Somewhere between the utter conundrum surrounding one year in office of arguably the most polarizing president of the United States and the muddled yet well-intentioned path towards ‘Acche Din’ (good times) delineated by Narendra Modi’s government in India, the movie ‘Newton’ got the audience vote as well as a unanimous selection from the jury as India’s official entry for the prestigious Academy Awards. Both the largest democracies in the world have had some serious deliberations and finger pointing with regards to the hitherto considered ‘fair’ and impregnable process of choosing the elected representatives to the country’s highest houses. This is where the story of a righteous man trying to conduct the voting process in a forsaken place fighting all sorts of predicaments and opposing forces, made us introspect a little. The story is a reflection of the vagaries of the ‘festival’ that are the elections and that there still are a large section of the common folk who take part in the process mechanically or without any informed decision making or worse still, do not take part at all. Rajkumar Rao identifies the grim ethos of the community and through the course of the movie invokes pathos, not for him, but for the negativity in the system in place itself. The movie could have easily become a patronizing slumber fest, but for the vision of director Amit Masurkar and acting prowess of the characters.
The 14 member jury headed by Telugu film producer-director CV Reddy watched 26 movies submitted from across the country to select the official representation from India for the Oscars, 2018. Out of them 12 were in Hindi, 7 were from the southern states (including the megahit Baahubali : The Conclusion) and 5 from the consistently good Marathi film industry. Newton also got a grant of 1 Crore Rupees from the centre to back it’s candidature in the global arena. We have to bear in mind that getting selected is just the first step in the long drawn out marketing process to eventually get nominated in the top 5 of the Foreign Film category and possibly win next year. A lot of times the small budget, yet promising movies which get selected to represent India do not even get a chance to compete against the rest of the movies from other countries due to poor marketing pre-Nomination time. A good example of that was the 2013 movie The Good Road which had an impactful storyline about a boy getting separated from his family and his journey back. But due to certain factors, the movie did not even come close to getting the final nod of nomination.
Let us dwell at few of the reasons why Indian Oscar selections do not do well at the final stage—
- Lack of international distributors—There are two types of marketing which a movie needs to execute. First and the obvious one is before the movie releases in India, to reach out to the masses and sell tickets. The second important journey in marketing is by getting visibility in the international circuit once it is officially selected. This involves getting a high flying Distributor to garner the eyeballs which is necessary to stand out in the crowd. This comes with a cost. The academy consists of 6200 active members and to reach them on a variety of platforms is a tedious, yet necessary task to be completed.
- The politics of selection— the selection process in India has drawn a lot of flak in recent years due to it’s alleged bias to few movies or people influencing the decision making. This was evident when Eklavya was selected as the official entry even though it had got mixed responses in India and also didn’t have any moving premise to deserve a nomination in 2007.
- The theme and relevance of the same to the international audience—Theme is another factor which determines selection. Specially with a diverse country like India, the obvious logic says that something rooted to India’s culture and traditions is selected as the official entrant. At the same time, we have seen in the recent years that universal themes are the ones which win the coveted prize, like A Separation in 2011 and Amour in 2012. This has been a deterrent over the years. The only movies which got one step further in the race were Mother India, Salaam Bombay!and The common thread in these movies is the universality of the themes. Although Lagaan had a period premise, yet, that is also relatable to a lot of people globally as colonialization has its roots across boundaries.
Newton has a lot going for it this time. Universal theme, good backing and a strong screenplay. Here is hoping that it brings the elusive Golden Man.