Gautaman Bhaskaran
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Academy Awards 2007: "Rang De Basanti" out

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s “Rang De Basanti” (Paint It Yellow) is out of the Oscar race. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has just
announced a slightly longer short list of nine films, in a departure from the usual. The final list of five movies will be out on January 23 2007 along with the other nominations in various sections. I did mention in one of my earlier columns that “Rang De Basanti” stood little chance of being nominated, let alone winning the trophy. Normally, a picture is selected and sent up for a possible nod by a small team from the Film Federation of India, and it has seldom chosen one outside Bollywood. This is an unfair practice, for after all the country produces some good movies in, for instance, Malayalam and Bengali. Little wonder, then, that ever since the Oscars were instituted in 1929, only three Indian films have made it to the list of five: “Mother India”, “Salaam Bombay” and “Lagaan”. They were all in Hindi, and none ever won a statuette. Such narrow parochialism and nepotism not only mar our prospects at the Academy awards, but also make us a laughing stock the world over.


Deepa Mehta’s “Water”, though Indian in many respects, is a Canadian entry in the Best Foreign Language Picture slot at the Oscars. This is because Deepa lives in Toronto, and is a Canadian citizen. But she is an Indian by birth from New Delhi, and has been often attracted to desi subjects. “Water” is the third part of her trilogy on the elements of Nature. The first two were “Fire” and “Earth”, both on India. In 2000, when Deepa first began shooting “Water” in Varanasi with Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, Hindu fundamentalists said the story demeaned Indian culture and womanhood, and they stormed her set driving her and her tonsured actresses out of the city. Deepa gave up the idea of making the movie in India, and later shot it in Sri Lanka with different artists. “Water”, starring Lisa Ray and John Abraham, is set in the India of 1938, during Gandhiji’s soul-stirring freedom struggle, and describes the predicament of poor widows in Varanasi. Forgotten by the world, but sexually exploited by upper caste men, these women were as restless as the ripples in “Water”. Deepa’s protagonist is a young and beautiful widow, played by Lisa, whose attempt to free herself from the shackles of society merely nudges her to a tragic finale. Incidentally, it is not a great film -- with poor performances by the lead pair, who seem like they have just got out of a ramp show rather than a hellish existence. As auteur-director Adoor Gopalakrishnan told me the other day over the telephone from his Trivandrum home, “People have no idea of how widows lived in an ashram…many people do not know how the other India lives…”. Deepa Mehta’s “Water” glosses over sheer misery, and would probably not make it on the big night in February.

(Posted on this website on January 18 2007)