One of the most popular, glamorous and prestigious award is the Academy Awards, universally known as the “Oscars”, awarded by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences annually in Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles. Keeping the controversies about Oscars being given for sentimental reasons, biopics of historical figures etc. at the back seat, Oscars cannot be neglected, as many good films and deserving people are awarded every year. It also gives a huge boost in terms of popularity and thereby increases the sales of the film in international markets and home media. The Oscars are given is 24 categories ranging from Best Original Song to Best Foreign Language Film. From its inception in 1929, the Foreign Language category was absent till 1947, when it was introduced as an honorary, non-competitive category with a winner only and no nominees. In 1956 this category was included as a competitive one. Italy with 14 and France with 12 lead the maximum awards in the Foreign Language Film section.
In 1957, India sent Mehboob Khan’s epic Mother India to compete. It was a double National Award winner; Best Feature Film and Best Hindi Feature Film. It was nominated by the Academy and Mehboob flew to Los Angeles with loads of expectation. Ultimately, Mother India lost by 1 vote to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. Mehboob was confident of winning as he viewed the other nominated films and felt that his film was superior to the others and in the end he was much disappointed. It was preferred over Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito. However, in 1959 Ray’s Apur Sansar was sent to the Academy but was not nominated. It is definitely a good film but had Guru Dutt’s melancholic, poetic and grand Kaagaz Ke Phool been sent to compete, there may had been a different story as the members are known to be attracted by drama, emotions and grandeur, which it had in plenty.
After more than thirty years, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay was nominated to the 32nd Academy Awards, 1988, making it only the second nomination for the country. It also won accolades at the National Awards and Audience Award & Camera D’or at Cannes. Apart from the Oscars, it was also nominated to the BAFTA, Golden Globes and Cesar Awards in the Foreign Film category, but failed to win any of those. After a gap 23 years, Lagaan, the tale of revolt guised in a game of cricket by Ashutosh Gowariker was nominated to the 74th Oscars in 2001. It also failed to win the much coveted Oscar statuette for India.
The controversy is not only limited to the Academy and its selection, but is also very much present in the Indian official selection. Almost every year, after the committee appointed by Film Federation of India (FFI) selects the film to represent the country, newspapers, critics start slamming their decision. Many times popular mainstream movies were selected ahead of a film of artistic value. Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s masterpiece Elippathayam [The Rat Trap] (1982), Ritwik Ghatak’s melodramatic Meghe Dhaka Tara [The Cloud Capped Star] (1960), Ketan Mehta’s folklore Bhavni Bhavai [The Tale of Life] (1980), Goutam Ghose’s neorealist Paar [The Crossing] (1984) are some of the great films not to be selected by the committee. The most recent storm took place after Gyan Correa’s The Good Road was selected over the much favored The Lunchbox by Ritesh Batra in 2013. Sometimes good films are selected but are not marketed in a lucrative way to the members of the Academy which results in lesser votes. A brilliant film like Court (2014), by debutant director Chaitanya Tamhane is a rare gem, but the academy failed to recognize it; probably because it did not garner the support it needed to publicize itself.
Visaaranai was recently named as India’s official selection to the 89th Oscars’ Foreign Film Category. The film explores police brutality to homeless immigrants. Different countries have submitted top festival performers to the Oscar like Fuoccoammare [Italy], Toni Erdmann [Germany], Death at Sarajevo [Bosnia and Herzegovina], The Salesman [Iran], It’s Only The End of The World [Canada]; whether Visaaranai will perform well at the prestigious awards is another question but certainly a good trend has been set for two running years. If these kinds of films are submitted from India in the coming years then India will certainly lay hand on the Oscar statuette in the not very distant future.