry for the Oscars builds up, industry watchers say Indian cinema seems unprepared for a win.

The entry of the superstar-backed "Rang De Basanti" (RDB) has already caused considerable controversy and the never-ending debate over which is the best Indian film to send continues. Even if the Aamir Khan-starrer is able to bring home the coveted award in the foreign language film category, the win may only be a flash in the pan.

"Indian media, the movie-going population and most production houses are still driven by the clout of superstars and not by pure good cinema," said an industry watcher.

For long we have been hoping for just a handful of filmmakers and superstars to bring elusive global glory to Indian cinema and ignored others. We are not promoting a critical mass of good cinema to truly establish ourselves as the world's best filmmakers.

This year has been wonderful in terms of box-office success and willingness of leading actors to do a wide range of roles. But the fact that Indian films found no takers at leading film festivals like Cannes, Locarno and Venice goes to show that we are not sending out films that could have made an impact in the international arena.

"We tend to be so Bollywood-centric that real achievements by filmmakers from other parts of the country do not get the same kind of euphoric reception. Manish Jha's 'A Very Very Short Film' won an award at Cannes, but it was buried under endless stories of red carpets being laid out for Bollywood stars," said analyst Deepa Gehlot.

In 2002, when the Aamir Khan-starrer "Lagaan" won at the Locarno Film Festival, Indian media announced that India had arrived on the world map of cinema. Strangely, Shaji Karun and Jahnu Barua's films also won the top awards there without getting a fraction of the applause at home.

Hardly any newspaper print was devoted to "Arimpara" ("The Story That Begins At The End") - a film by Murali Nair that was selected for screening in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of Cannes - the only official Indian entry of the year. However, that year the media went on an overdrive about film star Aishwarya Rai's wardrobe.

Few recall that Murali's "Marana Simhasanam" ("The Throne of Death") had won the Camera d'Or award (given to a first-time director) at Cannes in 1999; subsequently, his "Patiyudde Divasam" ("A Dog's Day") was screened in the 'Un Certain Regard' section.

Shaji Karun's "Vanaprastham" (1999), "Swaham" (1994) and "Piravi" (1989) have also been screened in this section - "Piravi" (Birth) even got a special jury mention. Gautam Ghose's "Gudia" (1997) and "Antarjali Yatra" (1998) were screened in this section too.

The fact that Mira Nair's "Salaam Bombay" won the Camera d'Or in 1998, of course, got its share of coverage. But who remembers a little known film from Orissa, "Indradhanura Chhai" by Susant Misra, being screened in the 'Un Certain Regard' section in 1995?

Satyajit Ray's "Ghare Baire" was in competition in 1984, the year Mrinal Sen's "Khandhar" was part of the 'Un Certain Regard' package. Ray's "Ganashatru" was screened out-of-competition in 1989.

Now everybody has woken up to the potential of Indian films appealing to non-Indians (including NRIs), but they are focusing only on Bollywood glamour. Good cinema from India has been getting international nod but no recognition back home.

Said Deepa: "It always happens that when our regional or offbeat cinema has cleared a path, Bollywood lands up to demand a share of the pie. For years, the national awards and the film festival circuit were looked down upon by the commercial industry as fit for the 'arty jholawalas'.

"The minute some prestige, publicity or money is seen going to the 'other' cinema, the mainstream guys want to muscle in. Now a large percentage of entries for national awards, the Indian Panorama section and film festivals come from the commercial cinema camps. But it is wonderful to see cinemas from other regions holding their ground."

"Rang De Basanti", however, does have a fighting chance at the Oscar, given the fact that the jury considers the popularity of the film in its home country before deciding on the winner in the best foreign language film category.

It definitely has a better chance than recent official Indian entries to Oscars - "Devdas" and "Paheli". "Rang De Basanti" has all the elements of a mainstream Hindi film along with a unique script. But if it does (a big if) win the award, it is hoped it will not take another half a century for this phenomenon to recur.


This week witnessed the release of two films that symbolise the dramatically opposite kind of Bollywood films that are hitting the marquees lately.

On one hand was the Mahesh Bhatt-promoted "Woh Lamhe" that prioritises unique content over cliché and on the other was "Jai Santoshi Maa" a remake of a blockbuster hit of the 1970s.

While the Kangna Ranaut-Shiney Ahuja-starrer "Woh Lamhe" by upcoming filmmaker Mohit Suri has its eyes set on getting denizens in metros into cinema halls, the other has been made to appeal to the Indian masses.

"Woh Lamhe" has been inspired by the real life tumultuous relationship between Mahesh Bhatt and yesteryears actress Parveen Babi who had died recently and her body was discovered days after her demise.

Kangna has given a performance of a lifetime in her second film itself and Shiney has once again lived up to expectations. But the love story is too complicated and may not appeal to many.

"Jai Santoshi Ma" also does not disappoint but the mythological film is unlikely to have many takers among multiplex goers.

Both films accentuate the growing gulf between good cinema and cinema for the masses. Clearly, it is not easy to get the ideal mix of a popular film, which is a symbol of great cinema. Kudos to those who keep trying.

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