Will "Peepli Live" make it to the final Oscar nomination list?
It's a bit early to start the debate, but the dark comedy about
corruption and famers' suicides stands a chance, feel experts, who
say it is an accomplished film.
Aamir Khan's production venture is India's official entry for the
Academy awards in the foreign film category for which the
nomination list will be announced Jan 25 next year.
Indian poverty was exploited to the hilt at the 2009 Oscars with
director Danny Boyle going to the extremes in showing the miseries
of the marginalised in "Slumdog Millionaire"; so did American
documentary filmmaker Megan Mylan in "Smile Pinky".
"The nomination depends as much on luck as excellence in cinema,
and there is no denying the fact that it is world cinema. See, for
them (the academy jury) the movie has to be culturally rooted in
that country. It is not that they are fascinated by or sympathise
with Indian poverty," film critic Anupama Chopra told IANS.
"Peepli Live" was one of the few films that hit the jackpot. Made
at a shoestring budget of Rs.7 crore sans stars and glamour, the
satire grossed Rs.28 crore at the box office.
Journalist-turned-director Anusha Rizvi combined the power of pen
and camera to highlight issues like corruption and farmers'
suicides and managed to impress both the classes and the masses
with her black comedy.
Film veteran Utpal Borpujari says the Oscar nomination will depend
on what kind of films are coming from other countries.
"Looking at 'Peepli Live', it is a very accomplished film. Going
by its content and quality of cinema, it does stand a chance in
the top five... It is one of the better entries in recent years
from India," Borpujari told IANS.
Despite being one of the largest film producing countries in the
world, India has managed to get only three nominations for feature
films so far in the Oscars list, which will see its 83rd year in
The Oscar nomination summary of the three films shows that bosses
at the Academy fancy stories from rural India with poverty as the
In 1958, "Mother India", about a rural woman and her struggle to
survive, became the first Indian movie to enter the prestigious
list in the foreign film category.
After that, India had to wait for three decades to make it to the
list when Mira Nair's first feature film "Salaam Bombay", based on
the lives of street children in Mumbai, was nominated in 1988. The
common factor between the two nominations was "poverty".
The third nomination didn't come soon either. It came 14 years
later in the form of Ashutosh Gowariker's period drama "Lagaan"
starring Aamir Khan. Set in pre-Independence rural India, it was
about a bunch of poor villagers trying to get tax exemption from
the British government by winning a cricket match.
In 2004, "Little Terrorist", a short film directed, written and
produced by Ashvin Kumar was nominated in the Live Action Short
Unfortunately, none of them could win the coveted golden
"You have to campaign if you want to win the Oscar. It is like a
political campaign," said Mira Nair.
Boyle's underdog drama "Slumdog Millionaire" was not the first
film with India's poverty as theme to make it to the nomination
list. In 2007, Cananda-based Deepa Mehta's "Water", about the
plight of widows in pre-independent India, was Canada's official
entry in the foreign film section.
But Boyle was the first one to triumph with his poverty story and
in the same year Megan Mylan too took home the golden statuette
for "Smile Pinki", about a poor girl whose cleft lip made her a
social outcast in her village in Uttar Pradesh. "The Final Inch",
about Indian workers' fight against polio, was also nomimated with
"Smile Pinki", but didn't win any award.
American director Gregg Helvey's Hindi film "Kavi", about child
labour, had been nominated in the Short Film (Live Action) section
in this year's Academy event.
With a population of over one billion, India is the world's
largest democracy and the fourth largest economy in purchasing
power parity terms. However, poverty remains a major challenge.
According to the revised official poverty line, 37.2 percent of
the population (about 410 million people) remains poor, making
India home to one-third of the world's poor people, according to a
World Bank report.
Legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray, who was honoured with a Lifetime
Oscar, was accused by commerical cinema of "selling Indian
poverty" in his films.
But Borpujari said: "The Academy doesn't look at the backdrop of a
film - what matters is how strong it is as a piece of cinema and
how powerfully has the story been told. The Academy members are
very politically active. They often go for films based on current
political issues like 'No Man's Land'."
(Arpana can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)