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Why The Oscars Don't Like Indian Cinema

Why The Oscars Don't Like Indian Cinema

February 24, 2012

56 years of Oscar nominations. A total of 280 nominees. 3 Indian contenders. No winners.

Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay (1989) and Lagaan (2002) all carry the prestige of being former nominees for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, but unfortunately none of them succeeded in winning.

Both Gandhi (1983) and Slumdog Millionaire (2009) in comparison won a fleeting victory of eight awards each, including Best Picture. The former was a UK/India co-production, whilst the latter a UK production with a cast and crew mainly from India.

The fact is that both Gandhi and Slumdog Millionaire could have easily been homegrown Indian productions. It's quite revealing that the historical epic feel of Lagaan shares much DNA with Gandhi as much as the plight of Mumbai's homeless youth is an issue explored in both Salaam Bombay and Slumdog Millionaire alike. So where did the UK productions go right?

Many would argue that the sole reason behind the winners' successes is that they were led by Danny Boyle and Richard Attenborough - western filmmakers with no Indian background. It has been said that if the same films were made by Indian filmmakers that there would have been no chance either would have won Best Foreign Film awards, let alone Best Picture. These films were not only directed by non-Indians but written by them too.

It may potentially be that an outsider's viewpoint of India is more palatable to an international audience than an Indian countryman's - ironic, seeing that the majority of the aforementioned films favoured to show the low-class drudgery and village life of the country, in contrast to the glossy sheen that is more acceptable to India's cinema-going audience. Acclaimed films like Slumdog and Roland Joffe's City of Joy (which was shot in Kolkata) serve as strong doses of ugly realities for some Indians, and this isn't what they are looking for after a hard day's work.

Then there are the internal politics of the selection process to think about - both in India and the US. Many throw blame for Indian cinema's failure at the Oscars on those who choose the national entry. This was none the more evident than in 2005 when a film like Paheli beat competition from Black, Swades and the national award-winning Page 3 to become India's official Oscar entry. Times have changed however, and despite not being in the Hindi language nor endorsed by a big Bollywood star, India's entry this year was the independently-made Malayalam film, Adaminte Makan Abu. In spite of its critical acclaim, it did not get through to nomination.

Presidents do not win general elections through the promise of their politics but through the strength of their campaign. In a similar fashion, the marketing campaign is paramount to winning at awards ceremonies. Unfortunately for Adaminte Makan Abu which was made on a shoestring budget, there was insufficient funds available to do itself justice. However, it may only be Indian films like this that now stand a chance to win at the Oscars - small, independent films that vie for international acclaim, since the main concern for commercial Indian cinema tends to be all about the box office, with the majority of new releases now being remakes and sequels. Hardly good fodder for the Academy.

So there it is where Indian filmmakers have their first dilemma: do they make a film that promises to portray India in all its magical, street-level (ahem) 'culture' that prestigious award juries love so much, or pander towards India's prime commercial audience who would prefer the masala of watching Katrina Kaif's bare torso to seeing the injustice of slum kids getting badly beaten? Bucketloads of money or international recognition? Commercial or arthouse? This is naturally the filmmaker's prerogative, but as Lagaan has proven, there is nothing stopping Indian cinema from being both commercial, arthouse and Oscar-worthy.

Nonetheless, the success of any film hinges on one thing, and one thing only - the script. Danny Boyle only accepted the invitation to direct Slumdog Millionaire after he discovered that award-winner Simon Beaufoy was writing the script. Richard Attenborough rejected several scripts for Gandhi over 20 years before turning to John Briley. Mira Nair worked on the screenplay for Salaam Bombay with Sooni Taraporevala, someone she trusted enough to work with for two more films. Aamir Khan only chose to do writer-director Ashutosh Gowarikar's Lagaan when he was a hundred percent sure that the script was right.

Without this faith in the script, it's unlikely that any of these films would have had their deserved successes, but this script development process is still very rare in Indian cinema. Writers are still very low in the food chain, and despite the amazing concepts explored by Indian filmmakers today, they are rarely executed well. Indian cinema is still very much a director's medium, and until there is more faith put in the writers' abilities to write, and the editor's ability to edit, there will continue to be a stream of films that are all style and no substance. The Hollywood triumvirate is of Writer, Director and Producer. The Indian counterpart seems to be more like Hero, Director and Producer. This needs to change.

Development is key. Yes, it is my favourite Bollywood film of all time, but even with Lagaan, the British characters sometimes came across one-dimensional. And the Disney-like visualisation of 'O Rey Chori,' with an actress singing "Oh I'm in love", was ridiculous. It's not impossible to think that an Indian film can win at the Oscars. All it will take is some strict filmmaking discipline - less dictatorship on the part of the director and producer, and more teamwork with the writer and editor. The producer produces, the director directs. Let the writer write, and let the editor edit.

Ultimately, we should question the selection process for the Oscars. In the past ten years of nominees for Best Foreign Film, 39 of the 50 films have been European. 8 out of 10 winners for Best Foreign Film have been European. There is definite favouritism happening here. Hollywood itself is heavily inspired by European films, so there is a natural bias the American jury would have towards them. 56 years of nominations, 280 nominees, 3 Indian nominees and 0 Indian winners. The numbers speak for themselves.

Which leaves us to one final question: how important is it to win an Oscar, or any award for that matter? Some filmmakers do what they do for the money, some for the accolades, whilst a few feel so strongly about an issue that they need to make a film about it. With a 1.1% chance of even being nominated for an Oscar, is this a goal that Indian filmmakers should be pursuing? If a film is bringing in money, has an audience, and the filmmaker manages to maintain their self-respect and vision, should the approval of a select jury of strangers really hold any real importance? 


  • anshuman
    26.11.13 09:39 PM
    well to start of , I would like to say there are lot of factors indian film depends on...a talented filmaker or a good script by an indian won't get necessary back up by producers..see actors will be decided by producers before even film story is read
    yeah many people said indians keep their brains home and watch...well why its true thats the question it needs to asked ..well indians have good brains they use their brain in all other things exept getting entertained..why ??even indianss are very good at maths..but a thing indian does while going to cinema ..they ask themselves am i getting what i paid for?see hollywood some people might ask this question but eventually a good story they will go and watch....but to please an indian and give him a value for money is a must..see indians are very clever india we dont have strip club...wher one can have eye pleasure ..or anything...its all illegal....hey its no denying a man loves a girl in skinny out dancing around and doin some ass moves...hollywood already having something exposing outside hollywood wouldn't want to see anything like this in cinema.++they keep music only as music. In hollywood u have cinema differnt ,dancing girl different(strip club),music differnt...they give respect to all this differently and individually.but as I said indian is a clever guy..he needs everything with less price but equal value for money ..this is why an indian wiill value dabangg more than kahanii.
  • Shai
    30.11.12 09:02 PM
    @Rajpriya: A good point, but there is a huge portion of the Hollywood machine that churns out equally brainless entertainment. What Indian Cinema needs, and what western cinema needs more of, is the right mix of intelligent, unique concept and entertainment value. Nolan got this spot on with Inception, and The Dark Knight (not so much TDKR), but he's got to a position in the US where he has such trust from his investors and producers that he can make whatever he wants and nobody will bat an eyelid.

    In terms of storytellers, there are few Indian equivalents who have something genuinely 'new' to offer on an international scale, that is equally lapped up by the masses. If anyone can correct me on this, I'm all ears...
  • Rajpriya
    30.11.12 08:37 PM
    “But the question remains: would the majority of an Indian audience pay good money to go see a film where they can’t leave their brain at home? No money no movie.”
    How much more money does it cost to watch Hollywood movies in India?
  • Shai
    30.11.12 04:24 PM
    Hi Tarun. I was hoping to argue this fact with you, but the truth is that I can't recall a recent Bollywood film that has had me thinking about it for days, in the same way that I felt after coming out of the cinema from films like Inception, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind or The Matrix. These were all unique concepts that completely changed the way we looked at the world, and its hard to think of an Indian film that has done the same.

    A common grounding for all three films is that they stem from sci-fi, and it is a genre that Indian Cinema is yet to approach in an intelligent way, and that comes from a fear that it won't be easily accepted unless it follows a commercial formula such as Ra One did (and even then sometimes it can't be saved!) Films like Eternal Sunshine prove that you don't need snazzy effects and a huge budget to create a memorable movie classic - you just need a belief that you're creating a mind-blowing film that will resonate with a universal audience.

    But the question remains: would the majority of an Indian audience pay good money to go see a film where they can't leave their brain at home? No money no movie.
  • tarun
    30.11.12 01:39 PM
    India cinema is missing a realistic tho creative touching movie making art... i had this impression whenever i left after watching a oscar worth hollywood movie.. i would think abt tht movies for days.. this rarely happen for indian masala movie whr making profits frm boxoffice is the main agenda
  • Shai
    16.10.12 10:21 PM
    @Cinemon: Though I can empathise with what you say about the industry requiring a large amount of 'housecleaning and introspection', not only for the Oscars but in general, you can't deny the numbers that there is a definite appetite for mindless entertainment. I would like to believe that an intelligent film like Kahaani (one of the best Indian films I've seen in ages) would have earned ten times as much as a silly Salman Khan film like Dabanng, but it may still be a long time coming.

    As I said above, the majority of South Asian cinemagoers do not want to be challenged, they want to be entertained. On the bright side, the number of intelligent, challenging commercial films is slowly increasing, as filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu and Dilbaker Bannerjee, and risk-taking actors like Abhay Deol, Vidya Balan and Irfan Khan come to the fore.

    I can't say anything against Karan Johar though. As formulaic, as melodramatic and as unrealistic as his films are, you can't fault him for delivering pure entertainment. Then again, some might say the same about Salman Khan films. Everyone to their own I guess!
  • Shai
    16.10.12 10:07 PM
    @Kitchu I agree that there is a definite censorship, not only for Bollywood but Hollywood films also. Both of these powerhouse industries are almost wholly fuelled by the mainstream. There is a film norm that uses the same old techniques, structures and narratives, which may grow tired and boring for some cinema connoisseurs, but for the vast majority, this is the exact mindless, brain switch-off entertainment we yearn for at the end of a hard day's work.

    That's not to say there isn't a middle ground. Christopher Nolan is a great example of that, who introduced daring structure in Memento, and made a rare intelligent blockbuster out of a crazy narrative in Inception. Looking to Indian cinema, the best example I can think of achieving intelligence (in film structure NOT baby suction inventions!) and popularity is 3 Idiots, that dared to go against the typical linear narrative of an Indian film.

    Regarding other festivals like Cannes and Berlinale, this article was mainly targeted towards the Oscars. And I have to confess that I don't know enough about South Indian cinema to comment on it, though I hear from countless people that it knocks the socks off of anything that gets made in Bollywood. This isn't a preference - it's just a language barrier!
  • Cinemon
    11.10.12 07:59 AM
    I can’t believe some of the comments on this board. What the hey MaxNZ, bias??? Now we’re talking like Indians – throw racism into the mix when things don’t suit us.

    While it’s true the Oscars supposedly gauge a pan-Western sensibility, pray tell, what is so different between Western and Indian sensibilities? I supposed they must be very different, because we put up with the kind of garbage produced by the Indian film industry, year after year, and pay to watch more of it in the theaters.

    I think the real reason no Indian movie get noticed, nominated, or wins is because the majority of Indian films are badly made, with crude stereotypical dialogues, overly dramatic scenes, crassly dressed stars, and hardly any of the characters are finely etched or with nuances. Often actors are miscast for the role (someone’s niece, nephew, uncle etc.), and barely even make the effort to act – it’s almost as if they’re props. Many films are slavishly copied, word for word, from some foreign film. Even ones that start out on a good note end up making compromises that completely spoil the tone of the film. It’s a crude affair by and large, and as an Indian who has grown up watching a steady stream of this bilge, my sensibilities are offended, so I can only imagine how it would appear to someone who doesn’t know the culture.
    And yet we demand to be recognized and feted internationally.

    Karan Johar and his cronies should be publically caned for the atrocious nonsense they’ve been stuffing down our collective throats all these years. I hope you’re listening Salman Khan – Dabang was beyond the pale – it was putrefied essence of garbage. And God knows I never wish to see Karisma, Tabu or any of their sisters do another pelvic thrust in the name of choreography.

    As far as Lagaan goes, while I liked the movie personally (Radha Kaise Na Jale was something eh?), maybe it didn’t have the universal appeal that the jury was looking for. I think we need to accept this and get over it. Not everyone appreciates Indian culture. Boo freakin hoo!

    Why does anyone care if Indian films win Oscars? It’s their award, their rules. We don’t play by them anyway. I truly think some housecleaning and introspection is in order for the Indian cinema industry before aspiring for Oscar awards.
  • kitchu
    10.10.12 08:53 AM
    Is there a tendency to overlook the contribution of South Indian films when people talk about 'Indian films'. Piravi (means birth) a malayalam film by Shaji N Karun won a Caméra d'Or — Mention Spéciale in 1989 cannes festival. How many of us know that? Back to the topic- I don't think the discussion should be about why we can't win oscars.. It should about why we can't win some of the major international awards. When thinking about oscar worthy films one needs to think outside the mainstream Indian films and look more closely to 'other films'. They are films that uses techniques and narratives that are seldom used in mainstream films. And to some extend, i think with the kind of censorship we have there is a limit on the freedom of expression.
  • Shai
    18.09.12 10:43 PM
    Missed quite a few of these replies. Sorry everyone!

    @JetSetGo: no offence taken at all. Sorry if it came out that way. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion and if everyone thought the same thing, what a boring world it would be. And regarding Indian news, I've already put my views across on its misuse on my article here:

    @Atheist and Udit: Oscars, or any awards for that matter, are nothing but material recognition of one's efforts and unlike sports, the excellence of any kind of art is always going to be subjective depending on the people judging it. And the judgement of those people may be swayed by pre-award campaigns, personally knowing the nominee, having a personal resonance with the subject of the film etc so in the arts why should any award make any difference?

    Because its material recognition of your endeavours. And for some, that's all they want - international fame and immortality for being known as an 'Oscar winner'. For other filmmakers, its all about how much money they can make from the film. There are those who want to just express themselves, and don't care if anyone comes to watch their self-indulgent 'masterpiece'. Then there are the few creatives who make films to entertain, to teach, to make people FEEL something.

    But at the end of the day, it depends on what the main incentive for that filmmaker is when they're making their baby.
  • udit ujjwal
    udit ujjwal
    17.09.12 05:41 PM
    bollywood has a reach of more than 3.6 billion people across the globe,compared to hollywood's reach of 2.7 now things have changed and frankly speaking oscar awards doesn't matter at all......!!
  • JetSetGo
    09.04.12 09:55 PM
    True that Athiest Indian! the same way presenting a news coverage in the worst possible and most ridiculous manner is among the least of indian news channels' problems. And those movies out of the regular mainstream are the ones with highest number of Oscars as well. And they are proud winners because they are creative.
  • Atheist Indian
    Atheist Indian
    05.04.12 03:26 PM
    Why does the Oscar even matter, if at all? I am a World Movies affictionado, ever since I realised that movies outside of the regular mainstream Hollywood/Korean/Bolly are far more interesting, thought provoking and entertaining. When you look at it, the Academy Awards are awarded to movies that are culturally suited to Anglophone sensibilities and their Anglicised understanding of the world. Movies like American Beauty for example, make very little impact if you aren't used to the American WASP culture.

    If Indian audiences like Bollywood films, so much power to them. As for 3 Idiots, granted, it is a unique concept in Indian film making. But it is still way too dramatic and preachy to be real and on many instances, it pulls the viewer's imagination way too far. The band snaps. Methinks, not winning the Oscars are among the least of Bollywood's problems.
  • JetSetGo
    05.04.12 02:10 AM
    and by the way i am a Mister.
  • JetSetGo
    05.04.12 02:09 AM
    Respect your views man. I meant no Offence. You can like what you like, that's your life afterall.
  • Shai
    02.04.12 07:18 PM
    Mr/Mrs SetGo, not everyone is going to like the same films. As I said, its still beyond me why so many enjoyed Dabanng when I thought it was the biggest waste of my time since Ram Gopal Varma's remake of Sholay. I agree with you that none of those aforementioned films come close to the calibre of award-winners (again, solely in my opinion, I'd put Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding up there for this).

    I fully agree with you on the lack of 'real' characters in 'Bollywood', and plausible plot points at that. But one thing I really am proud of, of films like Three Idiots and Rang De Basanti is that they make you want to better human beings (again, exceptions - using a hoover to deliver a baby not so plausible in 3 Idiots, teaching you to kill your father in the name of your country in RDB is just a tad too sadistic in my opinion.)

    What I liked about Band Baaja Baraat was that is wasn't being vulgar and OTT like other Bollywood films. Tere Bin Laden took a very contemporary subject and intelligently twisted it on its head. Udaan gave us an honest viewpoint on a small story with amazing performances. Were any of these films perfect, or worthy of winning mass awards - no. But they're definitely a step in the right direction.
  • JetSetGo
    31.03.12 11:28 PM
    Shai Please! Band Baja Barat? You think that shit is good? And, Tere Bin Laden? With Shit like that how come you expect to win Oscars? Udaan still makes a little sense but is not even close to be called a heavyweight.
    I don't know but reality and strong characters are always missing in any bollywood crap i watch, even movies like Rang De Basanti and Three Idiots what i do miss are original chracters, too much show off in any story they pull off, we know indians don't do any of that shit,but just in order to show they are all modern and god knows what they always skip the strong and intensity of the script. For exapmle Vijay Anand's 'The guide' still stands among the best movie I ever watched because the story was intense and characters were real and they did not even pull a single act which looked unreal, whole thing was perfectly balanced. But in today's time that thing is always missing, the movies are all about vulgarity and calling international stars, paying them in millions and pull off some modern shit which is so not real.
  • Shai
    16.03.12 09:57 PM
    Apologies for the time taken to reply to you all. Thank you once again for all of your kind words and not a hint of the backlash I was predicting! Here are my thoughts in answer to some of your opinions:

    @Maxq nz After Iran’s fantastic win at the Oscars, I think its true to say that, despite statistics showing 70% of the Oscars jury were old, white men, a great film can appeal to anyone regardless of their race and age. However, I must agree with you on the tone of films that are often chosen – continually dark, depressing, foreboding stories, without even a hint of happiness in them – which ironically is exactly the kind of film that doesn’t do well in India. You may have hit the nail on the head here.

    @Rajpriya Too true, and why shouldn’t they? The film business is a ‘business’ after all.

    @Akshay Fully agreed. We don’t need jury nor journalists to dictate to us what films we should like, in the same way we don’t need them to tell us the best restaurants to eat at. But the sad truth is, we will go towards what is most recommended to us. Which is why I got duped into watching Dabanng.

    @non resident smart Indian – I’m sorry, but not a very smart comment. I agree with you that the quality of Indian cinema has gone considerably downhill from the birth of emotionless, glossy ‘MTV’ cinema, but its not all garbage. It still baffles me why 3 Idiots wasn’t entered as a contender for the Oscars! There is a lot to admire from Indian cinema, but it’s going nowhere until they realize that a film is nothing without solid scriptwriting and editing.

    @SK You bring up some very good points, especially regarding Iran’s win. It is much harder to show truth in a film that through rose-tinted glasses, and the filmmakers should be rewarded for it, but that fact is that the mass of an Indian audience will prefer to see things through those same rose-tinted glasses, dispersed with songs every 10 minutes. Personally, I enjoy those ‘Bollywood’ films as much as I enjoy any other as long as they are good films. Hollywood films in a similar sense are usually all action, entertainment and no brains and there’s a time and a place for them (not forgetting huge megabucks!)

    I don’t think bringing M Night Shyamalan to India would be such a good idea – his films are more twists than plots at the moment, and just because he’s Indian doesn’t mean he’ll know the culture any better than Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). If Indian Cinema could learn from anyone on how to make an intelligent commercial blockbuster with mass appeal, it should be Christopher Nolan (Batman, Inception).

    @Chirag I completely agree that Indian filmmakers shouldn’t be forced to change the way they make their films for a Western audience, but we live in a global market now. Eventually, all films will have a global audience, with consumers having the ability to download films straight to their phone as soon as its released. The foreign industries that will be making the most money are those that can appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and to confine filmmakers to only make masala films for the rural middle-class masses would be a huge mistake.

    @darshan It’s not to be denied that there is a level of corruption involved, as well as blatant nepotism, but there is still a lot of talent around. More actors and filmmakers are getting to the top on their own merit rather than who their parents are now. Who was Shah Rukh Khan before he came to Mumbai? Or Anurag Kashyap? Yes, producers will still put in ‘skimpy outfits and buff musclemen’ into a film that they have no place, just so they can put it into a trailer (Kaminey) because they know it will make them more money. But that’s the producer’s doing.

    It should be the director/filmmaker’s prerogative to make a film as close to perfection as possible. Whether it is the Indian filmmaker’s lack of vision, or the Indian producer’s greed is up for debate.

    @Gaurav I definitely feel that way after a hard day’s work. Give me a masala flick over an Oscar winner any weekday evening!

    @JetSetGo Honestly speaking, there are few Indian films that really do it for me these days, but that’s not to say that there’s not good stuff out there. From the past couple of years, I really enjoyed Udaan, Band Baaja Baraat and Tere Bin Laden – 3 very different films, yet still very good. Unfortunately, with the right amount of script development and editing, they could have stood a chance of being excellent. And I think that’s what’s missing from Indian cinema – not an ambition towards box office, but a goal towards excellence.

    Thanks again to everyone. Just been told that Kahaani may be my next favourite Indian film. Wish me luck...
  • JetSetGo
    07.03.12 09:11 PM
    Seriously, loved your article. I must say, Best movies don't win Oscars like all them great songs don't have Music Videos. And so i don't watch movies after seeing the ratings and them stars or the number of Oscars it bagged.
    But again, Why the Oscars don't like Bollywood? Man, it's not just the jury, it's the whole goddamn world that don't like it. Nobody appreciates a movie with pathetic sense of humour, lose script, worst possible presentation of a subject and semi nude girls dancing and humping. I am not sure about the kids, but grown ups should laugh at the shit they produce! No offence! I know this place is full of patriots!
  • Gaurav
    07.03.12 03:04 PM
    I liked the comment which you made people not wanting to see movies which show low-life drudgery. I can personally relate to that. I am personally of the view that movies should be primarily entertaining, and only once in a while something super serious and thought provoking.

    Most of us have enough going on in our own lives that we don't want to go to movies and see even more struggle. When I go to a movie, I want to be entertained, I want to laugh, I want to see some action.
    05.03.12 02:40 PM

    By your comment i can understand that either you are that you have not watched many bollywood films . I admit that some films are influenced by hollywood but those films are very few compared to our orignol films.

    Our style of presenting and making films is different due to our culture being heavily relied on classical and folk music that we feature songs that seem a little weird to the west.

    And another point is we dont feature nudity and sex to potray love and romance between characters so the only way left out is songs. And i prefer songs to nudity .

    So please dont call Indian films Garbage and think before you comment and I advice you to watch some good bollywood films which you clearly must not have seen.
  • Aonkur Gogoi/Kam
    Aonkur Gogoi/Kam
    03.03.12 10:04 PM
    Well, @Pulkit the review and the comments have put me in some kind of serious confusion, yet, must say, nearly everyone has got fair points in their speech. India produces a lot of films and all of them are not "Garbage", mind you, @Darshan, yet the copycat and corrupted image is just too true to be denied.
  • darshan
    03.03.12 08:03 AM
    i will try and make this short

    Indian film makers do really care about the Oscars and do want to win

    but their industry is very corrupt , because of the amount of illegal things they do , they copy English and american movie with out the rights also brag about it on their awards show

    all Indians films are poorly made and just about eye candy

    low budget and make as many films as they can to brag about the volume of movies they make a year

    there is no talent and all filmmakers including the actors and actresses are sons and daughters of rich people with power like politicians

    India can easily make a master piece but it dose not and will not as they care about making girls dance in skimpy outfits and a buff muscleman with out a top on

    all in all , i never see other films copying Indian movies the rest of the wolrd is original and creative

    i have seen all movies such as Korean , British , american , Spanish , Japanese , Chinese , HK , African , Australian , south american and Pakistani movies and songs are heavily copied by Indian movie makers

    India being so heavy with culture you would think it would be able to make the best of everything also because their national language is also English as well as Hindi but as it dose do illegal things in the film industry , so they do not deserve an Oscar unless there is someone who understands the culture of the country and to put it into art and not the regular disgusting garbage
    27.02.12 04:00 PM
    That was an interesting article. It was very well written.

    Hollywood and Bollywood are as different as chalk and cheese. The audience , the films etc is totally different.Then how can we have one set of awards for two very different genres.

    It all depends upon the audience.
    Slumdog millionare did really well at the oscars beacuse it firstly glorifies Western stereotypes of India and secondly It shows a life which is totally different from theirs . So it is entertaining for them.

    Most of us Indians are middle class or rural so we dont want to see arthouse films unless they are moulded along the lines of lagaan cause we work really hard and after a hard days work we would much rather see a masala movie than an arthouse film.

    And Indian cinema is unique. It shouldnt be changed just to suit the international audience cause the first and the most important objective of cinema is to entertain the audience not to win oscars and if the Indian public likes masala films then films should be made like that.
  • SK
    27.02.12 02:54 PM
    You bring up very interesting points in this piece. One being that Hollywood favors European films because they look to European films for direction. I think this is partially true, but also brings up the fact that Indian films very often look to Hollywood for direction. So in this case, the lack of creative initiative in Indian cinema is one of its biggest drawbacks. Hollywood is not going to reward Bollywood for being a step behind them. It should also be noted that the Best Foreign Language film this year went to a film from Iran, which was also nominated for its writing. Clearly there is something in that film which is vanguard or unique to the industry that it beat out films from Belgium, Poland and even Canada.

    You also mention that Indian audiences favor a "glossy sheen" perspective of life over the low-class drudgery, which in most cases is much more realistic. It's much harder and prized to show truth in a film (other than documentary) than it is to show a perspective through rose-colored glasses. There is nothing compelling or unique about that. I believe this is what American audiences and filmmakers are constantly striving for.

    Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers pictures of the black & white era were extremely popular in the States at one time, but audiences there moved away from that a long time ago, only recently starting to show any sign of appreciating that again (but not to the old level). Yet, Indian cinema has never strayed from the song-and-dance musicals because movie-goers there still love it. Why does the whole country seem to be stuck in time, cinematically, and when will the tide turn? I think that change is needed before more competitive and prize-worthy films can emerge from India.

    Here's a wild thought: Perhaps Manoj Night Shyamalan could move to India, set up a film studio, and figure out a new way to compel audiences to films that don't include greased up body builders dancing around trees and perfect endings. He's turned into a one-trick pony in Hollywood but if he could be cutting-edge once, maybe he can do it again, but in a different setting, and without so many twists and turns.
  • non resident smart indian
    non resident smart indian
    27.02.12 05:30 AM
    have you ever watched an indian movie which is remotely realistic? you expect an oscar form the garbage we produce?
  • Akshay Kumar G
    Akshay Kumar G
    26.02.12 12:57 AM
    A brilliant article Shai, agree with every word you said.

    And Lagaan is also my favorite movie of all time, I was devastated at the time when it didn't win the Oscar but in hindsight I feel a great movie like Lagaan don't really the approval of some strangers who we call the Oscar Jury to determine its greatness. :)
  • Rajpriya
    25.02.12 11:36 PM

    In my opinion Bollywood movies are produced more targeting Box office successes rather than winning Academy Awards.

  • maxq nz (@maxqnz)
    maxq nz (@maxqnz)
    25.02.12 06:32 AM
    A very, very interesting read, thank you! I was very impressed with your in-depth objectivity. Especially for having the courage to say *good* things about Slumdog. This is very rare in the filmi blogistan, where the predominant reflex seems to be to angrily hiss, and spit out "It's not Indian", and not look further into what genuinely Indian cinema could learn from international co-productions like Slumdog. It was refreshing to read such a calm, thoughtful analysis of where Indian cinema needs to take responsibility for its Oscar "failures" (e.g., that AWFUL English bit in O Rey Chori!)

    I do think perhaps the one element of the equation that could have been covered in more depth is the simple reality of the Academy's demographics. If more than 90% of the voters are white males, then the likelihood of entrenched, even subconscious, bias seems very high.

    Finally, on a personal note, as someone very disappointed that the outstanding Adaminte didn't even make the nominations, I think tghat the very middlebrow, comercially-focused Academy tries to "redeem" itself with its choice of "Foreign Language" films. It seems that the films which get the nod will almost always dark, or bleak, or brooding, or introspective, or preferably all of the above. A small, quiet film with a positive upbeat message celebrating a life of faith (ESPECIALLY when that faith is Islam) never seemed likely to appeal to the Academy's fawningly pretentious definition of "art film".
  • Shai
    25.02.12 05:54 AM
    @Devasmita and Dee: Thank you for your kind words. Let me know if there are any other film articles that may interest you.

    @Sushma: You bring up a good example with how Korean films have completely permeated Western cinema, but I think this has more to do with the extremely original concepts that Korean cinema has provided since the turn of the millenium.

    Unfortunately, Indian cinema in comparison has rarely shown moments of inspiration. @Sudhagee: Although very well executed, neither Dil Chahta Hain nor Zindagi Na Milega Dobara were groundbreaking in concept. The best original concepts that India has provided (e.g. Lagaan, Eklavya, Noone Killed Jessica) are culturally inherent to India itself, whilst those that are are often heavily inspired by Hollywood are remakes (Omkara - Othello, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain - The Parent Trap, Don - Mission Impossible). Melodrama is also very difficult for a Western audience to take seriously, but sells well to a South Asian audience.

    @Jas: Completely agree with you on the Indian actors who 'get it'. They say some very promising things about the future of the Indian film industry in their interviews, but lets see if they follow through. Aamir Khan is a hero of mine, but I feel he has fallen flat on his last few projects: Delhi Belly and Dhobi Ghat were very original and daring in their execution but both lacked a crucial ingredient - empathetic characters that we could really root for. Smart films aren't necessarily good films.

    @Harry: Agree with you on almost all points, but the sorry truth is that there will always be an audience for remakes. Even today, there are a multitude of Indians who don't care much for English-language films, but to watch the same film in Hindi with Indian actors and Indian surroundings make all the difference. The problem is in how badly these films are translated to Bollywood. Kuch Kuch, Black, Omkara, Sarkar, Kaash, Massoom... there's a huge list of successful remakes of Western products. But on the other side, we have films like Kaante - Reservoir Dogs, Players - The Italian Job, Action Replayy (sacriligiously bad remake of Back To The Future), where its all style and no substance.

    There's no sin in remaking western films, or even old Hindi films, but the filmmakers need to realise what made the originals unique and special in their own right, but also how to adapt the film for a new age and a new culture. Hmmm...What makes a good remake? Potential to become the next article? Mr Editor?
    24.02.12 11:07 PM
    Hi Shai

    I liked your write up and your justification on oscars. There are few points I want to tell you on, why?, and why not?.

    First, every films main objective is to entertain. The questions we should ask is, who do they entertain? are they to entertain us or the hollywood. What I like, you may not, and this is the most important question.

    You also stated that they may be biased to european films, you are probably right. The reson for this is that, they can relate to the culture and history, where they don't know anything about ours. Like I said it's all about taste.

    Second and most important thing is money. Films is like any other business and if it doesn't make the money, then there will be no more films, even if it is an arthouse. I don't think it is possible to have both and if you think it is, then others will disagree with you, Again it all depends on the taste.

    The most important and mother of all the other question is, does it serve and satisfy and entertain the audience it's made for ( India and Indian ) and if the answer is yes, then it doesn't matter if the foreigh audience likes it or not. The accolades by the oscars committee really means nothing.

    The only part I agree with you, and feel stongly about is, the part you said that writters should write and the editors should edit, and these are the things in the indian film industries are not respected and valued. This is the only reson we will always be no-2 and not no-1, and I don't think we are in the bad position.

    Indian film industry and film makers are very closed circle. Until they don't open up to new writters and editers, they will not move forward, and this the only reson I don't watch many Indian films no more, unless it's epic, with wow factor. I don't like watching english film remade ( copied )in hindi and that's what most of them are now a days.

  • jas
    24.02.12 09:17 PM
    Welcome on board The-Nri! Great start with this Oscars debate.. I will be watching this Sunday's ceremony to see if any Indians besides Anil Kapoor show up on the red carpet. Sacrily, he (and possibly Aamir Khan, Irfan Khan and Om Puri) may be the only Bollywood actors to have a realastic idea of the kind of cinema India needs to produce if it wants international audiences and recognition.
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    24.02.12 07:35 PM
    Extremely well-written and thought provoking !!!
  • Sudhagee
    24.02.12 04:21 PM
    The Oscars are for films by the West, produced for the West and meant for an audience that understands Western sensibilities.

    So how can Indian films, which obviously do not meet the above criteria, succeed at the Oscars. Gandhi and Slumdog Millionaire succeeded to a certain extent because they reinforced Western stereotypes of India.

    I cannot imagine Dil Chahta Hai or Dev D or Zindagi na Milegi Dobara or Chak de India winning Oscars as they are not about an India that the West is familiar with or wants to know!
  • Dee..
    24.02.12 09:47 AM
    wonderfully written !
    OSCAR doesn't matters India, here only BOX office and ITEM DANCE works !

    Selection committee of OSCAR is not an impeccable one either.
    they are flawed at times.
    End of the day, fun of watching film matters not the award(for viewers)
  • Sushma Joshi
    Sushma Joshi
    24.02.12 09:45 AM
    In total agreement with you regarding the lack of respect towards writers in the cinema industry in Bollywood and in South Asia in general... the Koreans have been smarter, giving space and recognition to scriptwriters, which took their industry further on the international cinema world.

    From Wikipedia regarding Korean films:
    "Films such as Shiri have been distributed in the USA. In 2001, Miramax even bought the rights to an Americanized remake of the successful Korean action comedy movie, My Wife is a Gangster. Recently, popular Korean movies such as Il Mare (remade as The Lake House), Oldboy, My Sassy Girl, and Joint Security Area have also been bought by Hollywood firms for remake as well."

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