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February 12, 2002
'Lagaan opened people's eyes'
Som Chivukula in New York
What were the chances of a nearly four-hour Bollywood film being nominated for an Oscar? If you were to ask director Ashutosh Gowariker and actor-producer Aamir Khan, they would say the chances were pretty good.
The Gowariker-helmed Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in the Foreign Film category on February 12. The Oscars, as they are popularly known, will be handed out on March 24 in Los Angeles.
"I spoke with Aamir just now," an exhilarated Ashok Amritraj, Hollywood producer (Bandits) and former Indian tennis player, said from his Los Angeles home, an hour after the nominations were announced. "I think the nomination came in the last crutch since Lagaan didn't have a lot of publicity for it."
Amritraj says the film was well received by members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
"I got a lot of calls from those who had seen the film and they said they loved it," Amritraj said. "I told Aamir that he might have a real shot at a nomination."
Lagaan, released last June, made about $2 million in North America. Columbia TriStar, a division of Sony Pictures, recently released it on DVD. As if the Oscar-nomination was not enough, Sony Pictures Classics will also release Lagaan for mainstream audiences shortly.
The company released the highly acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon last year.
"The movie [Lagaan] opened people's eyes --- I am very proud that an Indian film has made it in the top five," Amritraj said. "There is no sure thing in the race but there is a 20 percent chance for it now.
The competition for Lagaan is stiff. It is competing with high profile films such as France's Amelie, Norway's Elling, Bosnia's No Man's Land and El Hijo De La Novia, the Argentine entry. The Iranian film Baran, one of the best-reviewed films last year, did not make the cut.
"A lot has been written and said about Amelie and No Man's Land won at the Golden Globes," Amritraj noted. "But you never know."
Some have expressed concern over Lagaan's running time. But Amritraj says it won't deter voters.
"Each film has its own pace --- it really doesn't matter if it's a hour-and-a-half film or a three-hour film," he said. "Members of the Academy will get to see the film."
Positives for Lagaan include its acting and efficient story telling, Amritraj added.
"It's a wonderful story with an old-fashioned feel," Amritraj, who is currently in post-production of Goodbye Hello starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon. "The director has done a great job putting together a difficult film in an accessible fashion."
"It is amazing this has happened," Suri Gopalan, owner of the Raaga music stores in New York and California, said. "I didn't think it would happen but I am happy. The CDs are going fast. Hopefully, the Oscar nomination will make it more mainstream. It is very refreshing since this is just the third nomination from India."
Gopalan, of course, is referring to Mother India, the 1957 picture starring Nargis and Sunil Dutt, and 1988's Salaam Bombay!, made by Mira Nair, that were nominated earlier in the Foreign Film category.
"Lagaan is a more commercial film than the others," Gopalan said. "It has songs and dances and is Bollywood-like."
Just as enthusiastic is Gitesh Pandya, editor of boxofficeguru.com: "It is terrific news for the Indian film industry," he said. "Cricket is not an American sport, and it is fantastic that a four-hour film caught their eyes."
Pandya says the nomination was surprising since India is not known for churning out nominations.
"Traditionally, films from Italy, France, South America are the ones that get through," he said. "The competition is usually tough in the Foreign Film category."
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