|(From top)Black Friday, Chak De! India,Vanaja and (right) Eklavya
It’s Amitabh Bachchan over Shah Rukh Khan. It’s Vinod Chopra Films over Yash Raj Films. It’s murder and mayhem over hockey and heroics. It’s Eklavya: The Royal Guard over Chak De! India as the official Indian entry at the Oscars next year. t2 takes a closer look at the other films in the fray and what could have worked for and against them in the Academy race...
Eklavya: The Royal Guard
Why: Just like Paheli last year, the choice is dictated by the Indianness of the content. Eklavya, for all its faults, is firmly rooted in the Indian ethos, starting with its Mahabharata analogy. Vidhu Vinod Chopra clearly made the film with an international audience in mind.
What’s hot: The international film press has loved the film. Though t2 had given a thumbs up to the Amitabh Bachchan-Saif Ali Khan-starrer, it flopped badly at the box office. But Variety, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian UK and LA Weekly have said great things about the film. LA Times calls it “a lost film by David Lean”. Variety says Eklavya is a “strongly cast tale of royal scheming, family skeletons and healthy slaughter... an involving mood piece that should have appealed on the international fest circuit”. Vinod Chopra is already an Oscar nominee (thanks to his short An Encounter with Faces) and his Parinda was also sent as an Oscar entry from India in 1989. So, he should know how it all works there.
What’s not: It wasn’t accepted in the competition section of any of the big world film festivals. The pace is very slow and that too for a film all of 107 minutes long. And the stunning visuals often detract from the drama. Also, the Oscars are not that kind to thrillers.
Chak De! India
Why: Heartwarming tale about the national sport of our country, a sport which the Americans are well aware of unlike cricket, which is said to have stumped Lagaan. Also it’s a good one hour shorter than the Aamir Khan film with no seven-minute songs.
What’s hot: The Yash Raj muscle for sure, which can hold a lot of screenings for the 6,500-odd Academy members. The presence of Shah Rukh Khan who is emerging as an Asian superstar to the rest of the world.
What’s not: Underdog sports films come a dime a dozen in Hollywood. That way there is no novelty in Chak De! India. And the communal and regional overtones in the film may be lost on some and be looked down upon by others at the Oscars.
Why: With Americans still reeling under the horror of 9/11 — the steady stream of ‘hello, how do you do’ messages from a new-look Osama bin Laden keeps the lid on — this can actually make them sit up and take notice.
What’s hot: It’s real. The most real film to come out of India in a long long time. Shot in quasi-documentary style, Anurag Kashyap’s structuring of the Mumbai blast episodes highlight the horror, scientifically. No songs, no romance, no melodrama, this could well have shocked the West.
What’s not: It might not have been seen at all because the producers may not have pushed it properly. Last heard, they didn’t even send the film to the Film Federation of India screening committee. It’s also a touch too dark, which can work against it.
Why: Not many in India have heard about this Telugu film about a 15-year-old girl who is raped by the son of a landlady in whose house she grew up dancing Kuchipudi. The film won director Rajnesh Domalpalli Best Debut Film at the Berlin Film Festival.
What’s hot: Roger Ebert, one of America’s most influential film writers, compares Vanaja to Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar and calls it “wonderful”, lauding the director for telling “his story with tender precision, and never an awkward moment”. It’s all of 111 minutes and in that time unleases some great sights and sounds of rural south India.
What’s not: Domalpalli made Vanaja as a Master of Fine Arts thesis at Columbia University in New York. So technically it’s not an Indian production and that could have run it out as a possible Indian entry. For Vanaja to try and shine in the other categories as an American release is a tough ask.
Why: “It was a close call between Dharm and Eklavya,” says Vinod Pandey (director of the sleazy film Red Swastika), chairman of the selection committee of Film Federation of India. We see the point. Because Dharm too, like Eklavya, is about the battle between tradition and modernity in the backdrop of an Indian religious ethos. It also packs in Hindu-Muslim communal strife.
What’s hot: The film got a screening and some good reviews at Cannes. The setting of Varanasi makes the film visually compelling and offers exactly what the phirangs look for in Indian films. And the performance by Pankaj Kapur as the pandit is bound to make even Amercian critics applaud.
What’s not: The sheer smallness of the film is Dharm’s biggest disadvantage because you need to pump in a lot of money to be seen in the Oscar run-up.