Business Standard

India at the Oscars: Too late, too little (Comment)


IANS Mumbai
Finally, India has done it at the Oscars. A 'period film unlike "Lagaan", "Devdas" or "Baahubali" -- entitled "Period. End Of Sentence", has won the Oscar in the Best Short Documentary category. But is this really reason for us to rejoice after the repeated rebuffs we've been subjected to at the Oscars?
Why must poverty still be the benchmark for international attention? Has nothing changed since Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali"? Every time the Academy Awards deign to look at us, it is always for films that highlight the squalor and deprivation at the grassroot level. Just take a look at the films from India that have received attention at the Oscars: Mehboob Khan's "Mother India", Mira Nair's "Salaam Bombay", Deepa Mehta's "Water", Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire"...
What do we see in common here? Poverty, of course. None of Zoya Akhtar's fabulous films would have qualified for Oscar attention before "Gully Boy", I can tell you that for sure.
Though this film about menstrual hardships in rural India is not technically an Indian film -- its director Rayka Zehtabchi is an Iranian-American and its producer Melissa Burton is US -- "Period. End Of Sentence" is about empowering the rural Indian women, and its co-producer Guneet Monga is an Indian.
So let's applaud our first victory at the Oscars since A.R. Rahman, Gulzar and Resul Pookutty won the trophy in 2009 for "Slumdog Millionaire".
Some of the major Oscars this year were a welcome swerve into the unexpected. The best actress Oscar has not gone to Glenn Close for her overrated performance in "The Wife", but to Olivia Coleman for her delightful turn as a sexually active, somewhat daft queen of England whose rule would have gone unnoticed were it not for Coleman's dazzling performance in "The Favourite".
The Oscar for best actor has been given to the Egyptian actor Rami Malek for that hyped, over-rated performance as musical legend Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody". Sadly, the more meritorious and Oscar worthy rock-stadia musical "A Star Is Born", featuring the very exceptional Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, which was outstanding on every level has been largely snubbed by the Oscars.
Rather go gaga over the singer of the song "Radio Gaga' than honour Lady Gaga, eh?
Rami Malek's relatively mediocre performance being honoured by an Oscar for best actor was matched by Mahershala Ali's triumph in the best supporting actor category as a sophisticated gay pianist in "The Green Book".
Though I thoroughly approve of "Green Book" getting the Oscar for best picture, the award in the performing category should have gone to Viggo Mortensen as the African pianist's chauffeur in "Green Book".
Mortensen is terrific all the way, far superior to Rami Malek's one-note performance as Mercury. Nothing mercurial about Malek. The same goes for this year's Oscar winners. No surprises, except the much-touted Black Panther's complete obliteration among the winners in the major categories.
Just goes to show, hype doesn't always rule.

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First Published: Feb 26 2019 | 6:24 PM IST

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