Why Indian Cinema Misses Oscars

Only two Indian films Mother India and Lagaan came close to winning Oscars. They missed the coveted award by just a few points. Both the films were rich in content, cinematic and production values. Then what’s it that prevents Indian films from winning Oscars?

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Ranjan Das Gupta
is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

Kolkata: The latest entry for Best Foreign Language Film for Oscars from India is Koozhangal directed by PS Vinophraj. The jury chaired by eminent filmmaker Shahji Priravi Karun unanimously decided on this after viewing several films at Bijoli Cinema, Kolkata. High hopes have been pinned on Koozhangal. Yet there is a grave doubt whether it will win an Oscar.

Says Sandip Ray, “I congratulate PS Vinophraj. His film is India’s entry for the Oscars. However, the procedure of judgment for awards at the Oscars is very different compared to Indian standards. The understanding of content, cinematic language and presentation are higher and superior at the Oscars as they have internationally acclaimed jurists.”

Only two Indian films Mother India and Lagaan came close to winning Oscars. They missed the coveted award by just a few points. Both the films were rich in content, cinematic and production values. Then what’s it that prevents Indian films from winning Oscars? Adur Gopalkrishan comments, “In general, Indian cinema caters to entertainment with box office ingredients. Such inputs in films are unwanted in the international scenario. It appears strange to me that not even a single movie directed by Satyajit Ray ever won an Oscar.”

Indian cinema has three classifications. Art, middle and mainstream or commercial cinema. There are no such categorizations for cinema at the Oscars. A decade ago Sophia Loren confessed to me during an interview, “I marveled at Indian films like Apu Trilogy, Devi and Charulata which I viewed at international film festivals. They are no less excellent, compared to Hollywood or European classics.”

A lot of lobbying, public relations exercises and promotional activities are required for foreign films to receive Oscar nominations. Brilliant films like Guide and Aakhri Khat could not make it to the Oscars as they lacked the financial support required for promotions at the Oscars. Chetan Anand lamented to me in 1996, ”I did not receive any support from the Indian Government after Aakhri Khat and the film did not even reach in time to be judged for competitions at the Oscars. We do not make masterpieces like How Green Was My Valley or Ben Hur but some of our films are truly memorable.”

In all fairness, Lagaan does not come anywhere near Mother India, Kagaz Ke Phool or Guide in terms of cinematic brilliance. Still, a lot of promotional activities helped Lagaan to come near winning an Oscar. It eventually missed the bull’s eye. Gulzar once stated, “The sentiments and reasoning in European and American cinema are different to ours and are based on values of restraint. In many of our films, we tend to become too dramatic. It is not cinematically correct.” Indian cinema is way behind from winning an Oscar. Yet one should never lose hope.

Indian films which are from the entertainment sector hardly have any chances of winning coveted international awards. They mainly cater to an audience that is not at all of the thinking categories. Indian art house cinema is morbid at large. The mingling of intelligence and kinetic force are not visualized at large in Indian films. When this is done with proper doses Indian cinema stands a better chance in the international arena. As Satyajit Ray rightly pointed out, “The social concern of Modern Times and the spectacle of Lawrence of Arabia with reason should be imbibed in Indian films.”

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Ranjan Das Gupta
is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

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