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India and the Oscars
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
"Eklavya: The Royal Guard" is a Bollywood film directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra which was released in India, the Netherlands, the US, and the United Kingdom on Feb. 16, 2007.

Bhavna Talwar has been vindicated. Vidhu Vinod Chopra's big banner, "Eklavya: The Royal Guard," with the almighty Amitabh Bachchan himself playing the title role, was sent up from India for a possible Oscar nomination. It failed to be shortlisted.

The writing was on the wall when "Eklavya" was chosen despite the fact that there was a more deserving film byTalwar called "Dharm" (Religion). "My movie was extremely relevant as it showcased the turbulent times we are living in. It depicted the vicious atmosphere created by communal fundamentalism. Yet it was overlooked in favour of a big banner film. The result is for everyone to see," she said.

Talwar went to court last year contending that the Film Federation of India, in charge of selection, had turned down her movie in favor of a big banner and Big B. But she was not successful. "It is all about personal agendas and string-pulling," she fumed.

She is not off the mark. For years, money, power and star status have ruined India's reputation at the Oscars. Rumours had it that Bachchan had a hand in getting "Eklavya" selected as the country's official entry.

Admittedly, there have been exceptions, like in the case of "Lagaan," which made it to the nomination stage. Otherwise, some of India's best talents, like Bengal's Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Kerala's Adoor Gopalakrishnan, have been ignored by the Film Federation, which is controlled by Bollywood bucks and mafia. In fact, both helmers made a movie each last year that could have been easily sent up to the Oscars, with excellent chances of being nominated among the five.

Gopalakrishnan's "Four Women" premiered at Toronto last year, and Buddhadeb's "The Voyeur's" was part of the Masters Section in the same festival. Talwar's "Religion" went to Palm Springs, and was also shown at Cannes last year. Yet, the Federation sent a rather weak film like "Eklavya," obviously for considerations other than strictly merit, and with shameful consequences. Talwar stands justified.



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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