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What did Parasite do that Indian movies fail to do?

By Swapnil Joglekar
February 27, 2020 11:30 IST
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'Visibility is very important, but visibility is also very expensive.'
Swapnil Joglekar explores the Parasite phenomenon.

IMAGE: Director Bong Joon-ho with his Oscar for Best International Feature film. Photograph: Danny Moloshok/Reuters
 

First came the shock. Not a single non-English flick had won the Oscar for Best Picture in 91 years.

Bong Joon-ho, the director of the black comedy-thriller, Parasite, was forthcoming. 'I feel like something will hit me and I will wake up from this dream,' he said after Parasite won four awards, with Bong bagging the best director's trophy.

All Oscar predictions considered Parasite a critically acclaimed film, but said it would require a real show of intent from the Academy if it was to win any of its nominations other than the best international film.

From the Golden Globe to the BAFTAs, 1917 -- the World War I epic drama -- had won the top honours only for Oscars to snub it in all major categories.

IMAGE: Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park in Parasite.

People celebrated this win for Parasite, but hidden in the folds was another winner: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

An article in The New York Times revealed that since 2016, the academy had been working to diversify its jury based on race, gender and nationality.

According to an analysis by The Hollywood Reporter, 39 per cent of the organisation's new members hailed from outside the United States.

Last summer, the academy invited 842 people from 59 countries to become its members. It invited 928 people from 59 countries the previous year, and 774 people from 57 countries the year before.

In contrast, at the start of the decade, the academy was inviting fewer than 180 people annually, with most of the invites going to people already working in Hollywood.

The academy only invited 105 people in 2008, The New York Times article added. Some say this is slowly reflecting in the voting patterns, though the lack of diversity in terms of nomination for people of colour or women continues to draw public ire.

This is why most predicted Joaquin Phoenix winning the nod for the Best Actor. He played a comic book character which helps the Oscars draw in younger viewers who otherwise don't attach much importance to the awards night.

IMAGE: Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park in Parasite.

It is along the lines of what happened after Indian contestants won the top awards in global beauty contests in the 1990s.

Not only did Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai become household names, India discovered an appetite for beauty products, and markets were flooded with cosmetics.

The revenue of the Indian cosmetics segment is expected to zoom to $20 billion in 2025, compared with $6 billion a decade ago, according to an article published in the Economic Times.

So, the greater the victory aligns with the idea of the target market, the more the market share for the organiser.

An oft-cited example is the mind-boggling success of the Indian Premier League after India won the inaugural T-20 World Cup in 2007.

IMAGE: Jeong Esuz, Hye-jin Jang, Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park in Parasite.

The next logical question is: What did Parasite do that Indian movies fail to do to win at big international events?

"Visibility is very important, but visibility is also very expensive," says Rima Das, whose film Village Rockstar was India's official entry to the Oscars in 2018.

In comes Miky Lee, who produced Parasite. Lee built South Korea's first movie multiplex, invested in DreamWorks studios and grew a $4.1 billion entertainment empire that helped launch filmmakers such as Bong Joon-ho.

Granddaughter of the Samsung founder, Lee Byung-chul, she 'used to carry DVDs and go to Warners, Universal, Fox, anybody I had a chance with, and pitch Korean film, Korean film, Korean film,' Lee told The Hollywood Reporter.

So when Parasite came to the Oscars, the groundwork Lee had done meant that the international film world was no stranger to Korea.

Bong had met distributor Tom Quinn at Cannes in 2006. Quinn's Neon picked up Parasite for the United States.

Entertainment Web site Deadline says two trailers were cut with over 30 pieces of digital content.

Not a single piece of marketing material included content from the second half of Parasite.

On the flick's Instagram, NEON created an interlocking puzzle of images to promote the film, a series of cliffhangers with interconnecting ads.

At last count, Parasite's official trailer on YouTube had raked in over 15 million views.

NEON Chief Marketing Officer Christian Parkes said, 'We didn't look at this movie as a foreign film. We looked at this as a best picture contender.' The final piece of the puzzle is the contextually strong base of the movie.

The imagery of semi-basement houses, narrow, garbage-strewn lanes contrasted with lush gardens, large, empty spaces with sunlight seeping in resonates with the audience. Its vocabulary is powerful.

Bong regularly mentions that the poor family 'infiltrates' the house of a rich family, a polarising idea in today's time.

Its music and deft camera work cast a spell. The deep-rooted financial and social inequality depicted is also topical not just in Korea, but the whole world.

The recent Oxfam report states that the wealth of the richest 22 men in the world equals the wealth of all the women in Africa.

As Bong said, 'Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.'

So is this the new norm or an aberration? Over to you, Oscars 2021.

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Swapnil Joglekar
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