This appeared in Sunday Times...BTW, i was masochistic enough to actually sit through 'Besharam'' last night. I deserved the torture!
One more unappetising movie controversy….
This is really getting impossible to digest! It’s Oscar time , folks. And the jury has picked ‘The Good Road’ as India’s official entry. It is assumed the 16-member jury has done so fairly and minus prejudice. Accept the verdict… and go back to your aubergines, ye critics. I watched and enjoyed ‘The Lunchbox’ immensely, as did countless others. But I am not over-reacting to the jury’s decision and taking it personally. Chacun a son gout (“ to each his own taste’, as the French put it). I have not watched ‘The Good Road’ so far , and according to vociferous critics of the movie, neither have too many other film lovers. This anomaly is meant to support the critics’ argument that there was some sort of a sinister conspiracy against the universally acclaimed ‘The Lunchbox’. Come on, guys. Grow up! Take it on the chin and move on. Undoubtedly, ‘The Lunchbox’ is a lyrical, delicately balanced film exploring urban loneliness via a clever cinematic device (the title’s dabba). And yes, it has the backing of heavy- weights from India and abroad ( I stopped counting the number of producers after the first five names). But should the eminent jury have been swayed by that business arrangement and nominated the movie against their better judgment? ‘The Lunchbox’ has received rave reviews, done the international film circuit, garnered global good will, generated a positive buzz and wowed critics. Deservedly so. But that still does not take away the right of a duly appointed jury to pick a film they believe is the better choice. Or else, why have a jury in the first place? Let popular opinion, combined with the influential backing of big ticket movie makers, take the final call. Unfortunately, this time round, Goutam Ghose, the well respected Chairperson of the jury, has himself gone to town and voiced his preference for ‘The Lunchbox’ over ‘The Good Road’. This is never done! His public dissent really does insult the status and opinion of colleagues on the jury and adds fuel to the fire that’s burning up social media.
For years we have been messing up big time at the Oscar’s by sending the most preposterous films to compete in the Best Foreign Film category. There have been charges and counter charges of favouritism and / or discrimination after every announcement. This year we were indeed spoilt for choice – so many wonderful films all in one go! But after Ghose put his foot into the boiling cauldron of controversy, we instantly lost perspective. He talked about how it would have been “easier to convince the Oscar jury’’ (about ‘The Lunchbox’) since the film has a ‘good cast’ plus a foreign distributor (Sony Pictures Classics). Inadvertently, Ghose has revealed one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets : it’s all about lobbying. And lobbying at those levels requires big bucks. ‘The Lunchbox’ had both – the required financial backing, plus the clout to push ahead in Hollywood. Instead, the jury bravely picked a small budget movie made by Gyan Correa, who is a relatively unknown film maker, and which deals with an uncomfortable topic – child prostitution along the highways of Kutch. Squeamish members of the Gujarati film fraternity promptly jumped into the fray and started talking about the movie ‘defaming’ Gujarat! Words like ‘blasphemous’ have been thrown around. Hello??? Self- appointed guardians of morality assumed overnight charge of Gujarat’s fair (?) image and asked how NFDC could have used ‘people’s money’ to make a film that shows India in a poor light. “ It is their duty to show the country in a good light,” thundered an enraged director, quite forgetting that it is certainly not the ‘duty’ of a film maker ( or any creative person) to play propagandist.
Now that dirty politics has entered the frame, it’s going to lead to a few bloodied, out of joint noses in the days to come. ‘The Lunchbox’ may have appealed to aficionados of cinema, and tickled countless taste buds, but it is the road less travelled, that will be shown to foreigners ( that is, if ‘The Good Road’ makes the final cut) There is also the other silly debate as to which of the two films is more ‘Indian’ in content. Well, Ritesh Batra’s unusual, essentially urban take on emotionally marginalised people in Mumbai is as ‘Indian’ as Gyan Correa’s movie about a grittier rural reality. Let’s not quibble over which of these two Indias will ‘sell’ better overseas – such an attitude only reveals our own insecurities…. not the brilliance of our film makers.
The jury has pronounced its verdict. Is the decision that hard to digest? Heartburn ke liye ek achcha solution hai : ask the Aunty upstairs for a herbal remedy!