All eyes on the Golden prize: What will a win at the Oscars mean for India?

As the world looks upon the grandest stage in the world of cinema, a billion people will once again hold their breaths awaiting glory.

Three Indian titles — RRR, All That Breathes, and The Elephant Whisperers — have been nominated under different categories for the 95th Academy Awards. This is by far the most number of nominations from the country to the Oscars. What will this mean for the Indian film industry?

“We have been doing resoundingly well across festivals such as Sundance and Cannes — for consecutive years — and now in Berlin and Toronto,” says All That Breathes maker Shaunak Sen, who is currently in the States for the Oscars, while reflecting on the unprecedented success of Indian documentaries. Competing in the Documentary Feature category, Shaunak’s documentary narrates the tale of two brothers from Delhi who rescue and treat black kites in their basement.

Two of the three nominations from India are for non-fiction titles — signs of a positive shift for an art form that hasn’t received its due. It all started last year when Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas’ Writing with Fire was nominated for the Oscars. There’s also Kartiki Gonsalves’ The Elephant Whisperers competing for the Best Documentary Short Oscar. It narrates a heartwarming tale of a Tamil couple, Bomman and Bellie, who raises an orphaned elephant named Raghu.

This of course isn’t an overnight change. Shaunak credits the works of earlier generations of documentary makers for this welcoming shift. “The works by filmmakers like Deepa Dhanraj, Anand Patwardhan, Supriyo Sen, and Sourav Sarangi have been very formative for all of us. But a lot has clearly transformed.”

Shaunak Sen
| Photo Credit:
Chris Pizzello

Shaunak believes that there will be a real change in how documentaries are funded in India if one of these titles wins. “Foreign distributors and channels will immediately pay more attention. More audiences will get more attuned to stories from South Asia,” he says, adding that more initiatives like DocedgeKolkata, a documentary incubation-cum-pitching forum, will further give docu-filmmaking a push. “But we have to be cautiously optimistic because there is still quite a long way to go in terms of the dissemination infrastructure for non-fiction.”

The ‘RRR’ effect

Of course RRR mania will be most spoken about on Oscar’s eve. The Naatu Naatu track from the SS Rajamouli directorial has been nominated under the Best Original Soundtrack category, a first for an Indian film in history. Though, MM Keeravani won’t be the first Indian music composer to get the Oscar limelight if he wins; AR Rahman already has two in his kitty for Slumdog Millionaire.

To gauge what a win for RRR would do to Indian film music, we need to see what changed post-Rahman’s win in 2009, and singer Hariharan says that it effectively changed the way other Indian composers think. “Rahman brought a change in sound and an international standard to the quality of recording and mixing. The Oscar win percolated this way of thinking to the smaller music directors as well,” he says. A win for Naatu Naatu, Hariharan believes, will boost the popularity of Indian music in the international arena.

Singer Hariharan

Singer Hariharan
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Keeravani’s music and vocals by Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava might have enthralled audiences all over, but the credit for the success of Naatu Naatu, as Keeravani himself said after his Golden Globe win, also goes to the brilliant dance choreography, the visuals, and the actors themselves.

Choreographer Prem Rakshith’s steps for Ram Charan and Jr NTR didn’t just bring British soldiers to the dance floor; theatres across the world turned into a stage. Choreographer Brinda is confident that an Oscar will have one major after-effect on Indian cinema: “There will be an increase in songs and dance in our films,” she declares, adding, “The number of songs in films has been gradually decreasing and now, some of them have only one song. Or lovers of film music have to make do with the background score. A win at the Oscars for Naatu Naatu will change that.”

Songs and dance, as Brinda says, have been an integral part of who we are. “Even when we are leaning back in our seats, a song like Naatu Naatu will get us to sit upright,” she says. Hariharan agrees, stating that this has seeped into the many fragments of our culture. “Normal people, who are not artists, dance and celebrate at weddings; there’s so much music in our lives. The westerners too have started liking it now because a film, even when realistically shot, is a fantasy,” he says. Then adds, “We are different people; we like seeing a hero/heroine, who doesn’t know how to sing, break into a song.”

Dance choreographer-filmmaker Brinda

Dance choreographer-filmmaker Brinda
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

The rise of desi-pop culture

When it comes to how films are being consumed, a win at the Oscars will take Indian culture across the globe as it happened to South Korean cinema, says filmmaker Pushkar of the Pushkar-Gayathri filmmaking duo. “It was a very conscious decision on the Koreans’ part. They started with their films and music, and now, we can hear K-Pop everywhere.”

Pushkar says while it is mainly Indians consuming Indian content, even abroad, an Academy Award win will change that. “It’s like what Oldboy and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did earlier or what Squid Game and Parasite did recently.” Further, Pushkar believes this re-establishment of Indian pop culture to the world will help even the smaller films and not just the big-ticket spectacles.


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On the other hand, Pushkar believes that Indian content will retain its distinctiveness, saying that though it may be tempting to make more homogenous content to please the international audience, “That’s a path I believe we won’t take. I feel we will make our films and the world will start understanding our storytelling method. This will lead to newer markets — not restricted to the presence of the Indian diaspora — opening up to Indian films.”

Pushkar adds that this will also make filmmakers look at the “strengths of our style of storytelling and how we have been traditionally connecting with our audience.” He says, “Film festival routes always lead to a place where it feels like Indian cinema is not aesthetic enough for these festivals and we haven’t had much success there. Even the success we have had have been for our parallel and independent cinema. Our mainstream cinema finding audience across the world will be the biggest benefit of a win.”

Cinema that has come of age

Actor Madhavan, however, believes that though Indian cinema cannot yet compete with Hollywood’s technology or budget, it has come of age. “We don’t need validation from other parts of the world regarding the stories we tell or how we tell,” he states, adding that what the industry really needs now is more funding and more theatres.

Actor Madhavan

Actor Madhavan
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Interestingly, all three titles that are nominated for the Oscars touch upon ecological preservation directly or indirectly. Shaunak believes that this points towards a positive geist. “All of us are grappling with these issues and the fact that there’s some degree of commonality only indicates how much this is increasingly front and centre in our imagination.” With more awareness regarding climate change, one can certainly hope for more titles that explore this universal issue.

More and better song and dance; newer markets for Indian films; more funding and forums for documentary filmmaking — this Oscar season brings a lot of newfound hope to Indian cinema. May it fly high like a Black Kite, unite us all like Bomman and Bellie, and roar like Bheem.

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Oscars 2023 Nominees: The Full List

The 2023 Oscars nominees were announced last night in California, with the uber-creative Everything Everywhere All at Once leading the list with 11 nominations. That, of course, includes a mention in the prestigious Best Picture category, alongside nods for duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who secured nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay as well. It was closely followed by the German war epic All Quiet on the Western Front and Martin McDonagh’s latest Irish black comedy, The Banshees of Inisherin — both scoring nine nominations each. They will also compete for Best Picture, the winners of which will be announced directly at the Oscars ceremony, scheduled to take place on the morning of March 13.

Academy Award-nominee Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) and Allison Williams (Get Out) revealed the 2023 Oscar nominations, during a live stream. This year’s Oscars plays host to two comeback stories in the film industry, starting with Brendan Fraser, who was nominated in the Best Actor category for his emotional performance in A24’s The Whale. Ke Huy Quan — Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — who returned to mainstream acting with the aforementioned Everything Everywhere All at Once, secured a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Meanwhile, his on-screen partner Michelle Yeoh got nominated for Best Actress, going up against the likes of Cate Blanchett for Tár and Ana de Armas, who earned her first Oscar nod for her performance in the Marilyn Monroe biopic, Blonde.

From India, RRR’s dance track “Naatu Naatu” got nominated for Best Original Song, followed by two entries in the documentary department. Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes earned a place among the Best Documentary Feature Film of the year, white Kartiki Gonsalves’ The Elephant Whisperers was nominated in the Best Documentary Short Film category. As expected — and rightfully deserved — James Cameron’s much-delayed Avatar: The Way of Water claimed a spot in the Best Visual Effect category, which also enlisted Matt Reeves’ The Batman. The latter also got nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Sound. Oddly enough, there was no nod for Greig Fraser’s moody cinematography in the superhero flick. Even Park Chan-wook’s erotic murder mystery Decision to Leave wasn’t placed on the Best Foreign Language list.

With that, here’s the entire list of nominees for this year’s Oscars:

2023 Oscar nominations — the full list

2023 Oscar for Best Picture

All Quiet on the Western Front
Avatar: The Way of Water
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The Fabelmans
Top Gun: Maverick
Triangle of Sadness
Women Talking

###2023 Oscar for Best Actress
Ana de Armas, Blonde
Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie
Cate Blanchett, Tár
Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

2023 Oscar for Best Actor

Austin Butler, Elvis
Bill Nighy, Living
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Paul Mescal, Aftersun

2023 Oscar for Best Director

Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
Ruben Ostlund, Triangle of Sadness
Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans
Todd Field, Tár

2023 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
Ruben Ostlund, Triangle of Sadness
Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, The Fabelmans
Todd Field, Tár

2023 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay

Edward Berger, Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson, All Quiet on the Western Front
Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Peter Craig and Justin Marks, Top Gun: Maverick
Kazuo Ishiguro, Living Rian Johnson, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Sarah Polley, Women Talking

2023 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Hong Chau, The Whale
Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin
Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once

2023 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway
Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans
Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

2023 Oscar for Best International Feature Film

All Quiet on the Western Front, Germany
Argentina, 1985, Argentina
Close, Belgium
EO, Poland
The Quiet Girl, Ireland

2023 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Turning Red
The Sea Beast

2023 Oscar for Best Documentary – Feature

All That Breathes
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Fire of Love
A House Made of Splinters

2023 Oscar for Best Documentary – Short Subject

The Elephant Whisperers
How Do You Measure a Year?
The Martha Mitchell Effect
Stranger at the Gate

2023 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film

An Irish Goodbye
Le Pupille
Night Ride
The Red Suitcase

2023 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
The Flying Sailor
Ice Merchants
My Year of Dicks
An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It

2023 Oscar for Best Cinematography

Darius Khondji, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
James Friend, All Quiet on the Western Front
Mandy Walker, Elvis
Roger Deakins, Empire of Light
Florian Hoffmeister, Tár

2023 Oscar for Best Film Editing

Eddie Hamilton, Top Gun: Maverick
Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond, Elvis
Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, The Banshees of Inisherin
Monika Willi, Tár
Paul Rogers, Everything Everywhere All at Once

2023 Oscar for Best Original Score

Carter Burwell, The Banshees of Inisherin
John Williams, The Fabelmans
Justin Hurwitz, Babylon
Son Lux, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Volker Bertelmann, All Quiet on the Western Front

2023 Oscar for Best Original Song

“Applause,” Tell It Like a Woman
“Hold My Hand,” Top Gun: Maverick
“Lift Me Up,” Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
“Naatu Naatu” from RRR
“This Is a Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once

2023 Oscar for Best Sound

All Quiet on the Western Front – Viktor Prášil, Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel & Stefan Korte
Avatar: The Way of Water – Julian Howarth, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Dick Bernstein, Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers & Michael Hedges
The Batman – Stuart Wilson, William Files, Douglas Murray &Andy Nelson
Elvis – David Lee, Wayne Pashley, Andy Nelson & Michael Keller
Top Gun: Maverick – Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon & Mark Taylor

2023 Oscar for Best Production Design

All Quiet on the Western Front – Production Design: Christian M. Goldbeck, Set Decoration: Ernestine Hipper
Avatar: The Way of Water – Production Design: Dylan Cole & Ben Procter, Set Decoration: Vanessa Cole
Babylon – Production Design: Florencia Martin, Set Decoration: Anthony Carlino
Elvis – Production Design: Catherine Martin & Karen Murphy, Set Decoration: Bev Dunn
The Fabelmans – Production Design: Rick Carter, Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara

2023 Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling

All Quiet on the Western Front, Heike Merker & Linda Eisenhamerová
The Batman, Naomi Donne, Mike Marino & Mike Fontaine
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Camille Friend & Joel Harlow
Elvis, Mark Coulier, Jason Baird & Aldo Signoretti
The Whale, Adrien Morot, Judy Chin & Anne Marie Bradley

2023 Oscar for Best Costume Design

Babylon, Mary Zophres
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ruth Carter
Elvis, Catherine Martin
Everything Everywhere All at Once, Shirley Kurata
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Jenny Beavan

2023 Oscar for Best Visual Effects

All Quiet on the Western Front
Avatar: The Way of Water
The Batman
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Top Gun: Maverick

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