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Kapadia’s Warrior not British enough for Oscar

London, Dec. 5: So, it won’t be a run-off after all at the Oscars between Britain’s entry, The Warrior, and Devdas, the Indian nomination.

This morning it was confirmed that the Oscar committee in Los Angeles has rejected The Warrior, directed by the British-Asian director, Asif Kapadia, 30, on the grounds that Hindi, the language of the film, is not native to Britain and that the movie is not British enough.

The Warrior was selected by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) to be the British entry in the foreign film category.

Ironically, the dialogue in The Warrior is exceedingly sparse. The plot revolves around the efforts of a warrior (played by Mumbai actor Irfan Khan) who seeks to renounce violence only to discover he is pursued by his past.

According to a Bafta statement, the foreign language award committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had ruled The Warrior was “not eligible”.

Bafta’s replacement nomination, the Welsh-language Eldra, had been accepted, it added.

The reason initially given for the ruling was that Hindi was “not a language of the country of origin”. However, this has now been clarified by the American academy’s executive director in a letter to Duncan Kenworthy, the chairman of Bafta’s film committee.

Admitting that in the past the American academy had accepted an Australian film with primarily Cantonese dialogue and another one in Spanish, he pointed out that “although the ‘foreign language’ in both instances was not one that was immediately associated with the submitting nation, the language in each case was emphatically non-English and the submitted film just as emphatically Australian. The action took place in Australia, the characters were carving out lives in Australia and the film dealt with Australian issues”.

In the American academy’s view, the fact that The Warrior was filmed in India with non-British actors meant that the association with Britain was too tenuous for the film to be described as British.

Bafta says that though this ruling is a blow to the makers of The Warrior, it is positive news for all potential filmmakers amongst Britain’s linguistically diverse communities, confirming that the American academy’s rules do not require that the language of a picture be an “official language of the submitting nation”.

The American academy explained that if Bafta was to propose one year to submit a picture with British characters speaking Hindi, or Pakistani, or any language used and spoken in the UK, the committee would be inclined to accept it if the language in question were dominant.

In response, Kenworthy commented: “Although Bafta’s film committee clearly takes a different view from the American academy about the non-British status of The Warrior, we certainly acknowledge their absolute right to determine the rules of their own awards. And we very much welcome the clarification of the rules regarding language. I hope that the potential opportunity to represent Britain at future Oscar ceremonies will send a positively inclusive message to every community of British filmmakers.”

Kapadia was too upset to talk about the rejection but his producer, Betrand Saivre, rejected the notion that the film was not British enough.

He said: “Some Indian papers have said there were two Indian entries for the Oscars and this may have paved the way for the rejection. With The Warrior, the director is British, the heads of department are British and the post-production was done in London.”

The Warrior was so highly regarded that it opened the British Film Institute’s eight-month-long ImagineAsia Festival earlier this year. Last year at the London Film Festival, it won the Sutherland Trophy, a prestigious prize given for the best feature by a first-time director. The Warrior has been bought by Miramax for worldwide distribution outside the UK, where it has enjoyed something of a cult status.

“The rejection is a shame,” commented Cary Sawhney, who coordinated the ImagineAsia Festival. “The Americans are being pedantic. You could argue that Hindi is now one of the languages of Britain.”

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