Vivek Fernandes

The minutes steal by stealthily as the hour of reckoning approaches. Will India emerge lucky with that gold-plated 13.5-inch statue?

Lagaan's fate will not be sealed at the Oscars, as one would believe when the sealed, foil-lined envelope containing the name of the winner is opened at the Kodak theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 24. The verdict, effectively, will be determined on Tuesday, March 19.

Tuesday marks the day when the completed final Oscar ballots will be returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the official tabulators, by all the 5,739 eligible voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The PricewaterhouseCoopers' partners, Greg Garrison and Rick Rosas, will be the only two people who know the results prior to the envelopes being opened on Oscar Night.

India, meanwhile, is banking on Aamir Khan's debut production Lagaan. What are the odds in favour of Lagaan? If you were to bet your bottom dollar, or rupaiya, on the film, here a tip: Ireland's online betting firm Paddy Power ranks Lagaan (with the odds of 6:1) in the third spot, after France's entry Amelie (the favourite at 1:3) and No Man's Land (4:1), the entry from Bosnia.

Blusq.com, another online betting firm, also places Lagaan third, after Amelie (1:3) and No Man's Land (7:2).

Rediff.com examines the odds, to give you a better look at the bigger picture.

Here's what Aamir and his crew are up against :


Amelie [France]:

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this is a simple tale of the life a young French waitress. It competes in four other categories --- Art Direction [Aline Bonetto (Art Direction); Marie-Laure Valla (Set Decoration)]; Cinematography [Bruno Delbonnel]; Sound [Vincent Arnardi, Guillaume Leriche and Jean Umansky] and Writing [Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Original Screenplay), and Guillaume Laurant (Dialogue)].

It was nominated for several categories at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards, but failed to make a mark. It, however, did win the best picture and the best director awards at the Cesars --- the French equivalent of the Oscars. It also won a Crystal Globe at Berlin's Karlovy Vary Festival, in 2001.

France has the honour of being nominated 32 times in the Best Foreign Language Film category and has walked away with the prize nine times.

Seventy per cent of the 1,182 voters at Variety.com's Academy tracker Oscar poll have chosen Amelie. Only 2% of the same lot voted for Lagaan.

On the flip side, Amelie is believed to be 'too saccharine' for the Americans.


No man's land [Bosnia and Herzegovina]:

A serious contender. Directed by Danis Tanovic, Bosnia's first nomination at the Oscars won the Golden Globe, beating Amelie and Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. It was also awarded the Special Jury Prize for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival 2001.

The story --- Ciki, a Bosnian soldier and Nino, a Serb, find themselves trapped in a mined trench between enemy lines. As the two argue over politics and attempt to outwit each other, Ciki's comrade, Cera, lies wounded on a landmine that will explode if he is moved.

'They say there is an American dream, and this is my Bosnian dream,' said director Danis Tanovic, in an interview, when he heard his film was among the chosen five. 'This is the best thing that's happened to us in the last 10 years.'


Elling [Norway]:

The country's fouth nomination in this category. Elling is a former mental patient who shares his appartment with Kjell Bjarne, a former patient. Together, they try to fit into life outside the hospital, relying on each other for support.

Elling is based on the successful Norwegian novel Brødre I blodet [Brothers In Blood] by Ingvar Ambjørnsen.

Per Christian Ellefsen and Sven Nordin play Elling and Kjell Bjarne. 'It's a great surprise for this small, strange Norwegian film to be recognised like this,' said theatreperson-turned-film director Petter Naes.


El Hijo De La Novia / Son Of The Bride [Argentina]:

Directed by Juan Jose Campanella, this film has a number of awards to its credit --- Best Latin-American Feature Film and the Special Grand Prize of the Jury at the Montreal World Film Festival 2001; the Audience Award and the OCIC (International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisual) Award at the Havana Film Festival 2001.

This is Argentina's fifth Academy Award nomination. The story of 42-year-old Rafael Belvedere (Ricardo Darin), who discovers that family is more important than the family restaurant business when his father (Hector Alterio), triggers a series of events when he announces that he will remarry his wife (Norma Aleandro), now an Alzheimer's patient who lives in a nursing home.

'You don't make a film in Argentina and think about an Oscar,' said director Juan Campanella. Curiously, two of Campanella's stars, Norma Aleandro and Hector Alterio, also starred in The Official Story, the film that won the Oscar 1985.


Lagaan [India]:

It has to its credit the popular Prix Du Public at Switzerland's Locarno Film Festival. It also walked away with a sackful of trophies at India's Filmfare Awards, the Zee Cine Awards and the Screen Awards.

Director Ashutosh Gowariker earlier said that it was the 'feelgood aspect of the film that clicked with the jury. Lagaan does not fall into one specific genre --- it's a period drama, comedy, musical, all rolled into one." The masala format has won itself ardent fans with Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. The epic canvas and the dramatic climax are two points going for Lagaan.

What could go against the film is its three hour-42-minute duration. Leonard Klady, former staffer at the trade journal Variety, partly attributes the film's having come this far to the luck of the draw.

Lagaan was the only film screened on a particular day, when the nomination committee was selecting the films. Unlike Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen, which was screened in the latter half of the day (at the Oscars in 1995), Lagaan didn't have to compete with another screening and was thus able to create a more lasting impression.

Back to the duration issue: Lagaan's torchbearers need not fear. William Wyler's Ben Hur(1959) and James Cameron's Titanic (1999), the two biggest winners at the Oscars, were both over three hours long. As was Victor Fleming's Gone With The Wind, the running time of which was three hours and 53 minutes.

This year's Best Film contender and most likely winner, Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring is also nearly three hours long.

The Oscar Polls on indya.com (82%) and on hindustantimes.com (96.76%) both pitch for a victorious Aamir's team.

The New York Times, however, paints a more bleak picture --- only 4% of the total votes in favour of Lagaan. Amelie ranks first with a whopping 84%.

Will Lagaan win?


Design: Uday Kuckian

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