For once, the choice of film picked by the Film Federation of India to send as India’s official entry to the Oscars seems to be right. Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film Court is already wreathed with national and international awards, which means it has communicated its message to a wide range of audiences all over the world.
Indian audiences would automatically understand and empathise with the scathing indictment of our legal system, and other ills like class, caste and sexism that ail our society, but the plight of the innocent folk singer who is put through the legal wringer on an absurd charge of abetting a sanitation worker’s suicide has hit home everywhere because of its humanist concerns.
The film’s main competitors reportedly were Masaan, Kaaka Muttai and Killa, though mainstream films like PK, Pikuand Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Haider, Ugly, Mary Kom and Baahubali had also entered the race.
There is nothing to suggest that commercial films are not favoured in the Best Foreign Language Film category, but the preference is for films that have made an impact at film festivals abroad. The ruckus over The Lunchbox vs The Good Road, one a festival darling, the other relatively unknown, must be fresh in the minds of the selection committee, headed by Amol Palekar (whose own Paheli was once India’s entry for the Academy Awards).
Almost every year, there has been a controversy over the selection of the films for Oscar entry. It’s not as if merely entering a film for an award means anything, but there is always a group ranting in the media or social media against the selected film. One year a filmmaker had even gone to court to dispute the selection of another film. And years later, there are still sniggers about films like Jeans and Eklavya being sent. Only Lagaan made it to the list of give nominees in recent memory and lost to Bosnian film, No Man’s Land.
Court isnot an‘exotic India’ advertisement, in fact it is critical of so many things, but the selection of this film has been hailed by the community of film lovers who see the value of powerful storytelling and technique. The ones who will scream that the film portrays Indian in a negative light will also come out of the wood work eventually, but the issue here is good cinema, which is the best means of cultural exchange, and if there is some valid criticism of social ills, it shows that India’s democratic spirit is strong, in spite of recent threats to freedom of speech.
Who knows, maybe it’s about time we got that trophy back home!