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The film stars Antony Varghese, Chemban Vinod Jose, Sabumon Abdusamad and Santhy Balachandran. (Photo source: Twitter)
The film stars Antony Varghese, Chemban Vinod Jose, Sabumon Abdusamad and Santhy Balachandran. (Photo source: Twitter)

Jallikattu goes to the Oscars

  • Released in Kerala in October 2019, Jallikattu was premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and the 24th Busan International Film Festival, where it received much acclaim

NEW DELHI : Jallikattu, a Malayalam film about a hunt for a bull on the run, is India’s entry to the Oscars in 2021.

Named for the controversial traditional bull-taming sport, the film has been directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery. Starring Antony Varghese, Chemban Vinod Jose, Sabumon Abdusamad and Santhy Balachandran, it tells the story of a bull that escapes a slaughterhouse in a remote village in Idukki, Kerala as villagers try to hunt it down.

Released in Kerala in October 2019, Jallikattu was premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, where it received critical acclaim. Pellissery won the best director award at the 50th International Film Festival of India for the film.

Jallikattu is the second Malayalam film to be entered for the Oscars, after Adaminte Makan Abu in 2011. Zoya Akhtar’s musical drama Gully Boy was last year’s entry.

Jallikattu is the latest feather in Pellissery’s cap, who is known for titles such as Anagamaly Diaries (2017) and Ee.Ma.Yau (2018), both of which are considered pathbreaking outings in Malayalam as well as Indian cinema.

“It’s a superb choice not just because it is beautifully directed but also because it’s one of the most unique films in recent times; the one-line premise itself is exciting, and that might draw people. Plus, it’s unlike films that are usually sent as entries in the foreign film category, which are all dramas," film critic Baradwaj Rangan said.

Critics and industry experts like Rangan, however, point to the need for promotion and marketing for entries like Jallikattu to make it to the final list of Oscar nominations, running campaigns that could cost upwards of 10 crore in some cases.

Pellissery and his producers would need to camp in Los Angeles for the next few months, hire a publicity team, book auditoriums and hold screenings for jury members, and get featured on all, or most, important American media outlets—print, radio, television and digital. The promotional campaign, ideally, should result in a full-fledged theatrical release in at least some parts of the US.

It’s not always about the money, but only three Indian films have ever made it to the final list of Oscar nominations—Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Lagaan (2001).

“Just having a visual masterpiece like Jallikattu in hand is not enough. It requires the support of the Indian film industry and the government to fund the filmmakers’ campaign and give it a fighting chance," film critic Manoj Kumar R. pointed out.

That explains why film author Aseem Chhabra tweeted in favour of Marathi drama The Disciple soon after the Jallikattu news broke. The Chaitanya Tamhane directed film had entered the main competition section at the Venice International Film Festival in September, becoming the first Indian film since Monsoon Wedding (2001) to compete at the event where it also won the FIPRESCI international critics prize presented by the International Federation of Film Critics and the best screenplay award.

The 2021 Academy Awards will be held on 25 April instead of the usual second Sunday of February because of the covid-19 pandemic.

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