Academy Awards 2007: The Departed Indian flavour
This year’s Oscars (February 25 2007) had a strong Indian flavour. Deepa Mehta’s “Water” was one among the five nominated in the Best Foreign Language Picture Category. It did not win the coveted trophy: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences perhaps felt that the story of a playwright and his actress-girlfriend who come under police scrutiny in the 1980s East Berlin in Germany’s “The Lives of Others” was better than the theme of the 1930s Indian widows shut inside “widow-houses” and left to beg or prostitute in Canada’s “Water”. Though Mehta’s work was Indian in every sense – from the plot to the actors (John Abraham, Lisa Ray and Seema Biswas) – it was produced with Canadian money. Hence, it was a Canadian entry. And, jolly good, it was so.
I think Indians have no business to feel even a remote sense of affinity to “Water”. Have we forgotten how we treated Mehta in 2000: In Varanasi, all ready for the shoot, with even her lead stars, Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi, tonsured to play their parts, Mehta was chased out of the holy city by Hindu fundamentalists who justified their violent protests by saying that “Water” would show India in poor light! They must have been plain stupid to think that the agony of Indian widows was unknown outside our country. It has been written about, documented and even filmed for many, many decades.
So, let us now admit our folly. Mehta could have never completed the movie without Canadian money and Sri Lankan locale. Yet, Deepa wistfully adds that “Water” may have looked and felt more authentic had she shot it in Varanasi.
This year, 39.9 million viewers watched the Oscars live on television as the statuettes were presented at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre on February 25. I do not know how many Indians saw the programme, being a Monday morning for us. But I am certain a lot many watched the repeat telecast that night. Of late, there has been phenomenal interest in Hollywood, and Oscars is an integral part of that cinema. An important reason for this is the release of many American films soon after they open in the U.S. We have already seen some of the movies -- either in cinemas or on good quality DVDs -- that were in the Oscars race: “Babel”, an excellent look at multiculturalism spanning across three continents and four nations; “The Queen” on the dilemma facing the British royal family after Diana’s tragic death in 1997; “The Last King of Scotland” on Idi Amin; “Dreamgirls” tracing the lives of three black singers in the 1960s America and; “Little Miss Sunshine” about the flipside of letting children drown in consumerism are some of the films that many Indians must be familiar with.
The Oscars had few surprises. Nobody really thought that “Water” would win. But most self-styled cine-astrologers predicted that Helen Mirren as Elizabeth in “The Queen” would wear the Best Actress Tiara on the Oscars night. She did. Ditto, Forest Whitaker who walked away with the Best Actor Prize as Amin in “The Last King of Scotland”.
However, just about everybody went wrong when they said that “Babel” would be declared Best Picture. Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” upset this. This movie (to open soon in India) not only clinched the most prestigious award of the night, but also got Scorsese the Best Director Oscar. He had to wait 26 years and face seven snubs after his first Oscar nomination for “Raging Bulls” (1980) before the Academy decided to hug him this spring. Scorsese could not believe when he heard his name being called out. “Could you please double check the envelope”, he said. The man who gave us such great works as “The Color of Money” (1986), “Cape Fear” (1991), “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “Casino” (1995) and “Gangs of New York” (2002), Scorsese is certainly an institution along with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson, and the two Oscars were richly deserved.
I have two disappointments though, and both pertain to the same film, “Volver” (which in Spanish means To Return). A classic Pedro Almodovar creation, it is his best till date, where he places four women in a small town and lets them interact and weave a magical tale. Almodovar favourite and Spanish beauty, Penelope Cruz (we might soon see her prancing with King Khan in a Bollywood movie), as one of the women, gave a marvellous performance, but she was beaten by Helen Mirren. And, “Volver” shockingly did not even make it to the Foreign Language Picture shortlist of five!
(Webposted February 28 2007)