It is that time of the year again! Another Indian “Official Entry” was picked for the Academy Awards and it did not make the cut. In general I have always felt that India mostly picks the wrong films for this purpose, because the people in charge are either biased or ignorant or both. This is not to say that Academy Awards are the epitome of cinema. More often than not, they also end up picking the most formulaic and conventional ones. But still, I think this is something we need to think about.
<H2>Why should one care?</H2>
I often see a lot of “patriotic” opinions in the lines of “why should we care about the Oscars when they don’t care about us” or for that matter “They don’t understand our cinema otherwise how can a classic like Lagaan or RDB not win it”. Now, this mentality is a result of typical emotional response, misplaced pride and complete ignorance about quality cinema that is made in other countries. Yes, Lagaan was a good film but how many Indians have seen No Man’s Land?
Whether one likes it or not, there are practical benefits of making it big at the Oscars. Eeven if you get nominated, it gets you huge publicity as well as entry into other international markets. Especially if it is a small budget independent film, such recognition can do wonders for its commercial prospects and also enable the makers to aim for bigger projects. In the recent past we have seen such films from small countries getting benefited from this phenomenon. For instance Iranian films do not enjoy a huge and profitable domestic market like Bollywood, not to mention severe censorship and restrictions. But they still thrive and churn out quality cinema due to the international backing they get. So, there is hardly any need to get carried away with emotions. Academy Awards are a good marketing platform and should be exploited.
<H2>Where does it go wrong?</H2>
<H2>Wrong people for the job:</H2>
I am not really sure who gets to decide these entries and on what basis are they given this responsibility. Some of them do not seem to be related to films at all and some others are producers of stock Bollywood potboilers with no exposure to or understanding of any other kind of cinema. Due to lack of exposure, they also fail to detect blatant plagiarism in many of these films. For instance we can assume that they have not seen a well-known classic like City Lights, forget something as obscure as Kikujiro. Otherwise they would never have selected Barfi a couple of years ago.
Here one must understand what is expected from an entry for best foreign film at the Oscars. The most important thing that one must realize is that it is essentially a Hollywood award function. There may be a few exceptions but in general foreign films are limited to that one category only. So, these films are expected to be high on artistic value and represent something unique from the country they represent. A generic thriller or a sci-fi film from Hollywood can contest with serious dramas but when it comes to foreign entries, they are unlikely to pick such genres. Especially the Asian entries, due to their unique cultural heritage, are expected to be rooted in their traditions and socio-economic realities. For instance, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was all about traditional martial arts of China. It could not have been set anywhere else. In comparison, a master like Wong Kar Wai has not had any success at the Oscars. His highly stylized and urban tales have not been duly appreciated at the Oscars although he has been immensely successful in the European festival circuit. This may be because his sensibilities are considered highly “westernized” for the lack of a better word. This strengthens the assumption that the Academy looks for films that satisfy certain preconceived notions about the culture or society they are representing.
<H2>So what about India’s entry this year?</H2>
I have not seen this year’s entry Liar’s Dice. It is probably a decent film. But the problem with such independent films is that they will never have the financial backing to promote their films. Lagaan was nominated not only because of its merits but also because the producer had the financial muscles to promote it. So, I think the Indian film industry is too fragmented and it also lacks a viewer base that patronises quality cinema. If that is not enough, major decision making processes such as censorship or selection for awards is handled by government agencies and bureaucrats who do not have any genuine interest in films. Until such issues are addressed and rectified, we cannot really expect any serious improvement in our films.