Over time, the facets and concepts of the Indian film industry have undergone major evolution and honest attempts have been made to inculcate realistic and artistic approach to films and film making. But even when the change has been evident, the ratio of such quality content in Indian cinema is quite low and till date the celluloid industry of the country focuses more on entertainment. Another issue that hinders Indian Cinema’s recognition at the Oscars is plagiarism in Indian films. Several admirable films in India are either an adaptation or remake of the Western classics. Indian films showcasing bona fide and appealing content often suffer lack of publicity due to which it fails to gather much attention at international level. Also on the contrary, few Indian films have received negligible or no recognition or promotion in the country, the reason being big production banners and distributors not signing up for such parallel cinematic ventures, but have been recognised at the international film festivals of other countries, and then come to be known amongst the Indian audience. The length of Indian films too is a factor that rules out their chances of being recognised at the Oscars.
Indian Films nominated at the Oscars
India has submitted films for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film since 1957, a year after the inclusion of the category. The Film Federation of India (FFI) appoints a committee to select one film among those released in a year to be submitted as India's official entry to the Academy, for a nomination for the “Best Foreign Language Film” the following year. The chosen films, along with their English subtitles, are sent to the Academy, where they are screened for the largely numbered jury. The 1957 Hindi film ‘Mother India’ was India’s first submission for the same and it made it to the final shortlist, nominated alongside 4 other films in the category. It came close to winning the Oscar but lost to ‘Nights of Cabiria’ by a single vote. Along with ‘Mother India’, only 3 Indian films till date have managed to make it to the final shortlist of nominations for the category, namely ‘Salaam Bombay!’ (1988) and ‘Lagaan’ (2001).
India has sent over 40 films, most submissions being in Hindi. Tamil films were submitted by the committee on 9 occasions. 3 submissions were made in Marathi, 2 each in Bengali and Malayalam, while only 1 film in Telugu and Gujarati. Legendary Tamil actor Kamal Haasan has most often represented the country as a performer, with 7 films submitted for the Oscars, including 3 consecutive films from 1985 to 1987, one of which he directed himself. Satyajit Ray is the Indian film personality who has represented the country the maximum number of times as a director, at the Oscars.
In 2011, the jury of the 58th National Film Awards recommended that films winning the Best Feature Film honour at the annual National Film Awards should be the official entry. However, over the next 3 years, none of the winners of the category was chosen as the official entry. For the 88th Academy Awards honouring films of 2015, Marathi film ‘Court’, the Best Film winner at the 62nd National Film Awards, was submitted by India. ‘Visaranai’, the 2016 Tamil docudrama crime thriller, has been selected as India’s official entry to Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards to be held in 2017.
Apart from these feature films, a few short documentary films also bagged nominations at the Oscars. The directional debut of Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a documentary film titled ‘An Encounter with Faces’ received nomination in the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) in 1979. In addition to this, Ashvin Kumar, the son of famed fashion designer Ritu Kumar, also bagged a nomination for his 15 minute-short film ‘Little Terrorist’, for the 2005 Academy Award for Live Action Short Film. The film depicts a soulful story of a boy who crosses the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, chasing a cricket ball.
Indian Film Personalities at the Oscars
Although Indian films have not succeeded in winning the Oscar statuette, quite a few Indian film personalities have walked away with the prestigious accolade. The year 1982 marked the first victory of India at the Oscars when costume designer Bhanu Athaiya received the award for Best Costume Designer for her work in Richard Attenborough's Oscar-winning film ‘Gandhi’ (1982). Filmmaker Satyajit Ray, after a decade, was the next Indian who represented the country’s win at the Oscars, by winning the Academy Honorary award. Later in 2009, the Indian film industry earned prominence at the Oscars, bringing home 3 awards that were conferred to Gulzar for Best Original Song, alongside A. R. Rahman who also won the Best Original Score for the same song "Jai Ho" featured in the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008). Resul Pookutty won the Best Sound Mixing, alongside Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke, for the same film.
Films associated with India at the Oscars
Apart from Indian films and personalities, there have been films having strong Indian connections that have been honoured at the Oscars. These movies have been either shot in the country or have involved the work of Indian actors and technical artists. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008) is the prominent mention here, a British drama directed by Danny Boyle. The film cast and crew comprises Indian actors and technical personalities, and it was completely filmed in India. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ walked away with 8 Academy Awards, in different categories. ‘Life of Pi’ (2012) is another such movie featuring Indian actors like Suraj Sharma, Tabu and Irrfan Khan. The film bagged 4 awards at the prestigious event. ‘Gandhi’ (1982) is another notable movie that received 8 awards at the Oscars. It was extensively filmed in India and included many Indian actors. Directed by British filmmaker Richard Attenborough, it is an epic biographical film which remarkably depicted the life of one of the most famed freedom fighters of India, Mahatma Gandhi, who is regarded in India as the "Father of the Nation". Deepa Mehta's ‘Water’ (2005) that featured Indian actors like Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray and John Abraham, was entirely based on India with Indian actors, garnering nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film from Canada, being produced by Canadian film producer David Hamilton.