Malayalam film 2018 is India’s official entry for the Oscars. A jury headed by noted director Girish Kasaravalli on Wednesday chose the X-language movie for the Best International Film category. The 96th Oscars for films released in 2023 will be held on March 10, 2024, in Los Angeles.
Directed by Jude Anthany Joseph, the film is an account of the catastrophic 2018 floods in Kerala. Spread over 150 minutes, 2018 is a mosaic of the experiences of several characters with the impact of incessant rain, disastrous environmental policies, and nature’s fury. The film has also been dubbed into Hindi. Read Nandini Ramnath’s review here.
The committee’s decision was unanimous.
According to reports, 22 films were shortlisted, including The Kerala Story, Vaalvi, Gadar 2, Balagam, Dasara, Zwigato, The Storyteller, Rocky aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, Music School, Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, Ghoomer, Viduthalai Part 1, Baap Layak and 12th Fail.
The Oscar selection committee is constituted every year by the Film Federation of India. The trade body’s stated aim is to pick the movie that best represents India’s cinematic achievements as well as its diverse language industries. The choices over the past few years include Pan Nalin’s The Last Picture Show (2022), Koozhangal (2021), Jallikattu (2020), Gully Boy (2019) and Village Rockstars (2018). The FFI is currently headed by Ravi Kottarakara.
India has never won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In the past, three Indian productions made it to the final nominations: Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001).
Controversy has invariably accompanied the selection process. If previous panels were lambasted for picking entertainers such as Jeans, Indian and Barfi! for American voters with little understanding of populist Indian filmmaking styles, later committees have been slammed for leaning towards arthouse cinema.
The movie that was considered the strongest contender, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, was passed over in 2013 for Gyan Correa’s The Good Road. In 2022, criticism greeted the selection of The Last Picture Show over SS Rajamouli’s RRR. The latter production, a crowd-pleasing potboiler, got unprecedented praise from respected Hollywood directors.
It worked out best for RRR: compelled to compete in the general categories, RRR picked up India’s first-ever Oscar in the Music (Original Song) category, for Naatu Naatu.
Apart from the prestige involved, being selected to represent India is a burden for producers. Many of the Best International Film contenders have already earned plaudits on the international festival circuit, making them more familiar to Oscar voters than Indian titles.
Indian producers need to compete with already buzzing productions that are backed by studios with deep pockets. Despite a grant from the Union Information and Broadcasting ministry, Indian filmmakers can find the Oscar campaign hugely expensive, bewildering and gruelling.
Yet, India shone at the 2023 Oscars, with three nominations in three different categories and two awards. Apart from Naatu Naatu, Kartiki Gonsalves’s The Elephant Whisperers won for Best Documentary (Short). Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes was shortlisted in the Documentary Feature Film category, losing out to Navalny, about Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.