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Indian Films at the Oscars- The Story So Far

It’s a proud moment for Malayalam cinema after Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikettu has been shortlisted for India’s official Oscar entry. The film emerged as the winner after competing with 26 other films including Serious Men, Bulbbul, Chhapaak, The Disciple, and Shakuntala Devi. Rahul Rawail, chairman of the Film Federation of India jury which selected the film stated that its depiction of the “raw side of humans, that we are worse than animals” made Jallikettu the winner.

Jallikettu Oscar nomination
A still from Jallikettu

Indian Movies Selected for the Oscar Race

 India has been sending films for the Oscars for the past 63 years but never has an Indian film won an Oscar. Though there have been a couple of films that made it to the final round of the prestigious movie award, Indian cinema is struggling to make an entry in the list of best foreign films.

Mother India, starring Nargis Dutt, was India’s first official submission for the Oscars. It was also the first Indian film to be nominated in the “Best International Feature Film” category. In the next couple of years, some really good films, including Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar, were sent for the competition however none made it to the final round.

Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay released in 1988 was the next Indian film to make it to the Oscar finals. The lives of children living in the slums of Mumbai was the central theme of the film. The lead child actor of this film Shafiq Syed received National Award for Best Child Actor but his career didn’t take off and now he drives an auto rikshaw for his livelihood.

Some of the other deserving entries in the 90s included Maniratnam’s Anjali, Mohanlal starrer Malayalam film Guru, and Shankar’s Indian; though none got nominated.

Lagaan Oscar nomination
A still from Lagaan

The entire nation was excited and hopeful when Aamir Khan’s 2001 film Lagaan made an entry into the final round. For a country that boasts of the film industry like Bollywood, the nomination came as a motivator. Lagaan’s nomination proved that the song and drama, which happens to be our USP, can be marketed in foreign shoes as well. Lagaan however lost the award to the Bosnian war film “No Man’s Land”.

barfi oscar entry
Priyanka Chopra in Barfi!

Some Indian films that were subject to criticism

Sending films like Barfi and Gully Boy for such an honorary accolade had invited a lot of criticism. Anurag Basu’s 2013 film Barfi was accused of plagiarism. Apparently, it had several scenes that were mere imitations of some foreign films. Anurag Basu lashed out at all the accusations claiming that he took “inspiration” from some films and didn’t copy the scenes. Looks like “Taking inspiration” has now become a cover-up for duping in films!

Gully Boy on the other hand received some cold gaze for being the official entry in 2019 because a good number of movie enthusiasts thought that there were better films than Gully Boy. Tumbbad, Article 15, and Chhichhore being a few of them. Writer Aparna Sen, who also headed the jury that year explained that “Gully Boy had bagged the majority votes”. Because of its overall artistic appeal and popularity, it seemed like a good fit for the competition.”

A still from Gully Boy

The answer to whether “apna time ayega?”, after sending Gully Boy for the Oscar race came out as expected. The film was out of the race pretty early.

Many film critics raised objections against the kind of films being sent for Oscar. They affirmed that films with better context and quality be sent for such prestigious awards. While another section advocates that the category is all about popularity and hence it is the most popular film that needs to be sent for the Oscars.

2020’s official Oscar entry Jallikettu is receiving love from all over the country. Every section of the film fraternity seems excited about the film’s selection. Jallikettu happens to be the third Malayalam film to be sent for the Oscar race. Guru (1997) is the first one on the list. Adaminde Makan Abu(2011) being the second.

Indians who Won Oscar

Though none of the Indian films ever made it past the nomination, some Indians did make their nation proud by bringing home the Academy Award.

Bhanu Athaiya became the first Indian to win an Academy Award. She received the award for her exemplar costume designs for the 1983 film Gandhi. Unfotunately she passed away in 2020.

Resul Pookutty, a Malayalee sound engineer went on to receive the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing for the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire.

Music maestro A R Rahman won “Best Original Score” for the same film that year. Veteran lyricist Gulzar was also a recipient that year for “Best Original Song”.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for this year’s Academy Awards and hope that Jallikettu makes history.

Read – Why Indian films never won Oscar

4 thoughts on “Indian Films at the Oscars- The Story So Far

  1. Good write-up. I would recommend digging deeper and linking to the sources to support your claims. And if something is your own opinion, try to justify it. That would make your article stronger. 🙂

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