India Uncut

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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

It's not the film, it's the country

It’s a pity that Time Out Mumbai isn’t online, or I’d certainly keep Girish Shahane’s columns page as a permanent link on my left panel. He is a rare voice of reason in what is, in the context of Indian journalism, an age of mediocrity.

His latest column is about the Marathi film Shwaas, which is India’s entry to the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen the film, but have read plenty of rave reviews of it. Shahane’s has been the first dissenting voice that I’ve come across, and he says that Shwaas is “not a particularly good movie”. He elaborates:

Shwaas has a strong central concept, begins promisingly and is shot competently. Unfortunately, it displays the usual flaws. It may run for only 107 minutes, but 30 of those should be cut. It may seem restrained, but turns mawkish at crucial moments. The plot may be simple, but leaves many questions unanswered … Three of the players, including both the women featured, act absurdly over the top.

He feels that Shwaas is “too amateurish to have a serious shot at the statuette”. But his main issue is not with the film, but with the manner in “the producers (eight of them!) have gone around hat in hand soliciting contributions from all and sundry towards their Oscar campaign”. He continues:

Having received substantial grants from the Maharashtra government and the BMC, the film’s makers are looking to the centre for more cash. Everybody’s got into the donation act: the fascist from Bandra East; the minister from Mazgaon embroiled in the stamp paper scandal; the trustees of the temple in Prabhadevi.

… Those already on the Shwaas junket have, thus far, held numerous meetings with members of American Marathi Mandals, who have nothing to do with the Oscar jury, but will doubtless cough up plenty of dollars in the name of cultural pride. Meanwhile, there isn’t a whisper of criticism anywhere in the media about this gravy train. Maybe the irresponsible use of public funds by individuals with no accountability is so common an occurrence as to barely merit mention.

Shwaas is a popular film among members of the blogosphere, and I’m sure some of them will jump to the film’s defence. Not having seen the film, I can’t comment on it, but this Oscar campaign seems rather absurd to me. And demeaning.

What does it say of us, in India, that we yearn for validation from abroad? To look at the desperate hype around Lagaan, the time it got an Oscar nomination, you’d think that our national pride depended on it. Would Lagaan have been any better a film if it had won that Oscar, or any worse if it hadn’t been chosen as India’s entry? Sure, from the box-office point-of-view, it makes sense to hope for a win. But the emotions involved at large are not about the business of cinema, but about the pride of a nation. Hopefully, a generation later, India will be more sure of its place in the world. Right now, we’re still licking gora ass.
amit varma, 8:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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