Indians at the Academy Awards: From Satyajit Ray to Deepika Padukone

Come Sunday, Indian cinema is launching one of its biggest offensives ever at the Academy Awards. Naatu Naatu from S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR is up for Best Original Song; it won the Golden Globe, to frenzied jubilation everywhere, two months ago. Meanwhile, two documentaries — Shaunak Sen’s feature-length All That Breathes and Kartiki Gonsalves’s 41-minute The Elephant Whisperers— are in with a shout in their respective categories. It really does look like our year, with celebrations planned and congratulatory posts drafted out in advance. The cinephile excitement is at a peak, so what more could we want?

One answer is Deepika Padukone. Last week, Oscar enthusiasm hit the roof when it was announced that Padukone, after unveiling the FIFA World Cup Trophy in Qatar in 2022, will present an Academy Award alongside the likes of Riz Ahmed, Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Samuel L. Jackson. Padukone will be part of a double treat for Indians watching with sleepy eyes on Monday morning, with MM Keeravaani conducting a 2.5-minute Naatu Naatu piece on stage (sadly, no Ram Charan and Jr. NTR to lead the dancers; they’ll be in attendance with director Rajamouli).

Indians at the Academy

Indians, and Indian movies, have been thinly represented at the Oscars. In a history of 94 years, we’ve won six times (the number is marginally improved if you include the technical achievement awards). On the face of it, this shouldn’t be too depressing; the Oscars remain a predominantly American bash. Yet the Academy — a 9000-plus-members honorary body that gives out the awards — has been pushing for increased diversity, and includes many Indians. On a more pedestrian level, if there’s one country as frenetically obsessed with red carpets, flashy performances and celebrity jamborees as the US — the difference, perhaps, is only one of prestige — it’s probably India.

S.S. Rajamouli’s globe-trotting awards tour leading up to the Oscars might make it look like a breeze, but it wasn’t always the case. Indian artists, like Indian scientists and Indian sportspersons, have always starved for budgets. In 1957, the Academy created a separate competitive category for foreign-language films; a year later, Mehboob Khan’s Mother India was sent as India’s first official submission to the Oscars. Khan, already debt-ridden by the film’s gargantuan production, turned to Jawaharlal Nehru for help. He eventually reached LA with his wife Sardar Akhtar and attended screenings for Academy voters, with one concession: the famous sickle-and-hammer logo of Mehboob Productions was excised so as not to upset American sensibilities.

The stratagem didn’t help; Mother India lost out to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, significantly — it is claimed — by a single vote. Khan attended the ceremony, but there contrasting reports of his response; he either laughed off the defeat with a smile or was crestfallen enough to suffer a heart attack the following day (Khan died of a heart attack on May 28, 1964, a day after Nehru’s death).

Like Khan, a young Vidhu Vinod Chopra also lacked the means for intercontinental travel when his An Encounter with Faces (1978) was nominated for Best Documentary Short (the saviour, this time around, was LK Advani, the then I&B Minister).

It wasn’t the same experience for Bhanu Athaiya, legendary costume designer and India’s first Oscar winner. Athaiya was awarded for her work on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Columbia Pictures, the film’s distributors, funded her travel to the 1983 ceremony. A trendsetter back home — she dressed films as sartorially wide-ranging as Sahib Bibi Aur Gulam, Teesri Manzil and Razia Sultan. Athaiya walked up to the stage in a shimmery turquoise drape, paired with choker, danglers and handbag in tow. In contrast to the jokey patter of presenters Steve Guttenberg and Ann Reinking, her speech was simple and short: “Thank you Academy and Sir Richard Attenborough for focusing world attention on India,” she said.

Honouring the greats

By the early 1990s, the Academy had honoured world cinema giants like Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles. Now came Satyajit Ray’s turn. In March 1992, Ray was ailing in his hospital bed in Kolkata and could not attend the Oscars ceremony in LA. Audrey Hepburn, while presenting his Academy Honorary Award on stage, addressed him with the phonetically accurate ‘R-ai’ (as opposed to the anglicized ‘R-ay’ so many Indians prefer to use). Holding his golden statuette, in a beige embroidered panjabi, Ray joined via a video-feed and spoke of the influence of American cinema in his life. Despite his failing health (he died less than a month later), the master was calm, eloquent and funny — a tonality of televised award shows he understood too well.

The star of Indian cinema has risen piecemeal at the Oscars. In 1987, Chiranjeevi became the first South Indian actor to be guest of honour at the Oscars; two years later, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! was nominated. The new millennium saw Aamir Khan hobnobbing with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington on the red carpet. His Lagaan was a big deal (ultimately losing out to Bosnian war drama No Man’s Land), but it was Slumdog Millionaire, eight years later, that really kicked down the doors.

Reminiscent of Naatu Naatu’s success, Jai Ho was already a globally downloaded sensation when it won the Oscar for Best Original Song – one of eight the film took home that year. Though a British production, and suitably problematized for its view of urban poverty in India, Danny Boyle’s film turned the Oscars into a joyous Bollywood night. A.R. Rahman, Gulzar and Resul Pookutty won awards, with Rahman winning two. Particularly touching was the final tableau during the Best Picture win — Anil Kapoor beaming, Irrfan Khan struggling to tuck in his cuffs, Dev Patel picking child actor Rubina Ali Qureshi in his arms. A typically Indian assembly, with a bunch of foreigners thrown in.

Deepika Padukone’s appearance at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday will certainly break the internet. Before her, Indian and Indian origin actresses — Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Mindy Kaling, Persis Khambatta — have all partook in the ceremonies, raising the country’s profile and visibility in the global media glare. Chopra, particularly, has displayed an internationalism characteristic of the 21st century Asian crossover star. Now Padukone is poised to do the same. It’s a shiny year for India at the Academy Awards. If a win marks the occasion, there will be nothing like it.

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Oscars 2023: Andrea Riseborough’s Surprise Nomination Has Made People Angry – Explained

Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie

The Oscars are navigating choppy waters yet again, this time over the Best Actress nomination to Andrea Riseborough for her performance in the acclaimed but largely unwatched film To Leslie. Ms Riseborough’s performance as a troubled single mother who wins the lottery and then squanders it has been feted not just by film critics but also by a formidable contingent of celebrities. Just days before the Oscar nominations were announced, Gwyneth Paltrow shared a post after watching the film. “I am stunned by all of the performances. Andrea should win every award there is and all the ones that haven’t been invented yet,” Gwyneth wrote in the caption accompanying a picture of her with Team To Leslie, among them Andrea Riseborough.

Despite Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Andrea should win every award there is” shout-out, the actress had so far not even been nominated for the award shows already held, leave alone win – the Golden Globes took place at the beginning of January, the Critics Choice Awards four days after Gwyneth’s post.

On January 24, Andrea Riseborough was announced as one of the five Best Actress nominees with Cate Blanchett (Tar), Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once), Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans) and Ana de Armas (Blonde). Questions were raised shortly after and the Academy, which presents the Oscars, announced that it would review this year’s campaign procedures although To Leslie or Andrea were not specifically mentioned.

The core of the controversy lies in Andrea having received the nomination despite the absence of the high-budget, high-visibility campaigns usually mounted by Oscar hopefuls. The campaign for Andrea was a celebrity-backed series of shout-outs in the form of screenings, conversations and moderated discussions involving A-listers like Amy Adams, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston and Edward Norton. Several other actors posted shout-outs, many of them seemingly copy-paste jobs.

There are two parts to the outrage over Andrea Riseborough’s nomination in a film that very few seem to have watched. The first is the possibility of campaign rules having been breached – this forms the focus of The Academy’s investigation. “It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner, and we are committed to ensuring an inclusive awards process. We are conducting a review of the campaign procedures around this year’s nominees, to ensure that no guidelines were violated, and to inform us whether changes to the guidelines may be needed in a new era of social media and digital communication. We have confidence in the integrity of our nomination and voting procedures, and support genuine grassroots campaigns for outstanding performances,” read a statement released by the Academy and reported in international media.

Variety reports that as per sources the Academy has been flooded with calls and e-mails over Andrea Riseborough’s surprise nomination though no official complaint has been filed. While most Oscar campaigns hinge around encouraging voters in the Academy watch their film, To Leslie’s celebrity push may have breached rules on two counts. The first is if Academy members have been directly contacted to bring Andrea’s performance to their notice; the second rule is one that forbids campaigns from names or singles out competing films or performances.

Critics of the nomination for Andrea Riseborough say that the second rule has already been breached at least twice. A now-deleted post shared on the To Leslie Instagram account quoted film critic Richard Roeper as writing in Chicago Sun-Times: “As much as I admired Blanchett’s work in ‘Tár,’ my favorite performance by a woman this year was delivered by the chameleonlike Andrea Riseborough.” Mr Roeper did not breach any rules by naming the two actresses in a single sentence, the To Leslie campaign may have by choosing this quote to highlight.

Also under the scanner is actress Frances Fisher, who shared more than one Instagram post urging the Academy to nominate Andrea Riseborough while also naming other actors in the running. You can read her posts here and here.

The second part of the controversy is the charge of racism with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag being resurrected on social media. Andrea Riseborough’s nomination is being seen by some as having come at the expense of performances by Black actress like Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till). Till director Chinonye Chukwu wrote on Instagram: “We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women.”

Film critic Robert Daniels wrote in LA Times: “Although it’s easy to point a finger at Riseborough for taking a slot from Black women, broken systems persist when we focus our ire on individuals … what does it say that the Black women who did everything the institution asks of them – luxury dinners, private Academy screenings, meet-and-greets, splashy television spots and magazine profiles – are ignored when someone who did everything outside of the system is rewarded?”

Actress Christina Ricci challenged this notion of artistic merit depending on visibility for validation in a now-deleted Instagram post, reports Deadline. “Seems hilarious that the ‘surprise nomination’ (meaning tons of money wasn’t spent to position this actress) of a legitimately brilliant performance is being met with an investigation,” she wrote. “So it’s only the films and actors that can afford the campaigns that deserve recognition? Feels elitist and exclusive and frankly very backward to me.”

The Academy’s findings from its investigation are awaited. According to The Hollywood Reporter, however, Andrea Riseborough’s nomination is unlikely to be overturned.

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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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