Up until now, the official Indian entry to the Oscars has been a running joke. The process—from the details of the committee which picks the film, to the films in the running, to the little sidebars about the near-misses and the also-rans—has invariably been shrouded in mystifying secrecy. This time around, the difference was evident right in the beginning, with the declaration of the chairperson of the committee. The forthright Amol Palekar began by being upfront about what he and his committee were going to do—this time, it would be the cause of good cinema which would be served, not other dodgy sectarian, regional considerations that have weighed upon such choices in the past.
This year has been wonderful for Indian indie cinema. There have been such terrific films as Qissa, a haunting tale set in the early years of Independent India; Kaaka Muttai, a touching story of young urchins in Chennai; Masaan, a lilting tale of small-town Indians on the move; Killa, a story of a young boy and how he comes of age; and Court, a chilling portrayal of how privilege and power flows in India. The slate is extremely worthy, but Court is the right choice: all the foreign films chosen by the Academy are excellent, of course. They are also markers of what is going on in their countries, of how well they catch the Zeitgeist in terms of time and place—in that sense, they are national flag-bearers. Court fits the bill. Without any distracting exaggerations and any of the dreadful melodrama usually associated with India’s mainstream cinema, it lays out, deceptively clinically, belying its great feeling and passion, how India lives and breathes, and who gets to do it and who doesn’t. Now for the crucial lobbying and raising awareness about the film, because without that, the coveted Oscar statuette will remain what it has till now—a distant dream.