March 26, 2001



Shamed And Crippled
With's spy-camera taking a heavy political toll after the damning revelations of corruption in defence deals, the beleaguered Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government will have an uphill task restoring its credibility and undoing the damage to its image.

BJP: Old Hype

Bangaru Laxman

Jaya Jaitly:
Jhola To Purse

Opposition: On A Roll


Defence Establishment
: Surgery For Graft

Interview: G. Fernandes

Barak Missiles:
Off The Mark

Sting Theory

Highlights Of The Findings

Rakesh Kumar Jain: Gasbag Man



Wheeling A Good Deal
The battle for BALCO degenerates into a political chess match between Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, and Union Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie. Jogi holds most of the aces at the moment--but will he play them all when it could mean loss of investments to the state?



The New Targets
The 60,000 policemen in Kashmir are caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, they are the target of militant attacks, and, on the other, the Army sees them with suspicion. It is not just themselves, but their families that the policemen worry about as they struggle to battle militancy and falling morale.



Crisis Of Confidence While stock prices haven't recovered since the collapse of March 2, the panic has spread from Mumbai to Kolkata. Underlying the fear is a deepening fear of the Securities and Exchange Board of India's will or capacity to regulate the stockmarkets.



Escape to Victory
Down and virtually out, India create a miracle at the Eden Gardens to stun the Australians and break their winning streak.



Mixing Metaphors Music, dance, and tourism synthesise in the famed textile centre of Maheshwar to provide sustainable synergies for its growth.





Waiting For The Oscar

Why the world's most prolific film producing nation is ignored at the world's most prestigious film awards

Imagine the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences watching Hum Saath Saath Hain (HSSH), Sooraj Barjatya's three-hour-plus, annoyingly trite paean to the joint family. Or Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein, a tale of love and longing set in a fantasy gurukul, where the principal is stern, the boys frisky and the girls mostly undressed. A bad Bollywood joke? Actually not. Both films were considered by the Indian selection committee as contenders for the Academy's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. After five days of deliberation, Kamal Hasan's ambitious but fatally flawed epic, Hey Ram!, was selected. It didn't make it even to the nomination stage.

Which is hardly surprising. The Indian film industry, the largest movie producer in the world, has been sending films to the Academy Awards since the early 1950s, managing to get nominated twice, once for Mehboob Khan's classic, Mother India (1957) and 31 years later for Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay (1988). Meanwhile, small nations like Mexico and Belgium have managed five nominations each, while France has an astounding 31 nominations, including nine wins. This year, Taiwanese director Ang Lee's martial arts masterpiece, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a Mandarin-language film, garnered 10 Oscar nominations.


CLUELESS CONTENDERS: Still from Rudaali (1993)  

What hobbles the Indian film at the world's most prestigious film awards? Too many things. To begin with, there's the standard of the films produced. While the Indian film industry has made great technical strides, the content is still abysmally infantile. Says director Rajeev Menon: "Our writing is so cliched. Given their present quality, our films have no chance at the Oscars."

Then there's the selection process. The mandate for selecting India's entry has been given to the Film Federation of India (FFI), an apex body of 34 film organisations. Each year, after being notified by the academy, the FFI asks its concerned constituents-10 or 12 producers' bodies-to nominate members for the central committee which meets in October to pick a film in time for the academy's November deadline. This year's committee was chaired by film producer and president of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce,

A. Kothandaramaiah, and included Ajit Bhattacharya and T.N. Janakiraman. Bollywood was represented by three producers. The best known was Sushma Shiromanee, whose last film was the 1995 Ajay Devgan-Urmila Matondkar starrer, Kanoon.

Anjali (1990)

Of the 800-odd films released last year, 16 were considered before Hey Ram!, with six votes, won. Says Kothandaramaiah: "Invariably, there is a lack of good entries. If Hey Ram! was selected, it was only because there was no competition." Says FFI secretary Supran Sen: "There is absolutely no campaigning. It's a fair selection."

Perhaps. But as usually happens, between intention and reality falls the shadow. Since the entire process requires about a week's commitment, the busier filmmakers don't participate. The academy does not foot the bill for the selection process, so associations have to pay for their members' boarding and food. Not surprisingly, some bodies don't even bother to send a representative-this year, the Association of Motion Pictures and Television Producers headed by director Pehlaj Nihalani didn't.

Of course, politicking, rife on film selection boards (such as that of the National awards) also comes into play. Since the country's various filmmaking centres are represented, regional biases are unavoidable. Says Shiromanee: "Naturally, everyone wants their kind of film to get selected." The result is that the best film doesn't always make it, the one with the most clout does. Which explains why a film like Jeans was India's official entry in 1998. And why our entries over the past decade include Indian (1996) and Heena (1991).


Hey Ram! (2001)

The submissions also indicate that the judges seem to have little idea of what might appeal to an international audience. "My thought was that we should present our Indian culture abroad," says Shiromanee, "so a film like HSSH or Mohabbatein would be appropriate." Actually, the opposite is true-India's song-and-dance narrative is largely seen as exotic kitsch by the West. Says Uma d'Cunha, official programme consultant, Toronto Film Festival: "Our preference is for commercial films which the FFI is familiar with. But the perceptions of an Oscar committee are very different from ours." Adds filmmaker Mani Ratnam: "A lot of attention is focused on Indian cinema now, but we're not producing international quality films."

Once an entry is submitted, there's hardly any provision for the next, critical step-promotion. While the Oscars have a stringently audited voting process, there is intense lobbying for nominations and awards. In 1998, production house Miramax came under heavy criticism for spending millions of dollars on promoting Shakespeare in Love. But the aggressive campaign worked-the movie won Best Film over Steven Speilberg's Saving Private Ryan. Indian producers have neither the funds nor the marketing savvy for the fight. "Let's just admit that we are not an industry," says director Dev Benegal, "We're just a bunch of people with haath-gaadis (hand carts) selling channa, chole and hoping someone will pick something up."

Is there a solution? Some makers argue that changing the selection process might help, but, as Film Producers Guild of India Vice-President Amit Khanna points out, any democratic process is, by its very nature, flawed. "Any jury's selection is prone to criticism," he says. "But if the people who matter don't participate, they don't have the right to complain either." Exactly. Until active filmmakers take the selection process more seriously, India will continue its losing streak. And the Oscar, like Godot, will never come.


Care Today

Pop Corn
"You are the best audience in the whole world," the Vengaboys tell raving crowds
in Delhi.

Looking Glass

Delhi Exhibition:
Pop To Classic

Delhi Restaurant:
San Gimignano

Mumbai Accessories Store: Watches Of Switzerland

    Web Exclusives

A bloody crackdown on Naxalites in the south-eastern fringes of Uttar Pradesh proves that only developmental programmes, not guns, can help fight the menace. INDIA TODAY's Special Correspondent Subhash Mishra explains why in



India Today, March 19, 2001

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