Friday, February 29, 2008

Clash of the weak-'uns

I love films, Indian and international. Sure, I’ve been seeing a lot of foreign films lately but that’s only because I think the stories some of these tell are fascinating. Film transcends language, if you ask me. Who can watch The Lives of Others, Il Postino or Cinema Paradiso and NOT be amazed by them?

But I’ve noticed the steady improvement in the caliber of Indian films of late too, so its not like I’m becoming a film snob or anything. Whether it is the quite brilliant (in my opinion anyway) Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi or the more commercial Chak De India or Taare Zameen Par, Indian cinema is undergoing a renaissance in filmmaking. (As an aside, Chak De India and TZP have brilliant websites, unlike the films of yore). There is a whole range of less commercial or borderline arthouse films coming up quietly in India as well, such as Manorama Six Feet Under, No Smoking, Dor, Via Darjeeling (a Rashomon-inspired tale that’s been beautifully adapted to a Bengali setting, scheduled for an April release in India) and Mithya – films which are riding the wave of the multiplex experience and allowing so many more people to watch these films, films that are Good with a capital G. Not just your usual rich-girl-meets-poor-boy, who-overcome-opposition-from-family-and-marry-after-at-least-five songs-of-which-two-must-be-performed-around-trees variety. Heck, some of this sensibility is flowing over into the Yash Raj camp as well, so we have them finally venturing into producing a film like Kabul Express, which was, in their own words, ‘YRF’s first film for an international audience – a new foray into this segment of filmmaking, with many more to come’.

Amidst all this, we have a film like Eklavya-The Royal Guard being the Indian nomination for the Oscars. For all those of you who watch any half-decent non-Indian film on a reasonably regular basis, and those of you who keep track of the Oscar nominations, I have a question: which brainless, money-sucking idiot thought from any angle that a film like that could even cast a shadow on films like the eventual winner, Austria’s The Counterfeiters? I highly suspect that the Film Federation of India’s committee must:

a) not even be interested in films as a hobby, forget as a job

b) be VERY susceptible to corruption and consequently, a rich production house’s dream: you pay, you get nominated – which is tragic for those independent production houses that make honest, good films but don’t have a strong enough financial backing

c) not even really care about this whole issue

I was going through the list of films that India has nominated to the Oscars since 1956. We started out pretty well: Mother India, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, slowly moving to Saaransh in 1984 and Parinda (ironically, by the same director who made Eklavya) in 1989. The 1990’s were not too bad, with the glaring exception of Shankar’s Jeans being nominated in 1998. And then from 2000 we started going downhill, with films like Devdas, Paheli and Eklavya, and no nomination in 2003 at all, for whatever political reasons, because I refuse to believe that there were no nomination-worthy films that year.

Of course, I’m sure it has escaped no one’s observation that the last few nominations have all been coming purely from the commercial Hindi film industry, with the exception of Shwaas in 2004 which was did not have that much of a big budget, and was Marathi to boot. Since the 1950’s up to now, we’ve had only about 10 nominated films that were non-Hindi. Regional films are largely ignored, and more often than not have some gems hidden among them that escape the untrained eye, which is what it looks like the film committee have anyway.

So, the questions beg themselves: what are the administrators of the Film Federation of India doing today? What are their priorities? And why has no one made a move on taking them to task?

I wish someone had an answer. Or are we destined, as often happens in Indian politics, to quietly accept what the people in power do?

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