The countdown has begun to select a film to represent India in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 90th Academy Awards, which will be held on March 4, 2018, in Los Angeles.
Interestingly, for the first time, a big contingent of film personalities from India has been invited by the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences (Ampas) to join its pool of voters to combat persistent charges of white males monopolising and dominating the Oscars.
Marking the advent of India’s usually short-lived annual Oscar fever, the Mumbai-based Film Federation of India (FFI) has fixed September 10 as the deadline for submitting entries. FFI is authorised to invite nominations and screen them for a jury. This year’s jury is in place but its members can’t be named as per standing rules. Its chairman is yet to be appointed, though.
Supran Sen, FFI Secretary General, told Gulf News tabloid! that 10 entries have been received so far. The official rationale for this year’s submissions deadline is that “the selection committee [jury] set up for this purpose will view the films entered for selection from September 16 as we have to submit the film to the Academy not later than October 1, 2017”.
Last year, the total number of entries was 30. Visaranai, a Tamil crime-drama about police brutality, was picked as India’s official entry but like other Indian entries over the years, it failed to make it even to the last nine shortlisted titles. The last time a film from India entered the final shortlist was in 2001 when Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan was selected only to lose to Bosnia’s No Man’s Land.
Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Pink.
This year’s favourites are yet to emerge but two likely contenders are Pink, the Amitabh Bachchan-Taapsee Pannu starrer directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, and the Marathi film Sairat, directed by Nagraj Manjule, which made a mark at the Berlin Film Festival.
Despite India’s terrible track record at the Oscars, there is a lot of hype each year underscoring Bollywood’s obsession with Hollywood and the undying craving to be appreciated by Westerners. But Indian entries invariably crumble and are out of the race very quickly.
Aamir Khan in ‘Lagaan’, which made it to the final Oscars shortlist in 2001.
Thanks to the Academy’s decision to democratise the Oscars by inducting non-whites and women this time, 14 big guns from India will join the voting pool. The lucky men and women who have been invited are Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan Khan, Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Mrinal Sen, Goutam Ghose, Sooni Taraporevala, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Arjun Bhasin, Anand Patwardhan and Amrit Pritam Dutta.
“All of our members are professionals at the top of their forms, every last one of them. And I believe that they vote based on their knowledge of particular skill sets, and that’s what they look for,” former Ampas president Cheryl Boone Isaacs told an interviewer, without admitting charges of white domination and the need to rope in people of colour.
According to Indian film specialist Karishma Upadhyay, the selection of 14 Indians is rather intriguing.
“While most of the Indian invitees have international films to their credit, Salman Khan’s presence on the list is baffling. Just as surprising is Mrinal Sen’s inclusion. At 94, the art-house filmmaker is just a year younger than the oldest invitee, actress Betty White,” Upadhyay said.
“But realistically, having Indian actors and technicians among the 7,000 plus voting members of Ampas is not going to change how we make our movies or the stories we tell.
“Agreed that this is an acknowledgement of Bollywood’s importance but really, do we need Hollywood’s stamp of approval? After all, we are the world’s largest film producing country.”
— S.N.M. Abdi, Indian journalist and commentator, is a regular contributor to Gulf News.