the year the Academy started presenting Oscars for foreign language pictures -- only three Indian movies, “Mother India” (1957), “Salaam Bombay” (1988) and “Lagaan” (2001), have been nominated in the category. All three were Hindi films.
India made some brilliant cinema in that period. Satyajit Ray's classics, Ritwick Ghatak' gripping works, Mrinal Sen's captivating fare (all three were from Bengal), Aravindan's touching movies, Adoor Gopalakrishnan's excellent body of work (both from Kerala) are some of the examples. None of these was even considered by the Federation, let alone sent up for a possible nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that runs the Oscars.
Admittedly, the Film Federation of India was -- and continues to be -- deeply biased against non-Bollywood cinema. Even among the Mumbai movies, the better ones were never sent up. Examples: Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and early Raj Kapoor. What a shame to have shamed the country this way.
And Raj Kapoor is still remembered and revered. Time was when he was an icon in the former Soviet Union. I do not know if he still is. But the other day, I was watching a television programme whose anchor was travelling on the new train to Lhasa in Tibet. And guess what I saw: a group of Chinese on board singing “Mein Awara Hoon”. The song is from Kapoor’s 1951 “Awara”. The Chinese were clapping and dancing to the lyrics that have become immortal. The showman can still please the most unlikely of audiences, and anywhere on this earth!
The other day I was in Trivandrum and heard that Ketan Mehta was making a movie on painter Raja Ravi Varma. Called “Rang Rasiya” (Colours of Passion), it will trace the life and times of one of India’s most celebrated artists. Mehta, whose oeuvre stretches from untouchability (“Bhavni Bhavai”) to history (“Mangal Pandey – The Rising”), will complete his film by December. Incidentally, two other works on the painter are being produced. Shaji N. Karun and Lenin Rajendran have their cameras all focussed, but Mehta might just about pip them at the post. And, he plans to say a little more about Varma; his relationship with his muse, for instance. Nandana Sen will essay that part.
Two interesting Indian movies will premier at the Rome Film Festival beginning October 18. Sudhir Mishra’s “Khoya Khoya Chand” on the old Bollywood studio system and Anurag Kashyap’s socially pungent “No Smoking” with John Abraham will screen where once gladiators fought lions as part of bloody amusement. Cinema can be as gory, but Mishra’s and Kashyap’s creations are far from that, and will perhaps tell Romans and others what India is capable of. Curiously, the Venice Film Festival ignored Indian cinema this year, and I hope Rome will make up for the loss, and even bridge the chasm between the two ancient cultures.
Tailpiece: Salman is sulking. The Khan has refused to model for Madam Tussauds in London, probably in the wake of media reports that pulled his leg saying that he was following his former lover, Aishwarya Rai, to the British capital, albeit as a work of wax.
(Webposted October 3 2007)