A little known movie has been selected as India's official submission for Oscar awards this year.
A panel constituted by the Film Federation of India under the chairmanship of Bengali director Goutam Ghose chose The Good Road from a list of 22 movies, which included highly anticipated biggies like the Cannes sidebar title The Lunchbox (with Irrfan), Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Viswaroopam (with Kamal Hassan).
Nobody knows who the other members of Ghose committee were, and when I asked the helmer who was in Hyderabad watching the films, he said he was not “supposed to reveal the names”.
It is equally perplexing that a mere 22 movies were sent to Ghose and his team when India produces a whopping 1,200 or so year after year. What happened to the rest? Were they never sent at all?
Or, was there some really heavy filtration before the “cream of Indian cinema” landed in Hyderabad? We would never know, because the federation wants to keep the whole affair of selection hush hush.
All these obviously lead to – year after year – resentment, anger and public outbursts. The co-producer, Anurag Kashyap, and the director, Ritesh Batra of The Lunchbox, were livid, because they were sure that their work would be picked by Ghose and his panellists.
Kashyap tweeted: “First time and I really mean it, I was excited because first time we knew we had a chance… I don’t know who the federation is but it goes to show, why we completely lack the understanding to make pictures that can travel across borders.”
Batra also accused the federation of “lacking in vision”. Sony, The Lunchbox’s international distributor, was so confident that it had plans of similar lobbying campaigns as Amour, the French work that won the foreign language Oscar last year.
And the media, including The Hollywood Reporter, too was sure that The Lunchbox would be India’s nominee.
Indeed, The Lunchbox is a fascinating film, superbly crafted, brilliantly acted out and amazingly cinematic (with economy of words and mannerisms).
But, but Batra’s movie tells a story of an about-to-retire widower who catches a whiff of romance in a mistakenly delivered lunchbox, a story which could have unfolded anywhere on this earth. It is in that sense not really Indian. Though the plot plays out against the backdrop of Mumbai’s “dabba” system, it is not about it. It is not even about a “dabbawalla”. (The system helps deliver thousands of lunchboxes every day from homes to workplaces.)
Batra’s The Lunchbox is about three people, the widower, a lonely, neglected young wife (who begins sending notes in the “dabba’ to the man — hoping for love and attention which her husband does not give her) and a young man, who will replace the older guy at office.
Obviously, those in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who shortlist movies for the foreign Oscars will look for a work which will spell India, and come packed with the nation’s smells and sounds, fears and hopes, and dreams and disappointments.
If one were to look at the three Indian films which made it to the Academy’s short list of five foreign-language nominees in all these decades since the mid-1950s (when this section was established), they were essentially Indian, and incredibly so.
Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan were firmly rooted in the Indian soil with chronicles that revolved around the Indian psyche. They captured the very essence of the nation and its pulse.
Admittedly, I have not yet seen The Good Road. It has had very limited releases in some select territories. I hope to watch it soon on a disk. So I am not competent to say whether or not The Good Road is Oscar material.
I am told that the movie, helmed by Gyan Correa, is set in the harsh desert terrain of Kutch in western India and narrates the tale of a truck driver and a couple whose child vanishes during a family trip.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at [email protected]