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Why Paheli didn't get an Oscar nom
Aseem Chhabra | February 01, 2006 14:14 IST
The Oscar nominations announcement for the 78th Academy Awards was certainly bad news for Bollywood film lovers and the Indian media.
After the announcement, a Google search of the word Paheli generated the following news headlines -- Paheli fails to get Oscar nomination (The Times of India), Paheli misses race for Oscars (The Hindu), Brokeback in, Paheli Out (Rediff) and even Paheli, Morning Raga out of the race for Oscars (Webindia 123).
This reaction is understandable. In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences picked Lagaan as one of the final five nominated foreign language films. And millions of Hindi cinema lovers across the globe felt vindicated – that finally Hollywood had become accepting of Bollywood's fantasy laced, musical melodramas. Lagaan's loss to No Man's Land -- a tight, gripping drama, with a plot straight out of the headlines of that time, was a huge disappointment to Bollywood fans.
Lagaan: On the Oscar Trail
The marginal success of Lagaan was not followed by equal recognition for other Bollywood films. And Amol Palekar's Paheli just did not have good luck. A member of the Academy's foreign language film committee, contacted by this reporter after the January 31 Oscar nominations were announced, failed to recall details about Paheli.
He was very ecstatic about three of the five foreign language nominated films -- Tsotsi (South Africa), the Golden Globe winner Paradise Now (Palestine) and Merry Christmas (France).
"The favourite is South African," the committee member said. "That one everyone went crazy over in the beginning."
The Academy has mostly not been kind to Indian films. Since 1956 -- the year the Academy started giving out Oscars for foreign language films, only three Indian films -- Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay (1988) and Lagaan (2001) have been nominated in the category.
Lagaan's nomination was the result of a couple of fortunate factors. British filmmaker Roland Joffe was an early fan of the film and he had asked his friends on the foreign language film nominating committee to look out for Ashutosh Gowariker's three and half hour long cricket drama. Also by chance, Lagaan's official screening for the academy members was held on a Sunday afternoon. During the intermission break, the members were able eat lunch. Once refreshed, they were back for the second half of the film.
The following year, India's official entry -- Devdas was screened in the evening and in the middle of the week. The committee members -- most of whom tend to be older and retired from the Hollywood film industry, found Sanjay Leela Bansali's film difficult to sit through.
One committee member later said the following to this reporter: "We just didn't like it," he said referring to Devdas. "The girls were beautiful, but the story was out of whack. At least last year's one (Lagaan) had great humour. But (in Devdas) everybody was shouting and screaming. They weren't pleasant people."
Perhaps they had seen far too many tedious foreign language films that week, but nearly half of the 250 to 300 committee members reportedly walked out of Devdas' official screening during the intermission. That pretty much sealed the fate of Bansali's film.
The Academy's voting members generally tend to favour European language films. The foreign language committee members have grown up appreciating the post-Second World War Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave films and works of the Swedish master -- Ingmar Bergman.
At least the Hollywood Foreign Press Association honoured Satyajit Ray by nominating The World of Apu for the Golden Globes in 1960. The Academy never nominated a Ray film for an Oscar. Ray received an honorary Oscar in 1992, mostly due to the efforts of Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Martin Scorsese.
The Academy's foreign language film statistics tell it all. France, which produces far less movies than India in a year, has received the highest foreign language film nominations -- 34 in total, with nine Oscar wins. The second country is Italy, with 27 nominations and 10 wins, followed by Spain (19 nominations, four wins) and Sweden (14 nominations, three wins). This year too, France and Italy have films running in the foreign language race.
"We look at the films from the American point of view," the Academy's foreign language film committee member said. "What happens (in Bollywood films) is that in the middle of the scene suddenly (the actors) start jumping up and dancing and singing, which, to us, is ridiculous. When we see an Indian film and that happens, we don't know how to react to it. That's the problem."
He added that he was not suggesting that Bollywood filmmakers should change their filmmaking style. "Obviously, they are making the films for the Indian market and not for the American market."
But the Academy's foreign language film committee tends to have problems with other national cinemas as well. This year, the committee had to see 56 foreign films. As experienced filmgoers, the committee members can pretty much tell half way into the film, whether it is worth watching or if it will get enough votes to be a serious contender.
"Lot of people walk out of films, because they get very boring," the committee member said. "It is not out of disrespect. It is out of the fact that we have to see so many movies and we can't just sit there and be bored."
"It is not just the Indian films," he added. "We saw some pictures this year, they were so bad -- it is frightening. You wonder how they could be picked."