New Oscar rules benefit Indian entries

Oct 7, 2006 Arpana

New Delhi, Oct 7 (IANS) With two Hindi films "Rang De Basanti" and "Water" set to be screened in the Foreign Languages Film Category at the Oscars, Indian entries, with some near misses in the past, may finally be getting into the jury's radar.

If "Rang De Basanti", a film about the awakening of youth, is India's official entry for the Oscars; "Water", a Hindi-language film on the plight of Indian widows in the 1930s and directed by Canada-based Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, is Canada's official entry.

While "Rang De Basanti's" entry was a-given, it was "Water" that surprised the film fraternity.

Very few know that the organisers of Academy of Motion Picture of Arts and Sciences announced two vital changes for the 2006 foreign-language film category in July. One of them is lifting the language constraints.

Last year, Italian submission "Private" was considered ineligible because it featured only Middle Eastern languages and the Academy members were hugely disappointed.

Hence they modified the selection criterion so that good films don't fall prey to the rules.

This year, entries in the foreign languages category are not required to be in the official language of the country submitting the film. Any language or combination of languages is acceptable, as long as the principle language is not English.

"That may sound like a profound change," said Academy executive director Bruce Davis in a press statement.

"But it actually addresses a situation that has cropped up only once before in our history, and may not arise again this century. Last year, the Italians wanted to submit a picture that was clearly made by Italian artists, and which qualified for the category in every other way except one: there was no Italian language in it. All the dialogues were in Middle Eastern languages.

"The rules clearly prohibited that, but the situation didn't seem fair to us," he added.

And making use of the changes, the selection committee in Canada voted for Mehta's film. The Academy also announced a modification to the judging process for foreign language films.

The Los Angeles-based screening committee that has traditionally viewed foreign language submissions will continue to choose a shortlist of films from nine countries.

The list will then be examined by a second committee - comprising 10 randomly selected members of the original committee, 10 Los Angeles-based members not on the original committee and 10 New York-based members.

"The principal reason for the two-phase selection process is to see if we can permit busy working members to participate in the process without them having to commit to several months of screenings," Ganis said.

"Water" has undoubtedly benefited from the new rules. Oscar winning movies have been thought-provoking and therefore if Mehta's film stands a chance at the Oscars is difficult to predict.

The film starring John Abraham, Lisa Ray and Seema Biswas, examines the plight of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi. The film also focuses on the relationship between a widow, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man who is from a lower caste and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Although Mehra's "Rang De Basanti" starring Aamir Khan was a runaway success it has been vehemently criticised. "It promotes anarchy and cold-blooded violence," said Minu Jain, a senior journalist.

In 1958, "Mother India", the first Indian film nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film Category lost out to another masterpiece Federico Fellini's "Nights of Caberia" by a single vote at the third poll.

Satyajit Ray had then pointed out: "It's ("Mother India" a brilliant film by Indian standards. However, when compared to classics like 'Diary of Anna Frank', 'For Whom The Bells Toll' and 'Snows Of Kilimanjaro' it's cinematically weak."

In 2002, when Aamir Khan's "Lagaan" lost out the coveted award the critics in India felt, it didn't stand a chance against a film like "No Man's Land".

"All were hugely disappointed when 'Lagaan' lost out, but when you see 'No Man's Land' you realise it is a far better film," said Shyam, executive producer of "Rang De Basanti".

"Lagaan" revolving around enmity between Indians and British was a sentimental soft drama while "No Man's Land" was a gritty and frighteningly honest film about hatred.

So the going may not be as easy for Indian filmmakers.

In the West many feel Indian filmmakers will take another 15 years to achieve international standards in filmmaking. Decisions are often coloured by the mindset of people.

"There are certain artists in India who can work in the Western film industry but the crossover appeal is some 10 to 15 years away," Irfan Ajeeb from the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Britain was quoted as saying when "Lagaan" was nominated.

Though Oscar is one of the most prestigious awards in the film department, except Ray and designer Bhanu Athaiya, who won the Oscar for Sir Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi", no Indian has ever made a mark there.

"Our films are lengthy and filled with commercial clippings. They are not meant for the Oscars," Sandip Ray, son of veteran filmmaker Satyajit Ray, was quoted as saying.

Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua, winner of nine National Awards, feels the process adopted by the Film Federation of India (FFI) for nominating Indian films for the Oscars is faulty.

"It (the selection process) is very polluted and the FFI is not handling it properly. They do not publicise it properly and mostly use personal contacts," Barua told IANS.

All said and done, an Oscar can certainly bring global fame to the world's most prolific film industry.

The fate of "Water" and "Rang De Basanti" will be decided in Jan 2007 when Academy Award nominations will be announced. Even if the films make to the top five list it will be an achievement. In the last five decades only three films - "Mother India", "Salaam Bombay" and "Lagaan" - have made it to the prestigious list.

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