The first ever film India submitted for the Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category was the one that is believed to have come closest to winning. The story goes that Mother India (1957) lost by just one vote.
The critical view is that this year’s choice as the official entry, the multilingual film Court (2015), is not the kind of movie automatically ruled out of the nominations, as recent choices have tended to be.
But before we can even get there, this being India, there naturally has to be a huge controversy over everything. This time, one of the jury members, filmmaker Rahul Rawail, resigned, accusing chairperson of the committee, actor and filmmaker Amol Palekar of trying to manipulate votes. Apparently Palekar was in favour of Masaan.
Perhaps there should have been more disagreements when these five films were chosen as the official entry in the past:
Jeans (1998): The year of the break-out Hindi film Satya. And what goes is the Tamil film Jeans. And just as the titles would suggest, Satya is today considered a milestone in Indian cinema, while Jeans has faded away.
Paheli (2005): The film was the jury favourite apparently because it reflected the “Indian ethos” and was based on an Indian language story. Read: “This is exactly the kind of colourful spectacle that will dazzle the Academy jury.” That was the year Sanjay Leela Bhansali had hoped that his film Black would be chosen. Ashutosh Gawarikar’s Swades was also in the running. Interestingly, Paheli was directed by Amol Palekar.
Eklavya (2007): Choosing an unremarkable film in a year when three competitive Tamil films, Paruthiveeran, Mozhi and Veyil, were much talked about made the chairman of the jury, filmmaker Sudhir Misra, appear biased in favour of Bollywood. Worse was to follow. The Bombay High Court found evidence of the selection committee’s bias when the director of Dharm, Bhavna Talwar, filed a case, accusing Eklavya director Vidhu Vinod Chopra of “implanting” voters.
Barfi! (2012): When Kahaani, Gangs of Wasseypur, and the brilliant Paan Singh Tomar are said to be among the original choices but the committee decides to go with Barfi!, which is replete with scenes “inspired” from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films of the silent era, nothing good can possibly come of it.
The Good Road (2013): This choice, ahead of The Lunchbox, all but tore the film fraternity apart. Sure, there was support for the independent Gujarati film. But The Lunchbox had picked up top honours at several film festivals, figured on the favourites’ lists of various international critics, and even performed exceptionally well at the box office for an independent release here in India.