Some 1.5 crore people have seen the trailer of Surya-starrer Jai Bhim set for release on November 2 in Amazon Prime. The song Kayila Edu Pavara from that film has been viewed as many times. A dialogue from the trailer has already found its way into social media lore through memes. Expectations are certainly high from this movie about a tribal woman’s fight for justice and the lawyer who fights for her. The trailer indicates a strong caste-based oppression theme. It certainly appears that the Oscar that Soorarai Potru sought may well be sought for Jai Bhim, with a stronger pitch. Will the theme of justice for the oppressed move the Oscars?
Soorarai Potru, with Dravidian politics as its façade, was among the 366 films competing in the Oscars. The film didn’t make much impact in Hollywood but certainly got the tag of the first OTT film to go as far as the Oscars.
Having said that, India’s official entry for 2021 Oscars was the Malayalam film, Jallikattu. Sudha Kongura’s film based on the story of Air Deccan’s founder GR Gopinath was a private entry. Showing the film to the Academy members who decide Oscar winners takes some $12,500.
Perhaps the most remarkable Indian achievement in the Oscars is director Satyajit Ray whose birth centenary is being celebrated. Barring AR Rahman and costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, the Oscars have generally ignored Indians. Even Ray’s movies were not nominated though three of his movies such as Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Apur Sansar and Mahanagar were India’s official entries. Bhanu Athaiya won for the western production Gandhi. A costume designer, she has worked for Aamir Khan’s Lagaan as well as Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa in the past.
India’s Oscar dreams are at least 65 years old, starting with Mehboob Khan’s Mother India that missed the award in a PT Usha-like situation. The Nargis-Sunil Dutt movie lost to Fellini’s Nights Of Cabiria by a whisker. Salaam Bombay and Lagaan were among India’s few entries that reached the final round for the Best Foreign Film award, now rechristened Best International Film. Other official entries including Hey Ram, Visaaranai, Devar Magan, Kuruthipunal, Nayagan and many other Tamil films. Visaaranai moved a few rounds but not to the finals.
Five of Kamal Haasan’s Tamil films besides Swathi Muthyam in Telugu and Sagar in Hindi tried to crash into the awards but had few takers.
Kamal fans may call him Oscar Nayagan but the only real Oscar winner from Tamil Nadu was AR Rahman who got it for best background score and song.
Winning the Oscar is a long journey for any movie and goes far beyond a film’s technical soundness or strength of content. It also involves politics, the mood the 8000 plus voters and several imponderables. The Malayalam film “And the Oscar Goes To” portrays the Oscar journey of its director Salim Ahmed’s film, Adaminte Magan Abu. Vettrimaran too has shared his take on our Oscar attempts after his Visaaranai sought the coveted award.
Nevertheless, Indian films seek the Oscar tag more for the publicity and presenting a global profile to Indian audiences rather than any real chance of making it in Hollywood. The Film Federation of India selects India’s official entry for the Best International Film for a fee.
Besides the International Film category, Indian filmmakers may look at other categories such as Best Director, Best Actor and so on although those movies need to have an American involved. Italian film, Life Is Beautiful, for instance, won Best Foreign Film as well as Best Actor and was distributed by Miramax. It must however be said that its theme of Hitler persecution of Jewish is as much an American theme as international. Korean film Parasite truly broke some barriers in terms of American connect or the lack of it. It swept the Oscars, indicating that the US-centric approach of the Oscars may be reconsidered in future. Though these films were exceptions, the norm is something else and is beyond the reach of Tamil films, as of now.
It may well be time to question our Oscar love. They are awards determined by the beliefs, tastes and preoccupations of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts in the US. Personal redemption stories, themes of individual courage and failing, racial and other forms of injustice are often the favourites there. Will our themes strike a chord there? Satyajit Ray’s films were never seriously considered as they were uniquely Indian in their context and treatment. His award was a belated salute to a master of Asian filmmaking. Slumdog Millionaire and others reflected the western gaze on India, not an Indian take on India.
The Oscar run may bring good publicity, move news and social media, and eventually increase the market value of stars and filmmakers. In the end, that may well be what the Oscar news is all about.