(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
I never understand why publishers put book blurbs on the first few pages of a book. I get the blurbs on the back; you know a book isn’t worth reading if it hasn’t even been blurbed by Gary Shteyngart. But why put them on the inside? I’ve already bought the book! You won me over! Stop trying to tell me how good the book is; just let me start reading it! And why should I care about what the ‘Denver Post’ said about the book? I don’t even like Denver! It’s like going into a restaurant, ordering your meal and then being told by the waiter how good the food in the restaurant is until your order is served. The chicken you’re about to eat was called ‘Superb!’ by the San Francisco Chronicle. The ‘Denver Post’ gave it three stars! And the Times of India was kind enough to state ‘come for the waitresses, stay for the chicken!’ What’s with all the insecurity, bro?
The same sort of insecurity that rears its ugly head every year around the time when we first hear about India’s entry to the Oscars for the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category. If only we'd nominated a better movie; we might even have won this year!
Here is how the nominating process works: If the producers of a movie released in the past year – and which stayed in the theatres for at least seven consecutive days – want it to be considered for ‘Best Foreign Film’ at the Oscars, they have to fill a form, pay a service charge and send a copy of their movie – with subtitles in English – to the Film Federation of India (FFI) by the middle of September. In the last fortnight of the same month, a secret cabal of alleged ‘bollywood insiders’ chosen by the FFI meets at an undisclosed location and takes a look at all the movies that people have bothered to submit. They choose the least crappy movie and ship a copy of it to the Academy as India’s official entry. Then the Academy takes the movie and screens it for a secret cabal of Academy members who choose which movie to nominate.
Each nominated movie follows such a long and tedious process. And the process is easily influenced by marketing, bias, corruption, prejudice, bullying and the favour economy. It’s really a stretch to presume that the ‘best’ movie gets nominated each year. And yet there is always lots of ‘controversy’ and hand-wringing whenever the nomination period rolls around. Another self-inflicted wound on our national insecurities! Remember when we lost our national marbles over Slumdog Millionare, a movie that flopped miserably when it was released in the country but became a national obsession when it was nominated for a couple of Oscars. We are so desperate for validation that we pretended that a badly made British clone of a 1980’s Hindi movie was the greatest thing to happen to Indian cinema since Alam Ara.
Granted, award shows in our country are a farce and people generally get awards just for showing up and the Oscars are a much lesser sham than our shitty award shows, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not some infallible earthly representative of the movie gods. Why get so hot & bothered about a random group of people giving awards to a random list of movies? An award show will always share the sensibilities of the people organizing it.
Not that we make a lot of movies which can compete with the best in the world! It’s a wonder people in the rest of the world don’t like movies which tackle serious issues with the sensitivity of a starving otter who just spotted a school of fish. Hey Italy, you might be able to make a critically acclaimed, universally praised, inspiring movie about a group of blind orphans who went on to become Europe’s most popular dance troupe, but can you make the ‘leading men’ in your movies act like neanderthals with an I.Q. of a human toddler and the libido of an orangutan in heat? I don’t think so!
Next time we have a national freakout over sending the ‘wrong’ movie for a nomination, let us remember that we’re fretting about not winning an award from the same Academy who thought ‘The King’s Speech’ was the best movie of 2010.
A movie about a guy giving a good speech.
You know who else liked to give good speeches?