It’s that time of the year again when Hollywood-junkies and Oscar-diwanas are all breathlessly excited and set to be glued to the idiot box when the most hi-profile, glamorous, star-studded showbiz event on planet earth will unspool – The Oscars!
Before we go to the main course on why India are forever participants (India’s official entry, sent with much song and dance Village Rockstar was shown the door, in a flash) and not competitors, it may be interesting to examine the importance of the category we target – The Foreign Language Film. Be honest. Has/can it ever arouse the remotest curiosity, generate the faintest buzz or unleash the kind of hi-octane adrenalin the major awards do? To knowledgeable award-followers, aren’t these awards reminiscent of our Regional Award winners at the National or Filmfare awards, attracting polite applause, lip service, media space for a couple of days … do din kichandni followed by ghor andhera?
As always, the views are polarised. Talented theatre director of the Tumhari Amrita, Saalgirah, Salesman Ramlal and the new, spectacular musical Mughal-e-Azam fame, Feroze Abbas Khan believes that “even if this category lacks the star-power of the bigger awards, the honour it brings to its country and its film industry is matchless. It is a tacit recognition of its creative excellence by the most popular platform in World Cinema and the award undoubtedly fuels curiosity and popularity, lending it both respectability and legitimate marketability, at home and abroad.” Classy actor Victor Banerjee – A Passage to India, Ghare Baire – agrees. “These awards are much more authentic and real than the populist, dazzling mainstream ones where hysterical lobbying and networking operate on over-drive. Chile, Hungary, Korea, Sweden, Lebanon, Mexico…can they ever hope to match the resources of the big-ticket, deep-pockets Hollywood studios? Can the big contenders like Mary Poppins Returns or A Star is Born ever compare with the small but amazing Mexican gem Roma in terms of the linear truth, humanism or universality?”
Since the Best Foreign Film Category issue is out of the way, let’s cut to the mainframe and focus on: Why is India treated as a near-untouchable across the five decades plus and why we continue to send our stuff to the Oscars Committee? Why, except Mother India, Salaam Bombay and Lagaan – and Gulzar, Bhanu Athiya & Ray’s Lifetime Achievement Award, nothing has remotely come our way? Coming from the world’s largest film producing country, isn’t it both puzzling and shameful?
Lyricist and activist Javed Akhtar is first off the block and cuts to the chase, pronto. “Our films lack the quality that the winning entries offer. They are just not good enough to match the global standards required, even if we – passionate and sentimental people as we are – believe we have achieved them. We are clearly miles below the required template of local roots with a global perspective. It could also be due to our misreading the writing on the wall by our Selection Committee, confusing concepts of local taste with global ones…anyway, the idea is to keep going and who knows …” Celebrated filmmaker Aparna Sen, however, frankly can’t quite figure out the song and dance attached to the Oscars. The maker of classics like 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mr & Mrs Iyer insists that too much fuss accompanies this annual circus. “What is this tamasha about anyway? Why is this mesmerised, captive audience glued to the idiot box early morning to catch the show, LIVE? For God’s sake, it’s an American-Hollywood-specific event where excellence is not necessarily the criteria for winning. Lots of other issues are at play including heavy-duty networking and mega-bucks. Besides, remember truly great films are not those who have won Oscars or zoomed past the Rs-300-crore mark. They are those that remain in your heart long after the film and filmmaker has moved on. Check it out and maybe you will review your view on this Hollywood-sponsored mass-hysteria!”
So, that’s that but despite playing the ‘Always the bridesmaid never the bride’ game, Oscar-maniacs at home, undeterred, will continue to root enthusiastically for their favourite nominees across all categories: Will the Best Actor go to Bradley Cooper for A Star is Born or Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody? Will Glen Close close in on the Best Actress for The Wife or Lady Gaga for A Star is Born? Will Best Director go to Alfonso Cuardon for Roma or Adam Mackay for Vice? Which one will scoop up the Best Picture award…Black Panther, A Star is Born, Roma, Green Book, Vice? Finally, share in the collective bewilderment of the astonishing fact that this year’s ceremony will only be the second time in its history that the Oscar show will go without a host…and with just presenters?
The countdown begins for the greatest showbiz spectacle to hit us on February 24. Tighten your seatbelts, guys!