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Why not Lagaan?

Dr. Meena Sundaram

On this Sunday afternoon, as the red carpet is being rolled out to receive the hopeful nominees, the movers and shakers and studio bigwigs in Hollywood and the eyes of interested watchers all over the world, I am proud that India is represented ( and amply so) by Aamir Khan productions Lagaan.

To place the Oscars in context, it is a traditional yearly gauge of self-evaluation and a celebration of excellence in the film industry. That said, it is a highly political and often divisive process with intensive lobbying,vicious rumor-mongering ( case in point, Beautiful Mind) and big spending by studios who would love to take the golden man home every year. As we can see ( and read) over the past few weeks, reams of analysis, multiple predictions, ads and incessant media coverage attempt to bring this event into public focus. This has not worked over the past few years with viewership of the Oscars dropping steadily to drought levels.

International films have an uphill battle in this process unless they are distributed by large studios in the US and played in mainstream cinema halls, or are brought to the attention of the selection committee by private screenings. Each country can send a film as its candidate to compete for selection.This year, apparently 51 films were reviewed before the 5 nominees were selected.

This is the third time that an Indian movie has been selected as a foreign film finalist and it is due to the sheer hard work, networking and dedication of one man, Aamir Khan, amply supported by an excellent film, Lagaan. He has worked hard for months, screening the film and making sure people watched it even though it has not had a mainstream release in the US yet. Through sheer grit and determination, he impressed selection committee members enough to watch and then vote for this film. Kudos to his efforts!

Regarding Ram's point whether Laagan deserves to represent India in the Oscars: Lagaan's strong points are many: original story, excellent casting , period setting providing a unique backdrop for the unfolding events and gorgeous music by maestro A.R Rahman. The technical production and cinematography are excellent too. I am the first to admit Lagaan has its flaws, its inordinate length being one of them, but overall it has been liked both by the masses and the discerning audience due to the skilful interplay of its various components.

Despite the overall generic( and in many cases suboptimal) quality of movies churned out by Bollywood, we have had so many cinematic gems over the years: Mr. Ray's films, Deepa Mehta's '1947 Earth' and 'Fire', Mr. Benegal's films, 'Aakrosh' and more recently 'Monsoon Wedding' ( currently running to packed houses in Kendall Square cinema), 'Bawandar' and 'Chandni Bar'. The question why these movies were not nominated does not lie with the intrinsic quality of these movies which were superb but the process of selection first in India and then by the Oscar committee.Life is not fair! This, however, does not take away from how far Lagaan has traveled from an improbable story idea that could not find a producer to a blockbuster/critically acclaimed film that is representing India this year at the Oscars or make this achievment less remarkable.

I think Lagaan holds its own ( and much more!) against international competition like Amelie ( cute and fluffy but quite pointless) and previous nominees like Life is Beautiful ( a tragicomic twist on the horrors of the holocaust) any day and represents India honorably on the world stage.I do hope quality Indian films continue to get the world's attention in the future, Oscar or not!

The envelope holds the answer to the million dollar question, Who is going to win the best Foreign Film nomination? I'll be watching the glitter and glamour of Hollywood, having a tasty dinner at Ram's place,hoping Russell Crowe behaves himself, crossing my fingers and saying a prayer for Lagaan !!

Dr. Meena Sundaram , Cardiologist, singer and movie buff writes from Acton where she lives with her husband, an avid movie watcher/critic.

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