Tamil director PS Vinothraj’s Koozhangal (Pebbles) will represent India in the international feature film category at the 94th Academy Awards, or the Oscars as they are better known. The announcement was made today by Shaji N Karun, the chairperson of the 15-member selection committee. The decision was unanimous, said FFI Secretary General Supran Sen.
The committee is set up by the Film Federation of India to pick the movie that will best represent Indian cinema at the Oscars. The Academy Awards for 2021 will be held on March 27, 2022, in Los Angeles.
Vinothraj’s accomplished debut feature won the prestigious Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year. The movie follows a father and his son as they make their way to their mother’s house.
“I am really, really happy,” 31-year-old Vinothraj told Scroll.in. “We have made this film with a lot of love.”
Fourteen films were shortlisted for consideration this year. These included Amit Masurkar’s human-animal conflict drama Sherni, Shoojit Sircar’s biopic Sardar Udham, the Yogi Babu-led Tamil political satire Mandela, and Martin Prakkat’s Malayalam film Nayattu.
Among the films that India has sent to the Oscars in the past decade are Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu, Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, Rima Das’s Village Rockstars, Amit Masurkar’s Newton, Vetri Maaran’s Visaaranai, Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court and Geethu Mohandas’s Liar’s Dice.
India has never won an award in this category. Only three films have made it to the shortlist: Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001).
The Indians who have won Oscars over the years include Bhanu Athaiya for the costume design of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), AR Rahman for Best Original Score and Best Song by Rahman (Jai Ho) and Resul Pookutty for Sound Mixing for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
In 2019, Rayka Zehtabchi’s Period, End of Sentence, co-produced by Mumbai-based filmmaker Guneet Monga, won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category in 2019. And in 1992, Satyajit Ray was given an honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar – the first Indian to be given the award.
Why has India never won in this category?
There are several reasons why India has never won in this category. In the past, the Film Federation of India was criticised for being unable to correctly identify the Indian title that would appeal to Oscar voters. This anomaly has been fixed in recent years, with the federation picking the film that the diverse Oscar voter base is likely to watch, rather than a movie that is favoured by Indians.
The campaign to lobby for an Oscar is long and expensive. Despite a financial grant from the Union government in recent years, it is still next to impossible for Indian filmmakers to put out “For your consideration” advertisements and commercials and hire American publicists to create a buzz among the Academy voters. Indian films that have already been distributed in the United States have an edge. However, this factor has been wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic.