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India echoes, but faintly, at Oscars 2018

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Indian films have never won at the Oscars but that seemed to matter little today as millions of Indian fans woke up at the crack of dawn to watch the awards ceremony live from the Dolby Theatre – and sighed wistfully at the honourable mentions of two of Indian cinema's greatest in the 'In Memoriam' section.

Last year, the Academy included actor Om Puri's name in the section. Today, it all tied up neatly when James Ivory, of Merchant Ivory Productions, bagged the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 'Call Me By Your Name'. The 89-year-old, the oldest winner in Oscar history, mentioned his long time collaborator, the late Mumbai-born filmmaker Ismail Merchant in his acceptance speech at the ceremony.  The two partnered with German American Ruth Prawer Jhabvalla, who married an Indian architect, to make films such as 'Heat and Dust', 'The Householder', 'Shakespearewallah' and 'In Custody', which gave Shashi Kapoor his unique parallel cinema identity.

Ivory also worked with Indian stalwarts such as Dina Pathak, Zohra Segal, Utpal Dutt, Amjad Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Om Puri and Aparna Sen in a series of films set in India.

Another India recall was through actor Ali Fazal, whose film 'Victoria & Abdul', based on a book by journalist Shrabani Basu, was nominated for two awards at the ceremony. The Stephen Frears-directed film, starring veteran actor Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, lost out to 'Darkest Hour' (Best Makeup and Hairstyling) and 'Phantom Thread' (Best Costume Design).

While Shashi Kapoor died on December 4 last year at the age of 79, Sridevi, known as India's first woman superstar, passed away barely a week ago on February 24 in Dubai. The sudden death of the 54-year-old had sent shock waves around the world.

Indian films have had little luck at the Oscars. This year's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category, 'Newton', a dark comedy set against the backdrop of elections in the world's largest democracy, couldn't even make it to the final five.

Only three Indian films – 'Mother India' (1957), 'Salaam Bombay!' (1988) and 'Lagaan' (2001) – have made it to the final five nominees of the Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards. None have got the award though.

Last year, Indian-origin British actor Dev Patel was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor for his performance in 'Lion'. The Garth Davis-directed film also featured child actor Sunny Pawar. The movie's cast also included actors Deepti Naval, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Priyanka Bose and Pallavi Sharda.

The big year for Indians at the Oscars was 2008 when British filmmaker Danny Boyle's Mumbai-set 'Slumdog Millionaire' won eight Academy Awards, including Best Original Score and Best Original Song for music composer A.R. Rahman and lyricist Gulzar, as well as Best Sound Mixing for sound designer Resul Pookutty.

Two years later, Rahman received two nods for the same categories for his score in another Boyle directorial '127 Hours'.

In 1992, the legendary Indian director Satyajit Ray was awarded an Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. Ray was unable to attend the ceremony due to his illness and gave his acceptance speech via live video feed from a hospital bed in Kolkata.

Before that was Richard Attenborough's 'Gandhi', which won eight Oscars. Capturing the tumultuous years of India's freedom struggle, the film, starring Ben Kingsley and Rohini Hattangadi, along with a host of other Indian actors, won Bhanu Athaiya an Academy Award for Best Costume. She became the first Indian ever to win an Oscar.

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