The 81st Academy Awards ceremony in 2009 has been referred to as the “Indian Oscars” because the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ won eight awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film is set in India, the actors are Indian, one-third of the dialogue is in Hindi (one of India’s many languages), and there’s a Bollywood-style song at the end, but it is not, as many Americans believe, an Indian movie. The filmmakers, including the director Danny Boyle, are British. Only three of the film’s eight Academy Awards went to Indians: legendary composer A.R. Rahman won Best Original Score, Rahman and lyricist Gulzar won Best Original Song, and Resul Pookutty won Best Sound Mixing-which is not to be confused with Best Sound Editing. Yes, there are two separate Academy Awards for sound production, as well as two awards for documentary, two awards for animation, and three awards for short film. At the 82nd Academy Awards to be held in 2010, the number of Best Picture nominees will double to 10. And yet, there is only one award for Best Foreign Language Film, chosen from a mere five nominees. Bollywood, the largest film industry in the world in terms of film output and audience numbers, has never won that award. And it’s not because Bollywood films don’t deserve the honor.
Over the last 20 years, the countries that have dominated the best foreign film category are France (10 nominations, 1 win), Germany (8 nominations, 2 wins), Italy (6 nominations, 3 wins), Spain (5 nominations, 3 wins), and Russia (five nominations, 1 win). Non-European countries have taken the award home only four times in the past two decades: Japan in 2008, South Africa in 2005, Canada in 2003 (the film was in French), and Taiwan in 2000. An Indian film has only been nominated three times in the history of the award: ‘Mother India’ in 1957, ‘Salaam Bombay’ in 1988, and ‘Lagaan’ in 2001.
Maybe the category should be renamed Best European Film for the sake of accuracy. And while the Academy is at it, it could add a new category: Best Bollywood Film.
The ceremony is already way too long, but eliminating or combining some of the redundant categories previously mentioned would make time for exciting news ones-and excitement is what that ceremony needs. What could liven it up more than the spectacle of Bollywood? Why, it would bring back the glitz and glamour of Old Hollywood. Think of the red carpet-all those stunning stars in shimmering saris and silk sherwanis! The fashion commentators would flip. American celebs wouldn’t even compare in their identical tuxes and blah-black gowns.
But, alas, it’s not to be-at least not in 2010. There will be no trace of Bollywood at all next year.
The Film Federation of India selected a Marathi-language film, ‘Harishchandrachi Factory,’ as India’s official submission for the 2010 Academy Awards in the best foreign film category. The film beat 15 nominees, including several mainstream Bollywood movies such as ‘Fashion,’ ‘New York,’ and ‘Delhi-6.’ This is the second time India has sent a Marathi film to the Academy-the first was ‘Shwaas’ in 2004. ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’ is a feature film about the making of India’s first feature film, ‘Raja Harishchandra,’ in 1913. (India’s film industry predates America’s by one year-Hollywood’s first feature film was shot in 1914.)
The Film Federation of India, which chooses India’s Oscar submissions, is an umbrella trade organization that represents all of India’s film industries. That’s right-Bollywood is only one of many in India. Imagine if the U.S. had a thriving Spanish-language film industry that gave Hollywood a run for its money, or regional film industries in Chicago, Atlanta, and Seattle that rivaled L.A.’s. That’s how it is in India. The term “Bollywood” refers to the Hindi-language film industry based in the city of Mumbai, which was formerly known as Bombay. The country’s other film industries include Kollywood, which refers to Tamil-language films made in the Kodambakkam district in the city of Chennai; Mollywood, which is Malayalam-language cinema in the state of Kerala; and Tollywood, which refers to both Telugu-language films from the state of Andhra Pradesh and Bengali-language films made in the Tollygunge neighborhood of Kolkata. (Marathi-language cinema is too small to get a nickname.)
The way the Best Foreign Language Film category works is this: each country is invited to submit one film to the Academy Awards for consideration, the Academy then narrows those submissions down to five nominees, and one of the nominees is then voted the winner. But Bollywood has to pass through two hurdles: first it has to compete with other Indian film industries and then compete on a global platform that’s biased toward Europe.
There’s another reason Bollywood movies don’t stand a chance of winning. Like Hollywood, Bollywood is a commercial movie industry-for the most part, it makes popular cinema, not art film. And the nominees in the foreign film category are typically very arty. Even Hollywood’s Best Picture winners wouldn’t have won in that category. In a one-on-one competition, would the 1999 Best Picture winner ‘Shakespeare in Love’ have beaten the foreign film winner, Italy’s ‘Life is Beautiful’? Not a chance. Would the 1995 winner ‘Forrest Gump’ have beaten Russia’s ‘Burnt by the Sun,’ which won the foreign film Oscar and the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year? No way.
So the likelihood of Bollywood ever winning the foreign film award is slim. Not that Indians really care because they have their own awards ceremonies-namely, the Filmfare Awards. There are no boring categories at that event and there are some pretty interesting ones to boot-like “Best Villain,” “Best Male/Female Debut,” and “Best Dialogue.” Even the statue is better-instead of a muscular gold man that resembles a creepy, naked Ken doll, Filmfare winners get a figurine of a curvy dark lady. When it comes to entertainment, Bollywood simply knows how to entertain, even at awards ceremonies. It’s a shame it won’t get an Oscar for it.