I maybe a little late to blog about our choice for the Oscars but I had been busy off late and never really found the time to put my thoughts together.
This year, Hindi cinema really seems to have come of age. Again. After nearly four decades of recycling the same old stories centred around love and revenge. And of course, family.
We had the powerful Rang De Basanti to begin the year with. One of the top 3 Khans, as mainstream as it gets in “Bollywood” (I hate the term though the Hindi film industry deserves only a tag like that), let a bunch of fresh actors share the stage with him, gracefully playing his Big Brother role in the ensemble cast. A casting triumph.
And then a breakthrough in storytelling. Two narratives, one from the past and another from the present, ran seamlessly only to merge at the most definitive conflict of our times: The youth versus the system. Since the youth of today didn’t identify with rebels, the film had an in-built crash course in history to ignite a few sparks among the current generation. So it just wasn’t compelling story-telling, it was persuasive storytelling.
The innovative structure provided the technicians and actors great scope to showcase their wares. The dual-narrative screenplay lent itself to smart editing, it gave the music director ample scope to compare and contrast the moods of the rebellion of two different eras and the canvas of the past and the present presented the cinematographer the opportunity to give it the feel of a classic. Hence, technically too, it is our most sound film this year.
The man who controls all these departments and holds the reins — the director — does that with great control. But for a moment or two when he’s got carried away with the comparison between the rebels of the past and the present … Like, the scene when Karan (Siddharth) dreams of the villains of the past morphing into the villains of the present. I really hope they snip that scene where they show an evil looking Mohan Agashe pointing towards Madhavan as his men open fire. After being shot, Madhavan looking let down asks the Defence Minister why he did that to his jacket. And suddenly the scene looks like a spoof.
That scene alone would cost us the Oscar nomination. But the journey won’t be easy even if the flawed scenes and the repetition in choreography in the songs (in Khalbali, for instance, nothing happens in the narrative of the present… They are just chilling and dancing, with someone shooting it in a camera) are done away with by tighter editing.
The presence of a neutral observer, the British character in the film, gives the issue an objective look. The fact that we see the lives of these guys through her eyes works in favour of the film because the Academy members are all outsiders.
The content is extremely relevant in a world where coups are staged and power is seized and democracy is constantly under threat and the youth look West to escape. Most countries have had a struggle for independence that has stirred the passion of the youth of those times. But all that today has come history. Today’s youth around the world are looking at America. They dig Hollywood, are in tune with American music, even consume the same junk food and want to get a visa to the United States. Their sense of belonging to their country or patriotism is near extinct. So the content is very relevant to the new generation of youth around the world. But the Academy unfortunately is predominantly made up of Americans. And patriotism is one thing that they have never lost touch with. They may not exactly relate to the idea of disconnect with the nation as youth of Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Thailand or South Korea do.
Selling the political content of the film to the anti-rebel Americans will be the film’s biggest challege. ‘Rang De’ might not make it because Americans can’t tell the difference between revolutionaries and terrorists. And RDB’s ending has enough gunpowder to provoke them into voting against the film.
So what were our other options?
Lage Raho is no doubt the most likeable and probably the most entertaining film of the year but that merely is not enough for the Academy to hand it a nomination. It will be very difficult for Americans to appreciate our sense of drama. Munna Bhai was made for us. And we identify with the localised content and drama in it. Remember the scenes where the emotional cop wipes his tears in joy or the barber hugs his customer in delight as a reaction to Munnabhai. It is impossible to capture the spirit of Bambaiyya lingo with English subtitles and minus that, there is no Munna Bhai.
Omkara too is soaked in the richness of the native language that the subtitles will do no justice to the quality of writing. Shakespeare in Hindi might sound exotic to them, but award-worthy? Na!
Dor is a super underdog film. It is a very simple tale with great emotional quotient and feel good. But Oscars are not awards for good cinema. They are awards for outstanding cinema. Besides, Dor will no way be able to whip up publicity as much as a RDB would. UTV is one of our best film production companies and among the most experienced, second only to Yashraj Films in the country. Add Aamir Khan’s already established credibility in the circle and RDB seems to be the best option we have.
But is it good enough? My guess is as good as yours.