India Oscar Controversy: Film Body Demands Apology From 'Lunchbox' Helmer As Questions Linger Over 'Good Road' Pick

Ever since it debuted in Cannes and was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox was largely considered the favorite to be submitted by India as the Foreign Language Oscar entry. But last week, the selection committee chose Gyan Correa’s The Good Road. In the intervening days, The Lunchbox filmmakers, local and international press and other pundits have decried the choice. The committee in turn demanded an apology from Lunchbox helmer Batra for “unsavoury comments” that crossed a boundary, it said in a long letter. Batra produced his mea culpas today, but also urged a rethink of the way films are chosen. Batra wrote, “I sincerely hope that the annual reactions to our Academy selections from the national press, and this year from even the international press, prompt a new policy for the selection. Sir, please use your good offices to give us a transparent, objective process with a public and not a secret jury. It is a direct and humble request, not a criticism.”

Related: India Oscar Pic ‘The Good Road’ Confounds

The Film Federation in its letter to Batra also wrote, “You and the team have been stating time and again in various interactions in the media that once (note not ‘if’ but once!) Lunchbox is selected from India, you have been assured by Sony Classics that it will have a spectacular run in the Oscar! You in fact have even termed this selection of The Lunchbox from India as a mere technicality! Excuse me !!!! What we are very interested in knowing is how are you making such claims? How can Sony Classics assure you of any such thing? Are you suggesting that the Oscar is rigged? We are taking this matter up separately with the Academy…” Sony Pictures ClassicsTom Bernard tells me, “It’s ridiculous. The movie has been written about by Oscar pundits from Cannes until it didn’t get in. This isn’t a Sony Classics thing.”

Many watchers have questioned the wisdom of India putting forth The Good Road, a movie that was largely off the radar and which has no U.S. distributor, versus a film that would have had Sony Pictures Classics to run a campaign. Goutam Ghose, who presided over the jury that picked the Indian entry, told The Times Of India that The Lunchbox “has been appreciated at foreign festivals, has an international distributor like Sony Pictures Classics, and a good cast. That’s why it would have been easier to convince the Oscar jury. The producers of The Good Road have to work hard to catch international attention.”

Bernard, who’s had such films as Akira Kurosawa’s Ran be passed over by Japan and Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her passed over by Spain, told me today, “What India might be doing is nominating the best movie in India, but not the best in world cinema.”

Either way, the decision by the committee also pushed Lunchbox producer Anurag Kashyap to pen an editorial this week stating: “I have lost faith in everything because of the Film Federation of India’s decision to send The Good Road to the Oscars, not because it is a bad film — I’ve not seen it; it may be a good film — but because I have realised that the community of independent filmmakers in India is essentially crabs in a basket; they cannot bear to see a film or a filmmaker do well.”

  1. First BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR isn’t allowed to enter the running and now LUNCHBOX is not selected. Someone’s making some seriously misguided decisions for this year’s Oscars.

  2. So, should a film be entered into the Oscar race based only on it’s marketing potential and chances of winning, or should it be entered based on its value and worth as a film?

    So, according to jury member Goutam Ghose, “Lunchbox” “has been appreciated at foreign festivals, has an international distributor like Sony Pictures Classics, and a good cast.” Should these factors be the criteria for determining whether to enter a film into the award competition?

    Considering American studios’ choices, when buying distribution rights to foreign films, and my own experience in tracking down and viewing obscure foreign films, I suspect there are several, if not many, movies that never find U.S. and/or international distribution but that are 100x better – and far more award-worthy – than those selected for U.S. distribution.

    For example, Raul Ruiz’s “Mysteries of Lisbon” received limited release in the U.S., was distributed by Music Box Films (not a major studio subsidiary), was not an official Oscar entry and would, most likely, elicit a “never heard of it” response from most people when asked about it. Yet, it was, hands down, the best film (foreign or otherwise) released in America in 2011. It deserved many more awards than it received (though it did receive more significant awards from its own country). It should have been nominated – and should have won – Best Foreign Language Film. Hell, it should have won Best Picture, but it would never be seen by the Academy of Losers.

    I could cite other examples but, again, my point is just that people tend to view awards as honors given to movies to celebrate their success (as opposed to their worthiness in the art of filmmaking). People don’t understand why a movie is not nominated, after it made billions at the box office.

    Box office success – potential or actual – in and of itself, does not make a film worthy of honors.

    1. P.S. I want to add that I have seen neither film, so I am just guessing (and hoping) that the Film Federation (sounds like something from Star Trek) chose “The Good Road” based on its merits as a film.

    2. Just saw Lunch box. I won’t call it a boring movie but I wouldn’t consider it a a marvel or classic.It left me wondering what was there in this movie that had the most of the world praise it so much? Is it the usual intellectual type of setting, brief conversations, long silences, english and some sort of ‘it is beyond reach of average human comprehension’ kind of an image? Well, I definitely enjoyed the flow and maybe felt bored only very briefly, but considering the accolades it got, a critical analysis showed many shortcomings, some even poor (I know someone will call me a cynic). The movie rolled into next stages quite illogically and quickly and uncomfortably. A housewife whose husband is not a typical cruel guy in terms of his behaviour (its just that he has a problem of paying attention to his wife etc. to justify Ila’s inclination towards falling for a stranger to the extent that she even plans eloping, tries to meet a stranger in a coffee shop who she started chatting through letters just a few days, she doesn’t confront and confirm if her hubby has an affair (he might as well have been hugged by a old lady affectionately who might have a penchant for a perfume or he must have passed through a mall where he must have tried some perfume or whatever. Ila didn’t loom like a lady who could sniff some women’s perfume on a used shirt …this is all a different story). I mean the calendar should have at least showed some weeks passing by, or Saajan at least telling his name (did she think that some vague guy that she met on the letters had better manners and treatment that the oblivious husband?, wasn’t it too fast or illogical that such a lady decides to meet him and also plan (maybe) eloping to Bhutan? And what about one of the best six-sigma case studies in the whole world (dabbawallas) making such a mistake and every day? I know the movie makers will ask us to assume many things but why can’t they show it for a coherence like for ex: She gives an address and this guy by mistake replaces it with another etc. I can think of someone arguing that it is a scenario and it could happen. Bu then .. anyways … It got into phases too quickly, illogically to the characters, unconvincingly, inconsistently though the characters (a typical Indian housewife who is desperate to impress her hubby through food thinks of eloping with some unknown person in just a few days? She even goes to his office with her daughter? wow!) I could go on like this but that’s not my intent. It’s a movie nicely made with good performances but not an epic.

  3. CynicalCritic – I wish I could high five you for your outstanding comment. No one could not have said it better. Well played.

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