Home >Mint-lounge >Features >India sends The Good Road for best Foreign Film Oscar

Mumbai: India’s submission for the Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars is not The Lunchbox, as was widely predicted, but the Gujarati movie The Good Road.

The Film Federation of India’s secretary general, Supran Sen, said the decision by the 16 jury members to select The Good Road over other films, including The Lunchbox, Ship of Theseus, Celluloid, Shabdo, Viswaroopam, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Lucia and English Vinglish, was a unanimous one.

According to a press release issued by the federation, whose selection committee is headed by Bengali director Goutam Ghose, “The jury saw a wide range of films that had entered from many Indian languages before deliberating long and hard to reach a decision by consensus." The names of the jury members are not shared with the media.

“For the committee members, The Good Road was a new experience," Ghose said. “It explores strange and unknown territory, and it has different characters. There were other very strong contenders such as The Lunchbox, which I personally loved."

Gyan Correa, whose debut feature also won the Best National Award (Gujarati) this year, reacted with elated stupefaction. “The news is staggering, fantastic, it has blown my socks away," said Correa, who has previously directed advertising commercials and worked on television series. “When I started writing the story, I never thought anything like this would happen. We made the film with commitment and integrity."

A still from the movie The Good Road
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A still from the movie The Good Road

Produced by the National Film Development Corporation, The Good Road is about two children who lose their way in the Great Rann of Kutch. “I am absolutely delighted and we are very proud," said Nina Lath Gupta, the NFDC’s managing director. “It is our mandate to promote films in various Indian languages." The NFDC had three films in the running—apart from The Good Road, NFDC co-produced The Lunchbox and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.

The journey towards a Foreign Language Film trophy has only just begun for Correa and the NFDC. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars every year, will whittle down the submissions from various countries to nine films, whose names will be announced in January. Select committee members will watch these films over the course of a weekend to further trim down the list to five. The Oscars will be held on 2 March 2014.

India has never won a Foreign Language Film Oscar. Only three Indian films (all in Hindi) have been nominated—Mehboob Khan’s Mother India in 1957, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! in 1989, and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan in 2002. Anxiety over India’s inability to secure even a nomination has been increasing in recent years, and the problem seems to have been finally been identified: it is not about sending a movie that best represents the country’s filmmaking traditions, but about sending a movie that actually has a chance of impressing the all-American members of the Academy.

For the producers and promoters of The Lunchbox, which opened to rave reviews on 20 September, The Lunchbox represented India’s best possible bet. Ritesh Batra’s debut feature, about a romance that develops over a mis-delivered lunchbox, has several Oscar-friendly elements: it has a local yet universal story, it’s dexterously directed and assembled, and stars at least one actor who is known to American filmmakers—Irrfan Khan, who has previously headlined the British production The Warrior and appeared in small parts in Mighty Heart, Slumdog Millionaire and The Amazing Spider-man. More importantly, The Lunchbox will be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics in the US in late December or early January. The independent cinema division of Sony Pictures Entertainment would have likely put its muscle behind the movie when the time comes to select the final five.

“We were on the same path as other films that had clinched the award before," pointed out Batra. “The film won good reviews at festivals like Telluride. The Hollwood Reporter (the American trade publication) picked the film as one of the contenders. I don’t want to play spoilsport, and I wish Gyan luck, but we have squandered a great opportunity here. When the Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes won the award in 2009, it shone the spotlight on Argentinean cinema like never before. We had a chance to do the same thing with The Lunchbox, to shine the spotlight on new Indian cinema." The producers behind The Lunchbox do have the option of sending their film independent of the Indian government.

The Good Road doesn’t yet have an American distributor. It was released only in Gujarat on 19 July. The movie does have one Oscar connection—its sound designer, Resul Pookutty, won a statuette for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009.

The process of selecting the Indian entry for the Oscars is rarely free of criticism and controversy. The biggest complaint among other language filmmakers is that the Hindi film industry dominates the show. The jury of the 2011 edition of the National Film Awards had recommended that movies that win the Best Film trophy should be sent from India to compete in the Foreign Language Film category.

Contentious choices in previous years include mainstream films such as Anurag Basu’s Barfi!, Amol Palekar’s Paheli, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas and Shankar’s Jeans. Barfi! especially kicked up a fuss because it contained sequences plagiarized from Hollywood classics. Movies such as Paheli, Jeans and Devdas had too many mainstream Hindi cinema elements (song-and-dance sequences, for one thing) to make sense to American selectors. India has also sent art-house films such as Salim Ahamed’s Abu, Son of Adam (in 2011), Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live (in 2010) and Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali (1993), but none of these films made it to the final list.

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