Why Gully Boy is the right choice for Oscars: Visibility, international buzz gives the film a real shot

Just a casual glance at the submissions for the Foreign Film Oscar in the last decade reveals how important international cachet is, whether the director himself/herself has that cachet yet.

Baradwaj Rangan September 26, 2019 13:19:58 IST
Why Gully Boy is the right choice for Oscars: Visibility, international buzz gives the film a real shot

Of late, we’ve been hearing a lot about Anurag Kashyap. His Gangs of Wasseypur, which was screened at the 2012 Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, was the only Indian entry in The 100 Best Films of the 21st Century, compiled by The Guardian. (“Stylish, visceral film-making, violent and hard-hitting, it’s got a valid claim to be India’s answer to The Godfather.”) Projects he’s been involved with — Sacred Games, Lust Stories have found themselves nominated for the International Emmy Awards. He plays a (voice) role in Gitanjali Rao’s Bombay Rose, which opened the Venice International Film Critics Week this year. And he seems to have a spot reserved in the Special Presentations section at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mukkabaaz (which he directed) was screened there in 2017, and this year, it was Geetu Mohandas’s Moothon (which he co-produced and wrote the Hindi dialogues for).

Also, Anurag Kashyap has worked with (or alongside) Zoya Akhtar in Lust Stories and Bombay Talkies and Luck by Chance, and therefore, in a “six degrees of separation” kind of way, he is connected to Gully Boy, which is India’s nomination for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. I am only half-joking, for everything (and everyone) he touches seems to turn into international gold. Which episode of Lust Stories has Radhika Apte landed a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress at the International Emmy Awards? The one directed by… Anurag Kashyap. I rest my case. All this throat-clearing is partly to acknowledge how singularly influential this filmmaker has become. He is extraordinarily talented, no doubt, but there are other directors you’d call that, too, and they are barely a blip on the radar when it comes to Indian cinema’s international presence.

Why Gully Boy is the right choice for Oscars Visibility international buzz gives the film a real shot

Ranveer Singh in a still from Gully Boy. Screenshot from YouTube

And this brings me to the point of this piece: that the cult of personality matters. Outside of India, Anurag is possibly the most well-known Indian name among cinephiles, just like Pedro Almodóvar is the first name that springs to mind when most people think “Spanish filmmaker”. Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory is Spain’s nominee for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. Is it “the best” Spanish film of the year, even given how subjective that description is? I don’t know. I can’t say. But it’s a superb film. (I saw it at Cannes, this year). And it’s likely to be seen by many Oscar voters, simply because it’s “an Almodóvar movie”.

Just a casual glance at the submissions for the Foreign Film Oscar in the last decade reveals how important international cachet is, whether the director himself/herself has that cachet yet. By the time Biutiful was nominated in 2010, Alejandro González Iñárritu had already made a huge splash with Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. The same year, not many had heard of (future festival favourite) Yorgos Lanthimos, but the nominated film, Dogtooth, had won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. Or just look at this year’s nominees. Never Look Away played in Competition at Venice, and it was made by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won the Oscar for The Lives of Others. Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum and Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War were both in Competition (and won prizes) at Cannes. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma — which finally won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film — won the Golden Lion at Venice.

So I’m saying we should have sent Mukkabaaz to the Oscars. Or Masaan. As long as the film is of a certain quality (i.e. even if it’s not “the best” film by consensus, if it’s a “good” one, according to most people), the fact that it has an internationally recognised name attached to it will help. It will help to get more press. It will help to get more visibility. It will make it easier to “sell” the film. I don’t know how it was during the days of Mother India (the first Indian film to be nominated for the foreign-language Oscar), but by the time Salaam Bombay and Lagaan found themselves nominated, international word-of-mouth was already becoming a factor. Mira Nair’s film played at Cannes and Toronto, and was reviewed in the US by mainstream critics like Roger Ebert. Lagaan won the Audience Award at the Locarno Film Festival in 2001, before finding itself in the Foreign Film shortlist at the 2002 Academy Awards.

This is not about actually winning that Oscar. This is about making ourselves visible, first. We have seen a lot of articles that point out (rightly) how important it is to send films that are not just “the best” but also have the financial power to lobby and scream loud enough to be heard in the pre-Oscar din in Los Angeles. But we also have to put ourselves on the map as a nation that produces films that non-Indians want to see. We are already doing this in the film festivals. (Along with Bombay Rose, we also had Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola at Venice, this year.) But we haven’t yet done this at the Oscars, which largely follows the buzz from the international film festivals.

So again, the cult of personality matters. Pick films by directors who are consistently invited to screen their films at international film festivals. Anurag Kashyap was just one example. There’s Sanal, whose S Durga won prizes at festivals in Rotterdam and Armenia and Mexico. There are others, whose films are reviewed at festivals by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and thus begin to build steady word-of-mouth buzz. Even Gully Boy was premiered at Berlin. Peter Bradshaw reviewed it in The Guardian, and there was this tweet from Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival: “Watched the GULLY BOY world premiere tonight in a packed house with @RanveerOfficial, @aliaa08 & @ZoyaAkhtarOff present. Biggest cheers I’ve heard in 20+ years at the Berlinale.” The film has a Muslim angle, a slum angle, an underdog angle — plus it’s picked up strong international buzz. I think it’s the right choice.

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