Rising early is a habit I could never develop. But there are exceptions in my life too. The Oscar Night (morning, for me) is an occasion deserving that honour. However, my excitement is waning each year. The cinephile in me who cheered for Lagaan while watching the Oscars in 2002 has gone slowly mum. This year too there wasn't any representation from India. We brag relentlessly about Bollywood coming at par with the cinema of the West and yet we fail to make a single film worthy of even a nomination at the Academy. Moreover, Indian film buffs appear unperturbed by this incongruity. I found my pseudo-critic friends analysing whether The Imitation Game was better than The Theory of Everything, or if Birdman ruled the roost. But everyone seemed oblivious to the fact that Liar's Dice, India's official entry this year, couldn't make it to the Academy's shortlist. Many didn't even know the film existed!
So what's wrong with Indian cinema? Why is the world's most prolific film-producing nation ignored at one of the most prestigious film awards in the world? The answer is simple and disheartening – the fault lies within us. Today Indian films may compete with Hollywood in terms of technical wizardry or financial opulence but, when it comes to content, we still lag miles behind. Indian cinema (read mainstream Hindi films) is still seen as exotic kitsch by many in the West. It might be three-hour-wholesome entertainment for us, but not a memorable cinematic experience.
Unfortunately, India's official entries to the Academy over the years have been appallingly bizarre – Saagar, Henna, Indian, Jeans, Devdas, Paheli, Eklavya. Quite predictably, none could reach the Kodak Theatre.
I have tried to fathom the logic behind selecting a film for the Oscars but, quite frankly, it's beyond my understanding. Remember Sooraj Barjatya's torturous Hum Saath Saath Hain or Aditya Chopra's tearjerker Mohabbatein? Both these films were considered contenders for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2000. After much deliberation, Kamal Haasan's Hey Ram got the ‘honour'. But some of the committee members still felt that the former two represented Indian tradition and culture in a much better light! Logic-defying, isn't it?
A Bollywood big-ticket misfit over a small-budget masterpiece – that's the prime selection criterion here, thanks to our myopic attitude. After all, the film buff in most of us prefers Kick to Kubrick any day. Perhaps that's why a blatant copy-paste job like Barfi! succeeds in snubbing an original Gangs of Wasseypur, or the overrated Paheli beats the poetic Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. Even the critically- and commercially- acclaimed (but un-Bollywoodish) The Lunchbox wasn't considered for the 2014 Oscars, although it received a BAFTA nomination this year. Actually, Bollywood has always found patronage when it comes to the Oscar race. Regional cinema, indie and underground films still remain ugly ducklings. How many of us watched Ankhon Dekhi, Court, Qissa, Labour of Love or Titli last year?
(I can hear some feeble 'yes'.)
Now how many have seen Happy New Year, Kick, Jai Ho, or Bang Bang?
(Phew! A unanimous aye!)
Well, I rest my case.
To quote a filmmaker friend of mine, there's a fine line between 'good film' and 'good-looking film'. It's subtle, but crucial nonetheless. Our movie moguls need to understand that and reinstate the right C in cinema – 'craft' instead of 'commerce'. Until that happens, hail mediocrity! Hail 100 crore-clubs!