Under the spotlight
India woke up to jubilation and cheers on Monday morning as two of the country’s three nominations gained big at the 95th Academy Awards in LA’s Dolby Theatre while the third just missed the mark. The ‘Naatu Naatu’ song from SS Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’, composed by MM Keeravani and written by Chandrabose, won the Best Original Song award. ‘The Elephant Whisperers’, a heart-warming tale of a deeply nuanced bonding between humans and wild animals, won the Best Documentary Short Film award. The third Indian nomination, Shaunak Sen’s ‘All That Breathes’, just fell behind ‘Navalny’ — a tale of a Russian dissident Alexei Navalny — in the Best Documentary Short Film section. India’s tryst with the Academy Awards, or Oscars as they are popularly called, is not very encouraging. The gains made at the most recent ceremony mark a dramatic shift and present a lot of hope for the future. The Academy Awards to ‘Naatu Naatu’ and ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ is not just significant for India, it also reflects a paradigm shift in the larger culture of the Oscars itself. The apparent shift in the regional focus is also an embodiment of the respect for diverse cultures and offbeat cinematic expressions. The idea of cinematic excellence, it appears, is in the process of being re-defined. It is astonishing to see that indigenous protagonists in ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ not only earned applause from the international audience but also reigned supreme over other counterparts. The subdued but extremely vital idea of indigenous populations being at the heart of forest conservation and wildlife protection has now been showcased and acknowledged before the world. The short documentary does not entail a preaching approach. It rather highlights the criticality of an organic approach to wildlife and nature conservation. The discourses that matter the most are now brought to the centre stage of one of the most influential and moving mediums of mass communication — cinema. It won’t at all be an exaggeration to state that this gentle wind of change in the cinematic landscape will transform the real world as well. Furthermore, the outcomes of the 95th Academy Awards are a positive response to the Oscars being ‘too White.’ The sweeping performance of ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ — featuring an Asian-American family played by actors of Asian origin — may be an assertion that the Oscars is not as White as it is considered. The film secured 11 nominations and won seven awards. There has been no dearth of cinematic gems in Indian cinema. The legacy of the likes of Satyajit Ray continues. The only thing that is missing is due recognition. That recognition now seems to be coming our way. Even if it were true that the booming film market in India is a cause for this sudden acknowledgement, then there is nothing wrong with it. While the business may be a driving factor, it is the cinematic excellence which gets analysed, acknowledged and rewarded. Business can not be the reason for the distribution of awards. At best, it can be an enabler — throwing light on the undiscovered gems. One can take the case of ‘RRR’. Any Indian audience can sense that the quality and nature of cinematic expressions in ‘Naatu Naatu’ is not unique in the Indian context. However, none can overlook the merit of the choreography and cinematography of the song. Of course, it was complemented by a reverberating colonial context and an outstanding promotional endeavour by Rajamouli. The point to be made here is that there may be many brilliant attempts that go unrewarded. Now that the focus has been shifted to the Indian film market, the time is ripe for Indian filmmakers to showcase before the world the diversity that decorates Indian culture and society. The historic Academy Awards for Indian productions should inspire filmmakers to take risks and deviate from the monotony of commercial hits. That is already being done but the scale is yet to be enhanced. Many outstanding films representing the parallel cinema era that thrived in the 1980s in India have been pushed back into oblivion. That rich tradition awaits a fruitful culmination with the incorporation of modern-age issues waiting to make it to the screen.