India and the Oscars
(The Riddle), was this year's Indian entry for the "Best Foreign Film" category in the Oscar Awards presented by American Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. This movie is directed by Amol Palekar. Shahrukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee are the lead cast.
The film failed to make the grade in the final hurdle and did not get a nomination. Many people think that "Paheli" is a mediocre film. They seem to contend that "Black" directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali would have been the better choice for the Academy Awards. I believe, even "Black" would have met the same fate.
Recently, I saw "Brokeback Mountain". I found the movie very slow. But, mark my words, the movie will end up winning quite a few awards. I enjoyed "Paheli" when I saw it. Rani Mukherjee looked delicious in some of the scenes with Shahrukh :-) I loved the Rajasthan-centric theme of the movie. The costume and set designs were pretty authentic with a keen eye on the details. In brief, I liked the movie.
The way I see it, we have a very different notion of culture and style. Films that get accolades in the United States are meant for catering to the western taste. The Indian taste is not palatable to many westerners. For example, the dresses worn by Indian women are more flashy and colorful than their western counterparts. Most of our movies are musicals and they run for at least two and half hours. As an Indian, I love the songs in our movies. However, it is quite impossible for an American to comprehend how a hero or a heroine can suddenly break out into a song in the middle of the movie. Indians love food that have basic spices. Americans eat food that is bland. In spite of being a non-vegetarian, I have to say that there is too much emphasis on meat in western cooking. I have had Italian and French food, the most respected culinary traditions among western cultures, and I have found them to be too bland for our taste buds.
What I mean to say is that it is very difficult for people belonging to a certain culture and used to doing things in a certain fashion to appreciate the nuances of other culture, no matter how good the end product is. It is very difficult to cross over. Very few people achieve success in crossing over. Those who can cross over form a niche in every society.
An Indian has more of a chance to start appreciating western culture than the other way around. This aspect is also related to the way western thought process and culture has dominated the world for the last three centuries. Therefore, I do not consider an Indian film not winning an Oscar a serious setback to our way of life or our movie making capabilities. If a film wins the Oscars, fine! But if it does not, it is nothing much to worry about. We should not measure the success of our culture based on certain recognition provided by the west. This shows lack of self-confidence.
In conclusion, let me tell you the type of Indian movie that has a chance to win an Oscar. This movie will have to depict the underbelly of the Indian society. When it comes to the underbelly, we all know that India is one of the most poor nations on this planet. The sewer shown in the movie can be in the form of Kolkata or Mumbai slums, orphanages, prostitutes etc. It has to have a script that derives its main content from the horrifying things that happen to people with no money or social support in a poor nation. The director should have decent technical skills and a relatively secured captive foreign audience like Deepa Mehta/Mira Nair/Shekhar Kapur. It should be backed by a producer who has the financial muscle to promote the movie at every opportunity and push it down the throat of jurors. The movie has to get over within two hours.
"Paheli" did not have any of these factors going for it. Therefore, it failed to hog the limelight.