Why India never wins the Oscar for Best Foreign Film

Every year FFI (Film Federation of India) selects one movie to represent the nearly 1500 movies made annually in India at the prestigious Oscars. This year, Visaranai is India’s official entry for Oscars 2017.And with it, all Indian movie aficionados are again befuddled by a simple question. Why don’t Indian movies win an Oscar? No, i am not talking about the Slumdog Millionaires and the Gandhis, which had an Indian premise and actors, but were “created” and conceptualized by non-Indians.


Let us quickly have a look at the movies which were selected to represent India in the last 10 years for the Best Foreign Film Category—

2006 Rang De Basanti The Lives of others
2007 Eklavya The Counterfeiters
2008 Taare Zameen Par Departures
2009 Harishchandra’s Factory The Secret in Their Eyes
2010 Peepli Live In a better world
2011 Abu, Son of Adam A separation
2012 Barfi! Amour
2013 The Good Road The Great Beauty
2014 Liar’s Dice Ida
2015 Court Son of Saul
2016 Visaranai ?

Out of the 10 Indian movies selected in the last decade, only Rang De Basanti, Abu, son of Adam and Harishchandra’s Factory had a realistic chance of getting shortlisted in the top 5. Granted,  the other Indian movies in the list were excellent (well, mostly, considering there is that abomination of a movie, Eklavya also in the list), but it is no rocket science to comprehend that, compared to the eventual winners that year, we did not have much chance in getting nominated, let alone win. Rang De Basanti was a massy movie with a message and a driving force of a star studded cast and makers. Abu, son of Adam was selected on the sheer quality of its hard hitting story and performances and it was one of the few movies which had the dual distinction of winning the national award and also getting officially selected as India’s entry for the Oscars. Whereas, Harishchandra’s Factory talked about movie making and the birth of cinema in India, a potent topic, explored in the most heart warming manners.


But Oscars are not won with story and performances alone. From the day of getting the official backing of FFI, to the day of getting shortlisted for Oscar nominations, a movie has to go through various stages of self promotion and a full-fledged campaign of garnering eyeballs. And that is where some of the better movies from India have lost out in the past. Most of the eventual winners in this category also get entries into other Film Festivals and earn plaudits and top honours. That itself catapults them into public reckoning and gives a momentum to their campaign of Oscar glory. Other than Rang De Basanti, Barfi! And Taare Zameen Par, I don’t think any of the movies got the desired mileage before the Oscars. This can be due to lack of funding, exposure or a case of losing out in the crowd. It is important to remember that all the 6000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) have to vote and select the best movies by assigning ranks. So to get into the preferred list of those members, it is important to reach out to them almost individually with the movie. Something which Indian movies fail to work on.

FFI has had a history of being confused as to which movie should be selected to represent India. The FFI consists of one of the largest group of members in a Film Federation with approximately 50,000 members. But most of these people are distributors and exhibitors who are businessmen at heart and may or may not have the required wherewithal to appreciate movies with a neutral view point. I am not trying to question the judgement of people who have been in the industry since ages, but such huge membership of the Federation may dilute the weightage of few deserving movies compared to others. Also, a lot of times, accusations have been levied against the Federation of showing biasness.

Another thing to keep in mind here is the general cliché attached to Indian movies in general and Bollywood movies specifically. Even now, the assumption of Indian movies having song and dance, excessive melodrama and over-lenghty still persists in the minds of the western audience. Almost all the winners of the Best Foreign Movie Oscar in the last decade or so have been focused on relationships or were a period film focusing on a historically important time. During the same period, the movies which India was sending were focused on Indian issues and culture which may not have resonated with those in the Academy. Another reason to ponder over the shortlisting process.


Now, a bit about Visaranai. The movie is a Tamil crime-drama with a focus on police brutality and loss of innocence in the face of Justice. I haven’t seen the movie, so cannot predict the eventual outcome. But the trailer of the movie and a general understanding of the story gives us a feeling that this movie is selected at the right time. When the US is itself shrouded by the clouds of police brutality, this movie may strike a chord or two. We are excited about its prospects and can only hope that the movie reaches out to maximum people before the Award Ceremony.

Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of the makers of the movies and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.

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