In addition to being a cause for celebration for cinema across the world, the success of the Korean film Parasite at this year's Oscars is also seen as a watershed moment for filmmakers that do not make films in English.
Filmmaker Bong Joon Ho walked away with most of the Oscar top honours including Best Picture and Best Director. The way Parasite dominated the festival circuit, and most of the awards, seems to fill Indian cine-goers with a new kind of confidence. Watching a beaming Bong has convinced audiences in India that in the future, irrespective of how distant or close, non-English language cinema (read Indian) could strike gold.
Inspired by our films?
The average Indian cinema follower has been waiting for such validation for a few decades. People in India were pleasantly surprised to note how the plot of Parasite, which reveals a deep class disparity, appeared eerily close to a two-decade-old Tamil film called Minsara Kanna (1999).
In Parasite, a family of four fools a much richer family into hiring them to reap economic benefits. In the KS Ravikumar directed Minsara Kanna, a wealthy young man (Vijay) pretends to hail from a modest background to get employed by a rich family to win the love of the girl (Monica Castelino).
It's interesting that while movie buffs are quick to label Minsara Kanna as the possible "inspiration" behind Parasite, everyone seems to have forgotten how the former might have taken a leaf out of David Dhawan's Hero No. 1 (1997) and Bharat Rangachary's Baat Ban Jaye (1986). In Baat Ban Jaye, Nisha (Zeenat Aman), a wealthy businesswoman, wants to marry a poor and honest man that forces her uncle (Utpal Dutt) to do all sorts of unimaginable things to find a gareeb match. Scratch a little more, and you'd discover how Rangachary could have found inspiration in J Lee Thompson's 1964 black comedy What a Way to Go!
It's not about which film came before or how some events in one corner of the world inspired a movie in an all together different country. As far as the critics, and even film fans, go, Bong's film transforms into an excellent treatise on the rampant class divide in the age of capitalism while the Hindi or Tamil (read Indian) film with the standard song-dance tropes is brushed off as nothing more than typical fare.
At some level, fans are not wrong in believing that while cinema in one language gets lauded as great, the other is not. However, this is not the only thing that has kept Indian films from getting the same global recognition, and even laurels as Korean or other language films.
The Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences has, at regular intervals, thrown up the kind of surprise that the world saw with Parasite to suggest that it's ready for a change. Instances such as Roberto Benigni winning the Oscar for the Best Actor in the Italian film La vita è bella or Life is Beautiful (1997) or Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) winning Best Original Score (Tan Dun), Best Cinematography (Peter Pau) and Best Art Direction (Timmy Yip) in addition to the Best Foreign Film come to mind when one thinks of how the Oscars shifted gears.
In some way, the Academy honouring Crouching Tiger with, for the want of a better term, mainstream awards, or looking at Parasite beyond the label of Best Foreign Film is Hollywood's way of recognising Ang Lee, one of the most accomplished filmmakers to have not won an Academy Award, not up until 2000 at least, and the South Korean film industry that has consistently made great films for years, respectively. Back at the turn of the century when it celebrated Crouching Tiger Hollywood was also sending out a message to the Chinese film industry that it was ready to do business.
In the years to come, China went on to become such a big and critical market for Hollywood that it merrily self-censored films to release in the Chinese mainland lest it antagonised the country's strict lawmakers.
Can a desi movie win?
For years now, Hollywood has been aching to 'honour' Indian films, primarily Hindi, due to its vast market. It's always on the lookout for the ideal breakthrough film, something that would go beyond the song and dance tamasha, but India continues to fail.
It even merrily acknowledged Slumdog Millionaire (2008), a film that was as typical as it got while waiting for the world's biggest film industry to dish out something that would be local and organic but at the same time, would also resonate with a global audience. But the way Bollywood treats international film awards and the global film festival circuit, there is no need to hold one's breath.
One of the primary reasons for such an attitude is to do with the fact that for the trade, the cost of publicity and lobbying far exceeds the monetary returns, and therefore, it's not a sound investment. Glory, you say?
Well, as far as the glory goes, what could top the fact that despite being the world's biggest film industry it continues to be ignored by all major film awards festivals of the world?
(Courtesy of Mail Today)