When Will Oscar Come to Bollywood?
The world’s glitziest awards ceremony in the world has come and gone. Foreign films, most notably The Artist dominated the 84th Annual Academy Awards, and Iran walked away its first win for The Separation. But apart from the soulful crooning of Indian composer A.R. Rahman, Bollywood was nowhere in sight.
In fact, the last time Bollywood made an appearance at the Oscars was in 2001 for Lagaan, a period piece about a barren village oppressed by the British. Although some may point to the accolades the Academy heaped on Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, the reality is that this was a British production set in India. The only Indians with bona fida Oscar wins from Slumdog were composer A.R. Rahman and lyricist Gulzaar for the soundtrack, which featured the hit Jai Ho.
Since 1957, India has submitted over 40 films to the Awards, but only two aside from Lagaan have received a nod: Mother India and Salaam Bombay. To date, Satyajit Ray is the only Indian filmmaker to have won an Academy Award—but not for his productions. The Bengali filmmaker was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award towards the end of his career in 1992.
Truthfully, it’s unlikely many of the films produced by mainstream Bollywood today would stand a chance at the Oscars. The Indian movie industry has embraced escapism, offering audiences the vicarious pleasure of living through glam stars living larger than life existences in haute couture. While these films are designed to rock the box office, they lack the cinematic impact of Oscar-caliber movies.
It’s debatable whether recognition by the Academy Awards should be a benchmark of excellence for foreign films, but the truth is that coveted award brings global recognition to movies championing important messages.
If India covets the international recognition the Academy brings, focus will have to shift from celebrating escapism to celebrating stories. Right now a tiny clique of filmmakers including Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, and Vikramaditya Motwane are slowing changing the industry. But when India truly chooses to embrace its truly remarkable and prolific storytelling abilities remains anyone’s guess.