Actor Vicky Kaushal in Shoojit Sircar's Sardar Udham. | Photo: Twitter
Actor Vicky Kaushal in Shoojit Sircar's Sardar Udham. | Photo: Twitter
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New Delhi: At least three members of a 15-person Film Federation of India (FFI) jury to choose India’s entry for Oscars 2022 have distanced themselves from Bengali music director Indraadip Dasgupta’s controversial statement on the decision to deny Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham a shot at the Academy Award.

In a Times of India report last week, Dasgupta was quoted as saying that Sardar Udham, an Amazon Prime release based on the life of the legendary freedom fighter Sardar Udham Singh, was denied India’s official nomination slot because it portrayed our “hatred” towards the British. 

“It (Sardar Udham) is an honest effort to make a lavish film on an unsung hero of the Indian freedom struggle. But in the process, it again projects our hatred towards the British. In this era of globalisation, it is not fair to hold this hatred,” Dasgupta was quoted as saying.

Tamil film Koozhangal (Pebbles), directed by P.S. Vinothraj, has been selected as the Indian entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the 2022 Academy Awards.

Dasgupta’s comments invited severe flak on social media as the jury’s decision came into question.

Also read: Sardar Udham opens a new, rarely told chapter on the Independence struggle

Koozhangal was the best of the lot, say ‘upset’ jurors

Jurors ThePrint spoke to maintained that Dasgupta’s “personal sentiment” was not the opinion of the entire jury. 

Malayali filmmaker Shaji N. Karun, who chaired the jury, said Koozhangal was chosen unanimously simply because it was the “best of the lot”. 

“For me, personally, choosing a film nomination for the Oscars is like strategising to win an Olympic match. The jury agreed that this film had great cinematic content, and has the strength, capability and contestability to win at the Oscars. This is not a National Award nomination. We have to pick a film that will stand out among nominations coming from 92 countries,” Karun said.

“How many Indian films have won an Oscar? Zero. There’s a reason behind that. One has to strategise and pick a film we think will match the sensibilities of the jury at the Academy awards,” he added. 

Only three Indian films — Mother India (Hindi, 1957), Salaam Bombay! (Hindi 1988) and Lagaan (Hindi, 2001) — have made it to the final nominations at the Oscars in the over nine-decade history of the prestigious awards ceremony held annually in the US. None could win the trophy.

Bengali actor Ananya Chatterjee, who was also a part of the jury, said she didn’t quite understand why Dasgupta would make such a statement. 

“Maybe it’s a personal statement. But while I can’t delve into discussions within the jury, I can say this is not the opinion of all of us. Fact is, there were better movies than Sardar Udham, and we in the jury chose a film which was cinematically sound and almost poetic,” she said.

Another jury member, film director Navaniat Singh expressed unhappiness with Dasgupta’s comment too.

“I am upset about the (Dasgupta’s) quote. The jury’s decision has been misinterpreted, but I won’t like to comment any further,” he told ThePrint. 

The Oscar bid

Koozhangal was chosen by the jurors out of a total of 14 submitted films. The Tamil film is the story of a young boy, who follows his alcoholic father in search of his mother who has run away due to domestic abuse.

Other films in consideration were Laila Aur Saat Geet (Gojri), Sherni (Hindi), Chello Show (Gujarati), Nayattu (Malayalam), Bridge (Assamese), Shershah (Hindi), Kaagaz (Hindi), Atta Vel Zaali (Marathi), Toofan (Hindi), Godavari (Marathi) and Karkhanisanchi Waari (Marathi). 

Koozhangal has already performed well internationally — it won the Tiger Award at the prestigious International Film Festival, Rotterdam earlier this year. That made its case stronger. 

“See, people who are upset at the nomination, I want to ask them one thing: Have you watched the film? I am sure they haven’t yet they’re making a big brouhaha,” said Karun.

“Look at the earlier films from India that have earned a nomination — Salaam Bombay! and Lagaan. Both had a strong Indian and humanitarian ethos. Koozhangal does too. It’s a strong contender. Plus it portrays womanhood beautifully too,” he added.

Dasgupta, meanwhile, refused to comment. “The Film Federation has strictly asked us to not talk to the media so I won’t be commenting,” he told ThePrint.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Vicky Kaushal on Udham Singh biopic: ‘Main challenge was to internalise his state of mind’


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