Oscar season has come and gone, and Indian film came nowhere close to being honored with Rang de Basanti failing to even make the foreign films shortlist and Water getting passed over. Reacting to RDB’s poor showing in the BAFTAs (the British Oscars), actor Naseeruddin Shah had this to say:
“We just don’t make films of an international standard… I really don’t think we make films that can match those from other parts of the world. And I am not referring to Hollywood – we make copies of Hollywood,” [Link]
Criticisms of Bollywood’s lack of originality and quality are nothing new, but coming from Shah they carry more weight. When I make similar statements, my Bollydefending friends justly point out that as an ABD I just don’t get the genre-specific joys, but it’s harder to rebut somebody who has acted in both mainstream Bollywood film and alternative cinema in India, appearing in over 130 films with 3 Filmfare magazine awards to his name. Furthermore, his statements appear to be more than an indictment against Bollywood; as quoted they are a criticism of the entire Indian film industry.
This is not to hold Hollywood up as an exemplar of good taste and originality. M.Night won worst director at this year’s Razzies and this year’s Best Film, The Departed, is a less exciting copy of Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs. [Granted it really won as a deferred reward for Scorcese, but still ...]
What makes Shah’s criticism interesting is that he’s not saying India should be like Hollywood, instead he’s comparing India to other third world countries, saying that they produce better movies:
“We can’t match the types of films made in Iran for example, Poland, Japan, Mexico or Brazil, Vietnam or Korea… These countries are producing the most incredible movies and we are still plodding on with our boy-meets-girl safe, old formula. That is the reason I think our films aren’t taken seriously”. [Link]
Others point not to quality but to the lack of an adequate marketing budget (thanks Anil). The producer of The Departed had this advice:
… the financers who fund Bollywood movies must spend double or triple of the production costs they are currently spending just in marketing efforts and use it to promote the beauty of Indian cinema to a mainstream audience. As far as ‘The Departed’ is concerned, the promotion budget exceeded the costs of the production of the movie [Link]
p> And unnamed “Hollywood Executives” in the same article pointed to market structure as an additional problem:
According to Hollywood executives, another problem is that Indian filmmakers don’t distribute their movies in mainstream theatres in key US markets. Instead, these are distributed among independent theatres in South Asian areas.
‘Hollywood is a business. Once Hollywood understands the business and the huge fan base of the Indian film industry and how much money can be made, the Indian film industry will definitely be taken more seriously in Hollywood,’ said one studio executive. [Link]
p>Lastly, as a counterpoint to this gnashing of teeth and rending of hair, Manish argues that this was no great loss for India:
The Oscars were a joke this year… Who in their right minds wants an Oscar when these are the films they anoint? It’s a race to the bland bottom… And Bolly denizens are sitting here crying into their chai when a Canadian flick loses the affirmative action Oscar. Bollyflicks are about as foreign to most of the world as the World Series are international. It would’ve tarnished their reputation to have won in a year that’s a monument to flavorless parochialism. [Link]
Maybe the problem isn’t India’s film industry, or meager production budgets, it’s the Oscars themselves. What do you think? Should India stop looking to the golden statue for validation and do its own thing? Or was this year’s loss another “learning experience” for Indian cinema.