The vote was tied 7-7 until...
Aseem Chhabra/Rediff.com reveals how Court was chosen as India's nominee for the Academy Awards.
The selection of Chaitanya Tamahane's debut film Court as India's official entry for the foreign language Oscar race has been praised by many. Indian Oscar watchers on the social media, the press, as well many movie industry personalities have said that finally India has made the right choice.
Court is a scathing Marathi drama that explores caste and class in current day India and is a strong commentary against the country's legal system.
The film won the Golden Lotus for the best film of the year at the 2015 National Awards. In addition, it has won at least 18 international awards at a wide range of film festivals including two last year in Venice -- the Venice Horizons and the Luigi De Laurentis Awards.
The Film Federation of India's 16-member jury made up of film personalities from across the country was headed by actor, director Amol Palekar. 'Court was a unanimous decision,' FFI Secretary-General Supran Sen was quoted in the media as saying.
However the selection of Court and the announcement was foreshadowed by charges by one jury member director Rahul Rawail who tweeted that he had resigned from the group's proceedings because of 'Mr Palekar's obnoxious behaviour' and later calling him 'a complete manipulative person.' Sen described Rawail's comments as 'ridiculous.'
One inside source knowledgeable about this year's FFI jury selection process revealed that the group was always split up and even in the end the decision to pick Court as India's official submission was not unanimous.
According to this source Palekar did not favor Court until the very end of the deliberations. His original choice was Neeraj Ghaywan's Masaan.
The jury members were split over a few other films, some favouring the delightful Tamil work by M Manikandan -- Kaakkaa Muttai (Crow's Egg). A few votes were also cast in favour of Shonali Bose's Margarita With a Straw, a strong film that focuses on the sexual awakening of a young women with cerebral palsy.
From the beginning Court did have the largest numbers of votes. It just did not have the majority. The source revealed that Court's initial backers included directors Kamleshwar Mukherjee, Abbas Tyrewala, Bijukumar Damodaran, Ravi Jadhav and actors Arindam Sil and Koel Mallick.
The FFI jury functions in a secretive manner and its inside workings are rarely discussed. Each year people wonder how the jury ends up picking the films. Sometimes the choices make no sense at all. Observers still talk about the selection of S Shankar's Jeans in 1998.
In 2013, the FFI jury picked the Gujarati film The Good Road over the more obvious and deserving film The Lunchbox. That choice severely shook the jury's credibility. There were accusations of jealousies and insecurities against the jury members. Several commentators (including me) noted that the jury and the FFI had little sense of how members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences think and vote.
India may be the biggest film producing country in the world, with a huge movie-going culture, but to date only three Indian films have been picked in the top five nominated foreign language section: Mother India (1958), Salaam Bombay (1988) and Lagaan (2001). And none has won the Oscar for the best foreign language film.
And so the announcement about Court was welcomed, until Rawail spoke out.
The jury source revealed that one of Palekar's objections to Court was that the film had 70 percent dialogues in English. Palekar said the Academy would reject Court on those grounds. Court backers on the jury argued differently.
The jury finally watched the entire film with a stopwatch. At the end of the screening it was revealed that only 17 percent of Court is in English. Under Academy rules that number falls within the allowable percentage of English dialogues in a foreign language film.
In addition to Marathi, some dialogues in the film are also in Gujarati and Hindi.
After a lot the deliberations the jury was split 7-7 over Court and Kaakkaa Muttai (Rawail did not cast his vote). Palekar was eventually convinced to cast his vote in favor of Court and that tilted the balance in favor of Tamahane's film.
So Court now heads to Hollywood. It will compete with dozens of other foreign films. Already some observers are referring to Hungary's Son of Saul -- the Grand Prix winner at this year's the Cannes Film Festival -- as the front-runner in the race.
In mid-December the Academy's foreign language film viewing committee will announce a short-list of nine entries. The five final nominees will be announced on January 14, 2016, four days after the Golden Globes Awards ceremony.