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Winning awards abroad

Perhaps instructive of the European canon that admits foreign films, at the Berlin Festival Indian director Rajnesh Domalpalli accepted the first feature film prize for Vanaja (film website), a film about individual agency, gender, and caste system. However, BAFTA did accept Rang De Basanti, raising some questions about the basis on which it was nominated.

Films such as Vanaja, which are critical and humanistic — besides following in the footsteps of the Indian new wave to use a realist aesthetic — fit into the avant garde/realist/critical discourse, which the European canon is sympathetic towards. Festivals in the west may hold retrospectives or premieres of popular films, but rarely will offer them awards. In light of this, the selection of Rang De Basanti raises quite a few questions:

  1. is it a recognition of the local box office muscle of Bollywood, a pragmatic reconcialiation with a film form that fits ill at ease at the BAFTA?
  2. was it a way to cosy up to the Indian film industry, hoping that there is going to be a quid pro quo for British films in India.
  3. was it a function of the lobbying power of the film’s producers (UTV)?

I got in touch with BAFTA and the Film Awards Officer Louise Ewbank responded to my queries:

Q: was there an initial list of Indian films forwarded to members?
Louise Ewbank: No, we do not accept a single film from each country as the American Academy do. All foreign language released in the UK in 2006 were eligible for the Not in the English Award. The 6,000 strong membership voted on these films and a short list of 15 was produced that way.

Q: Did lobbying play a role in Rang De Basanti’s eventual nomination?
LE: The distributors do lobby for their films and some issue DVD screeners. DVD screeners of a couple of Bollywood films were sent this year, one of which was Rang De Basanti.

Q: If there was an initial list of Indian films from which Rang De Basanti was chosen, is it possible to get the number of individual votes that each Indian film secured?
LE: We do not issue details of votes cast as this information is strictly confidential.

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