The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India misses out at Baftas, but Indian scores big

London, Feb. 24: For India and Indians, there was bad news and good news last night in London at the Bafta awards, the British equivalent of the Oscars which was broadcast to a worldwide television audience of one billion.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director who had come with his mother, will have to go back home empty-handed after Devdas failed to win in the foreign language category.

On the positive side, though, the Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year went to Asif Kapadia, a 30-year-old Indian born and brought up in Hackney in the East End of London.

This was presented to him by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who herself won the award for best supporting actress for her role in the musical, Chicago.

Another setback for Indians was the failure of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham to win the Korda award, though this has been one of the most successful British movies for many years.

Last night, when Devdas’ nomination was announced, the voiceover did emphasise that this was “the most expensive film made in Bollywood” and that its star, Aishwarya Rai, was one of India’s “most sought after” leads.

This will be a double blow since Devdas did not make it to the Oscar shortlist either.

Bollywood missed a trick by not putting in a strong enough appearance at Bafta, angry British Asian cinema experts said today.

Hollywood, in contrast, really made an effort.

Angelina Jolie spent over an hour talking to fans and signing autographs. Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Halle Berry, Julianne Moore, Tim Robbins and Salma Hayek were the others who turned up.

But Indian fans wanted to know where were Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai to stand up for Devdas' Both are considered good ambassadors for popular Hindi cinema, which has a big market in the UK.

Some experts suggested that perhaps Eros and its representatives, who have been distributing Devdas, had spent so much of their energy focussing on the Oscars that they had done very little campaigning for the Bafta nomination in “Film not in the English language” category.

Indian journalists enquiring about Devdas and star representation from India were pushed from pillar to post.

No one could shed light on who might come on behalf of Devdas.

Bhansali and his mother were spotted walking up the red carpet but he was neither recognised nor acknowledged in any way by the British media. He waved benignly but did not go over to the odd Indian journalist to offer a quote, as is customary on such occasions.

Agent Jennifer Jaffrey, who has been a Bafta member for over 10 years, explained that it was vital for the stars to be present as they represented the “face” of a film. She pointed out: “The Americans had a big presence. So why didn’t Bollywood make an effort' After all, Indian stars routinely come to the UK for shows and premieres. They add a bit of glamour and may make people think about their films a little more. It’s silly for them not to be there.”

Bollywood was present, though, in another form. The Warrior, for which Kapadia also won the award for special achievement by a director, screenwriter or producer in their first feature film, is a sort of Japanese-inspired Bollywood western shot in Rajasthan with barely six minutes of Hindi dialogue.

Kapadia, who directed and co-wrote the movie, thanked several people “who gave me a chance to make such a complicated film for my first film — it’s amazing”.

The two awards confirm Kapadia’s status as one of the rising stars of British cinema. Ironically, the Oscars committee in Los Angeles rejected The Warrior when it was nominated by Britain for best foreign film on the grounds that it was not British enough and that Hindi was not considered a language of Britain.

A big turnout by Hollywood stars ensured that this was one of the most glamorous Baftas for years.

Zeta-Jones, seven months pregnant but wearing a plunging neckline, and her husband, Michael Douglas, spent a long time working the media.

Kidman, who arrived hand in hand with Streep, won best actress for The Hours, based on the life of the author Virginia Wolf.

Martin Scorsese, whose Gangs of New York received a record 12 nominations, won in one important category — Daniel Day-Lewis was named best actor.

Roman Polanski’s widely acclaimed The Pianist was named best film.

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