A huge surge of happiness rushed over the country when the song “Naatu Naatu” from the blockbuster Telugu film RRR won the Best Original Song at the 95th Academy Awards, surpassing the giants of western industry. The celebration around India making history in the global platform by winning an Oscar has been received with mixed feelings. On one hand where Modi’s India is basking a new archetype of new India that no longer vestiges its propaganda on the colonial hangover. Seeking of western validation of such accolades takes it back to where it all began, wrapped in chains, the sense of déjà vu!
India’s obsession over Oscars has a history whose prime example stretches back to the time when Kamal Hassan’s fans used to call him Oscar Nayaga. People found his talent onscreen to be worthy enough of their money spent on tickets and recognised him as the Oscar hero even though he never won one. This action of Indian audiences was again displayed when Rajnikant’s fans mobbed out of cinema after watching Darbar (2020) and shouted addressing the then US President to give an Oscar to their megastar. This went on to become an iconic meme and now even apart from films or actors, anything and everything too dramatic is tagged as “Oscar winning performance,” pushing forward this western validation at peak. On the contrary when someone actually gets an Oscar from India, thousands stand as critics debating if they deserve it or not.
This year’s Oscars nominations came as a surprise as it bunched more Asian works than ever. Everything Everywhere All At Once, the Asian American indie hit triumphed at the Oscars bagging seven awards in the major categories. However it’s also an unusual year for India who from a long time stayed the audience witnessing the Academy wins, made the western hands clap for its achievements this time. The epic action RRR became the first Indian full length feature film to win the Best Original Song for its energetic dance number “Naatu Naatu” that made all feets sway. Meanwhile, “The Elephant Whisperers,” a Netflix documentary from Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga won the Best Documentary Short award. Although the twin win is well deserved, it also misplaced the path of India decorating her self esteem rooted in the cultural quintessence and thus met with mixed public opinions.
RRR transcended the boundaries and entertained masses like no other film but the Indian public have been divided, half dived into the celebration of the win of an Indian song, and then there are those disclosing their disappointment at the inappropriate portrayal of the Adhivasi culture. Nevertheless it is of no concern to the Academy or the Oscars as they always viewed an Indian film full of grandiosity and what we call in Chetan Bhagat’s language, overdosed with “masala” served to the dull life of common people. Honouring with their highest award to a movie presenting the brutality suffered by Indians imposed by the British colonial rulers may make the Golden Globe jury appear as doing a golden deed and shedding their guilt of racism and discrimination but in reality it can never be the ointment to the wounds of a country beaming with talents and stories.
Indians obsessing over Oscars equalises to the west recognising works laudable of their praise only when it’s “Indian enough”. It was not the first time nominations from India made to the event, in the past we see Slumdog Millionaire that showcased poverty stricken Mumbai which is a reflection of a society that the Britishers left to breed, sweeping 8 awards in 2009. Whereas Lagaan that strongly portrayed the Britishers’ infliction on poor Indians, being nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film didn’t receive the same award. Coming to the present year, the Oscar was for the song not film and yet this categorization of jury moreover added to the fact that RRR is nothing more than a Telugu masala film whose few steps of dance attracted the western audiences.
Filmmaker Kabir Khan once said, “I think we are unnecessarily obsessed with Oscars. Let’s not forget that Oscars is an award ceremony for the US Film industry which has one category amongst the various categories called best foreign film.” Similarly the veteran actor, Manoj Kumar made a comment, “We should create an award here in our country. Hollywood actors should crave to get that. Why do we have this fascination about Oscars? We know the manipulation here. If a film is liked in our country, what else do you want?”
Thus, it’s high time we come to terms that Oscars or Grammys are mere Hollywood accolades. India can never set itself free if it continues to obsess over western validations and from time to time, someone representing India will be making himself and the country a subject of mockery at the global platform by accenting English unnecessarily!
Sania Parween is a student pursuing English Hons from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Rutba Manzoor