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Oscars 2009: Slumdog Tops The Grade

February 23, 2009
Aaman Lamba

The Oscars have a certain glamour that outstrips most other award ceremonies. Much of this allure is deliberately cultivated, of course, and given the large number of film awards events, one wonders why the Oscars should particularly matter. They do matter, though, and the nominees and winners are treated with far greater recognition than those of many other awards.

The pop-culture effect of Hollywood is fading fast, though, being replaced by a variety of media sources - from the 'long movies' of television dramas to Internet webisodes. The Oscars don't reflect this, treating only the feature-length films and shorter vignettes as deserving of Academy recognition. Their American bias seems to be giving ground to some extent, with recent nominees and winners in the mainstream category being more representative of global cinema trends.

This year's Academy Awards were pretty much along expected lines, from the presentation to the winners. Many great films of 2008 were not even recognized, ranging from the Swedish teen-vampire tragic romance Let The Right One In to the great Western Appaloosa.

From the films that were nominated, the odds-on favorites were The Strange Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire. Apart from Best Foreign Film, most of the other awards went along expected lines. Slumdog Millionaire picked up eight awards, notably in the technical departments and the big two, Best Director and Best Picture. Benjamin Button took three awards, and Dark Knight two, including the sureshot Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger.

Smile Pinki, a feel-bad-feel-good film, bagged Best Documentary, throwing further light on the Indian contribution to this year's Awards. A R Rahman and Rasool Kutty took their place in the spotlight for Best Score, Best Original Song, and Best Sound Editing.

The dark horse was the Japanese film Departures which was not well-known and not a strong contender for Best Foreign Film, where it was up against fine films like Waltz With Bashir and The Class. Conspiracy theorists will no doubt see the fell hand of the Elders of Zion behind this non-event, too bad for them.

Sean Penn and Kate Winslet received the acting awards for Milk and The Reader, shutting out the fine performances by Mickey Rourke and Meryl Streep.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of Desicritics.org, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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Oscars 2009: Slumdog Tops The Grade

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#1
SanjayTheAtheist
February 23, 2009
09:12 PM

You can't film-make your way out of poverty. You can't protest your way out of poverty. You can't activist your way out of poverty. Guess what, poverty is eliminated by building factories and creating blue-collar jobs for the unskilled masses. Why do you think the entire developed world obsesses over their factories, while our idiotic Indian Left obsess over poverty p0rn? Those who are interested in avoiding poverty know what to focus on, while those who are merely interested in chattering about poverty wallow in book and film portrayals, and reviews. Look at Japan and Korea - they have produced less films but more factories and jobs for their people. And guess what, they've quickly moved beyond their previously impoverished state. Poverty will never be solved by morons like our Indian Left, but will instead be endlessly dramatized by them.

#2
kerty
February 23, 2009
09:50 PM

First, it was the Booker prize, and now the Oscars that have endorsed the same slumdog theme this year. I think they both have lowered their prestige and credibility in the eyes of Indians. I think they are bunch of lib/lefties with their own agenda that color what they choose to bestow their honor upon.

Academy is made up of 6000 members that are from the field of performing arts and movies which we know leans radically to lib/left. They vote and decide the winners and losers. Oscars is a horse race that one has to enter in a particular category in order to win, and one has to lobby those 6000 members for their votes to win - if you do not have access to American critics, American media and Holywood movie fraternity, than you can kiss your Oscar hopes goodbye no matter how good may be your talent or movie. So most movie-makers do not even bother to enter the horse race. And those who do, try to position their entry where they have best chance to win against the potential contenders. These 6000 Academy members are mostly lib/lefties, and their agenda and tastes are not necessarily those shared by general public. But to the artists, Oscars represents the highest level of peer-to-peer appreciation and recognition that creates bridges for them within Holywood industry and its power structure. That is why Oscars mean so much to the artist fraternity. Why should 1+ billion Indians give any hoot or get worked up over what these 6000 American lefties think or like? That would be exhibit of slavish colonial mentality.

#3
commonsense
February 23, 2009
09:59 PM

Kerty:

"First, it was the Booker prize, and now the Oscars that have endorsed the same slumdog theme this year. I think they both have lowered their prestige and credibility in the eyes of Indians. I think they are bunch of lib/lefties with their own agenda that color what they choose to bestow their honor upon."

EDITORS NOTE: Just a few weeks ago, I posted an almost identical comment in my usual fit of sarcasm and fake belief that my so-called brains had been temporarily hijacked by the brains of Kerty. But my comment was promptly deleted as "baiting". Here it is now, refracted directly from him. My implausible suggestion: without some mild baiting most discussions get too straight-laced and boring. Of course, personal attacks and hate speech should be beyond the pale.

#4
kaffir
February 23, 2009
10:33 PM

Aaman: Curious Case, not Strange Case. :)

#5
bob
February 24, 2009
10:27 PM

"bunch of lib/lefties"-

Kerty, you got proof? Or is this just a fear you have about these people?

#6
Yug
February 25, 2009
12:04 AM

Kerty:

"Why should 1+ billion Indians give any hoot or get worked up over what these 6000 American lefties think or like?"

Its a free country and a free world. Participation in Oscars is voluntary, not mandatory. No body is putting a gun to your head to file your nominations. If an Indian chooses to participate of his/her own free will then he/she has a full right to. Its perfectly legal in either country. If you and 1 billion people, as you claim, have a problem with that then lobby your favourite lawmakers (MPs/MLAs) to declare these Oscar wins illegal. Last I heard most of them across party lines were congratulating the SD team and even offering tax sops.

Seriously, if you and your 1+ billion could get yourself to be half as worked up over the victories of your MPs/MLAs in rigged elections, there would be no slum in India to shoot a SD. You can't do that. You can't take on the politicians, so you go after the artists. You raise such a stink about the silly Oscar award process of selection and nomination of art/artists but do nothing about our election process that lets murderers, rapists, scamsters in to parliament; those who control your present and shape the future this country.

#7
kerty
February 25, 2009
12:47 AM

Yug

So it would solve the problems if we let our MP/MLAs be chosen like we do Oscars? By voting from 6000 carefully chosen members decked in favor of partisan ideologies?

#8
Aditi N
February 25, 2009
11:03 AM

Kudos Yug! Comment 6 said all that I've wanted to say and more.

#9
kaffir
February 25, 2009
01:54 PM

Yug, your comment comes across as a classic case of "blaming the victim" instead of addressing the points.

Here's a quote from a jury member: [link]

"As a jury member of Oscars, what do you think is the reason behind Indian films disappointing show at the Oscars?

The main thing is that Indian films are not world class. Oscars jury thinks differently and Indian filmmakers also think differently before making a film. And the second thing is that there no one has the time to watch an entire 4 to 5 minutes long song sequence."


Someone who thinks Indian movies are not world class just shows his/her ignorance of Indian films, or is using a very subjective and narrow definition of what "world class" means. If that is the opinion shared by most jury members (most of whom are Americans), then what to say? Should Indian directors start making movies to satisfy the sensibilities of Americans instead of Indians? What rubbish and such a brown-nosing attitude!!

BTW, Chicago, which had long song sequences (it was a musical) won the Best Film Oscar just 5 years ago, along with 5 other Oscars, and was nominated in a total of 13 categories.

Eventually it all comes down to whether people think Oscars are the ultimate and only arbiters of the "greatness" of a movie or not, and look at the Oscars to tell them whether Indian movies are good or not. While Oscars do reward excellence, I don't look at them for approval or to realize the greatness of many Indian films or excellence of Indian artists. Just because Sahir never received an Oscar, does it not make his art great and relevant to millions of Indians (and people of other neighboring countries)? Anyway, how exactly will those jury members be able to appreciate the sublime poetry of someone like Sahir is beyond me - as they say, bandar kya jaane adrak kaa swad. (Casting pearls before swine.)

#10
Aditi N
February 25, 2009
02:59 PM

9: kaffir: "While Oscars do reward excellence, I don't look at them for approval or to realize the greatness of many Indian films or excellence of Indian artists"

This I agree with.

But on Hindi films I actually do agree somewhat with the jury member too. The sheer volume of Hindi films produced every year should ideally ensure that at least a significant fraction of these films are good quality (in terms of plot, entertainment etc). I might even sit through a completely unnecessary 5 minute song sequence but for a drab, plagiarized, old, stale, overused plot showcasing a starlet. Nah! None of the big hits or even the most critically acclaimed ones match global standards (mind you, I say global standards...not Oscar).


In the past week or so I have been working on an assignment watching films specifically from Muslim countries and the quality of those films awes me. It really, truly does. There is one unique story after another and I am left speechless.

Chicago had a satirical theme which was complimented by the musicals. Some got it and others mistook it for song-dance sequences comparing it to Indian films. It wasn't the usual song-dance sequence. But one needs to know at least a little film theory/ history to get that.

The only recent film that came closest to being Bollywood-like was Mama Mia and that was ignored by the Oscars like the many other chick-flick which routinely get snubbed (except maybe Titanic and a few others which are referred to as Oscar blunders).

My grouse with Indian films is not that they are all terrible. No. There are some absolute gems like Dor, Dasvidanya, Mithya, Bheja Fry, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Luck By Chance, etc. This wave has only recently begun and it might take some time before the international crowd catches a whiff of it. But unfortunately these gems are rare...very, very rare and extremely low budget and have the same group of actors who are struggling to bring storylines to Indian cinema. They are never acknowledged by the Indian film awards and maybe that is why quality filmmakers probably feel the need to look westwards for an audience and for accolades. Their own country gives them neither.

I repeat, this does not mean that Oscars denote excellence in cinema. They don't. But its a far better measure than the Filmfare Awards who shall we say has an ongoing love story with Yash Chopra & Co.

#11
kaffir
February 25, 2009
03:38 PM

Aditi, I agree with some of your points, but instead of using Filmfare Awards to compare with Oscars in terms of a measure of awarding excellence, perhaps National Film Awards would be more apt?

I think if you sat down and did a calculation, the percentage of crappy movies in Hollywood vs. gems, would be comparable to, and in the same range as Bollywood. Hollywood movies - even crappy ones - do have an edge when it comes to script, editing and production values, which masks their crappiness to some extent.

Yes, I also enjoyed the movies you listed and appreciated them, but there's more to Indian cinema than Hindi cinema. :)

Oh I did get it that Chicago was a satire when I saw it many years ago. ;)
The point is that it had song-and-dance sequences just like Hindi movies do, and the jury members had no problem watching it as well as awarding it. If one wants to nikalo baal ki khaal to show that Chicago is somehow different (and by implication, "better") than Hindi "musicals", there's no end to it.

But glad we agree on something.

#12
sarah islam
February 26, 2009
12:28 AM

The oscars I don't deny are certainly not the be all and end all of excellence in film. certainly not.

But the oscars do have the same industry recognition that people in the advertising industry associate with Cannes Lions. India has been doing tremendously well at the Lions with Piyush Pandey even leading the Jury. Last year we got the integrated Grand Prix. Does that mean that the TOI campaign was the best ad made in 2007? NO. But it sure feels good when every tom, dick and harry in agencies all over the world suddenly knows your name :-)

Cannes Lions is also not the epitome of excellence but then which award is? Even the Nobel has its critics.

It's quite simple: people who bust their ass working extremely tedious jobs at producing stuff need a pat on the back sometimes and what better way than to throw a grand party complete with red carpet and a trophy that is instantly recognized the world over?

So let's just leave the oscars alone. No award is worth anything but for the winners and their competitors, it is the ultimate prize given to them by their peers and makes up for all those torturous night shifts and the hours spent pandering to whimsical clients and producers.

Here's to India winning more oscars ! :-) JAI HO!

#13
sarah islam
February 26, 2009
12:38 AM

PS. I thought my heart would burst with pride when Jai Ho! was being performed at the Oscars:-)whippee!!!

#14
kaffir
February 26, 2009
11:39 AM

sarah, the points you mention in #12 about peer recognition (which I agree with) are orthogonal to the points kerty made in #2.

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