Back to: Sify's Oscar 2004 Special
Even though India has been the leading player in international Cinema making almost the maximum number of movies annually, her track record in the Oscar Awards ballgame has been disappointing and even downright dismal. The reasons are not far to seek, the main drawback being lack of professionalism, discipline and the pursuit of quality and excellence in the content of the Indian movies.
However the score card is not an absolute zero and there have been stray achievements here and there and it is interesting to take a look at them during the Oscar Awards Month of February.
The first Indian film ever to be nominated for the ‘Best Picture‘ (Foreign) was "Mother India" (1957) produced and directed by the leading Hindi filmmaker Mehboob (1906-1964) which had Nargis, Raj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, and Rajendra Kumar in lead roles. It was during the making of this movie in a fire accident that Sunil Dutt who played Nargis’s son rescued her from disaster. This act of chivalry and sacrifice by Sunil, one of the finest gentlemen in Indian Cinema, led to love blooming between the two and blossoming into their happy marriage.
It is highly regrettable that when "Lagaan" was nominated for an Oscar Award, (Best Picture-Foreign) in the hype created by the Indian press, most of the journalists callously forgot to mention the nomination of "Mother India" and projected "Lagaan" as the first Indian movie ever to receive the nomination. Indeed this was the unkindest cut of them all to the memory of Mehboob and his immortal contribution to Indian Cinema.
In spite of the hype created about "Lagaan" and the promotional activity undertook by the producers and stars in Los Angeles the movie failed to win the award.
It is a matter of pride and pleasure that an Indian filmmaker - the only one till today - was chosen to be awarded an Honorary Oscar for Life Achievement. That was Satyajit Ray, the only Indian film maker who is internationally known and respected for his movies of Indian life and Mother Earth like "Pather Panchali" (1955). This Award was presented to him in 1991 at Calcutta because he was too ill and bed-ridden and could not go to Los Angeles. It's a matter of regret that in some circles in India this brilliant, humble and human filmmaker is criticized that in his movies he projected the poverty of India. This is utter nonsense, to put it bluntly!
The other Indian to win an Oscar is Bhanu Athaiya, well-known costume designer of Bombay. She was part of the team of designers who won the Oscar for 'Best Costume' award. She was jointly named for ‘Best Costume’ designing for the box-office bonanza and critically acclaimed and multiple Oscar winner, Richard Attenborough’s "Gandhi" (1982).
Even though "Gandhi" was strictly speaking a British production, India can take pride that it had a stake in the picture as investor. The Government of India invested funds in this movie through the National film Development Corporation (NFDC). It is heartening to know that out of the profits earned by NFDC in "Gandhi", a trust fund has been created and the interest on the funds is being utilised to distribute pensions to indigent actors and actresses of Indian Cinema who have fallen on wayside to suffer unwept, unsung and of course, unhonoured. Sadly even many Indian movie buffs are ignorant of this Good Samaritan deed done of the Government of India and NFDC.
Not many are aware that in the early stages of the making of "Gandhi" Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were seriously promoting the project and also contributed ideas for the early drafts of the screenplay. Richard Attenborough told his friends that he was surprised that Pandit Nehru was quite knowledgeable about Cinema!
Ben Kingsley who got the Best Actor Oscar for portraying Gandhi is partly Indian, with parental links in Gujarat.
The latest sensation of Hollywood who has been ranked equally with the whiz kid of cinema Steven Spielberg, Manoj Night Shyamalan was born in Pondicherry, and he is the grandson of one of the senior police officers of India, R. N. Manickam. Manoj of course has never lived in India though he stayed in Madras for some time during the making of his movie "Preying With Anger" which he shot in Madras.
Manoj Shyamalan received an Oscar nomination in 1999 for his sensational success "The Sixth Sense" but did not win. However he is young and has many more years of filmmaking in him and his friends and admirers are most certain that he will carry home the Oscar some night soon!
Another Indian who received an Oscar nomination and created a stir is Shekhar Kapoor for his "Elizabeth" in 1998. But he did not get the Oscar. His controversial movie "Bandit Queen" shot in India about an Indian female Robin Hood won much praise in the United States of America. He is the nephew of Dev Anand and a qualified auditor who had practised in London and switched over to films thanks to his illustrious Uncle, the evergreen Dev!
With the increasing interest in Indian cinema in the West perhaps a day might dawn when Indian movies would proudly march all the way to Los Angeles for justifiably competing for the Oscar Awards and returning home with the much coveted statuette. Maybe some time in the future, some day, it would happen.