India’s Elusive Oscar Quest

Are we doing enough to reach out to global audience?

12 MAY 2017,
The Oscar's Academy Awards
The Oscar's Academy Awards

I am a diehard movie fan especially of the Indian movies. Every year when February arrives, my OSCAR dream wakes up and I start looking forward to the academy award ceremony for winners of the awards. I am sure that everybody could imagine as to what I might be looking for. The moment list of probable is announced, the first thing that I do is to scout around in the shortlist for any Indian movies or Indian names vying for top slots. Barring couple of years over last many decades, my Indian dream always gets shattered as we rarely make our presence even to the final short list.

The only silver-lining had been few Indians who have got the individual Academy Awards like Satyajit Ray, Resul Pookutty, A.R.Rahman and Gulzar but the podium finish eludes an Indian movie.

Many people may argue that we indeed had 2 movies winning Oscars for best Movie i.e. Richard Attenborough directed Gandhi and Danny Boyle directed Slumdog Millionaire. However, I do not think that we can call them as Indian movies. These movies may have the theme which is India based and the cast comprising Indian actors but the movies were not made by Indian directors. These are not the so called Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, etc, movies. These were the ones made by non-Indian directors keeping the non-Indian audience in mind. There is nothing unique in them to qualify the movie to be called as an “Indian” movie.

This has always left me wondering as to why is that the Indian movies do not reach that level to make the elusive podium finish to win a best movie award.

May be I got my answer to a certain extent when I was traveling to London sometime back and was there for couple of weeks. On one of the weekend I strolled into HMV store at Canary Wharf with the intent to pick up couple of movies for my weekend viewing. While looking at the movie covers, a small but interesting fact stuck my eyes on an innocuous corner of the DVD cover. Many of the English movies had the option of switching to soundtracks in multiple languages. This means that though one is buying an English movie but in case he wants to watch it in any language other than English, he can do that if the movie has the option available. For example, a James Bond movie can be watched in English, Spanish and Hungarian. Surprisingly, one of the movies had a soundtrack in Hindi as well. This set me on a different trail I and started looking around for any Indian movie i.e. movie made in Indian language which has soundtrack options in any other non-Indian languages. However, my limited search in many stores in London failed to give me desired results except for one movie i.e. My Name is Khan which had the option of soundtrack in English language.

This left me thinking as to whether the Indian film industry doing enough to reach out to non-Indian audience? Are we ensuring that the films made by us are reaching the audience outside of India and they are able to enjoy and savor them in their own respective languages? After all, the movie watching is something which a person does to entertain as well as to enjoy the time spent. If the movie is not in the language which one can understand, he / she may be able to appreciate the movie basis sub-titles but in that case the movie watching experience is not the ultimate experience which otherwise may be. Personally, I have never enjoyed the movies which are in other languages that I do not understand even though there may be sub titles. This means that our movies may not be able to create an impact which a movie could if it is in the same language as of the movie watcher.

To summarize it, as most of our movies are not able to make an impact on the audience that does not understand our languages, it is resulting in Indian movies not grabbing enough eye-balls and word to mouth recommendations up to the extent that a typical movie could get. This audience may also include people who are jury members for Oscar Awards. I understand that movie selection process for Oscars is a long drawn process and spans over 2000+ jury members spread across various countries.

Due to our movies not available in soundtracks of various languages, it acts as a double whammy for Indian film industry as we lose on international awards because our movies are not able to make an impact on the people which they could have if they were available in multiple soundtracks.

Financially, we lose on good business opportunities for our movies by way of losing on potential export earnings. If you look around, many international movies are doing roaring business across India in many cities as these movies are available in regional soundtracks which cover many Indian languages. On the other hand, it is rare to find Indian movies doing similar business in other countries especially US and UK. We do get Indian movies released across theaters in those countries but their catchment is predominantly Indian diaspora over there.

Recommendations

My suggestion to the Indian film fraternity that includes Film Industry, Film Associations, trade associations, NFDC and any other film promotion related institutions would be:

  1. Producers can add soundtracks in multiple languages in their movies. It will be a good business idea financially as the movies will get a wider reach and a bigger audience pool.

  2. To begin with, soundtracks can be made for few select languages like English, Arabic, etc. as the cost might be prohibitive to get the soundtracks in many languages.

  3. I understand that adding soundtrack options in multiple languages may entail additional costs for producers, Industry bodies and Film promotion bodies can pitch in here by supporting the movies. To begin with, they can pick up movies that have won National Awards or have been blockbuster hits in the country.

  4. Independent organizations like Filmfare, etc. which conduct film awards can come forward and sponsor the soundtracks for those movies that win Awards at events organized by them.

  5. Industry bodies like Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), etc can create a fund to sponsor soundtracks for some selected movies so that we can leverage the export potential of our movies to the maximum.

  6. Film promotion bodies like NFDC, etc can tap the network in various countries where our movies can be shown in local theaters. I am sure if these movies are available in local soundtracks, we will find easy takers in those countries to screen Indian movies. These apart, Indian movies could find easy takers in Hotel Chains, Airlines, etc.

  7. Crowdfunding – on an experimental basis, a crowdfunding initiative can also be explored to begin with.

Last but not the least; I do not say that by adding soundtracks in multiple languages we will start winning Oscar Awards. In the end, the quality of the movie and storyline has to be amongst the best in class if the movie has to get the podium finish at Academy Awards. However, I do strongly believe that we indeed have produced some really wonderful and brilliant movies during last decade which were amongst the global best in class and the themes were relevant globally. I am sure that with multiple soundtracks, the reach and penetration of Indian movies amongst diverse audience will increase which will propel our movies towards meeting our Oscar dreams. Off course, releasing movies with multiple soundtracks could be financially prudent business case also by giving our movies a bigger piece of pie amongst the global audience as has been displayed by couple of Indian movies very recently which had roaring success in the global arena.