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.”
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 Classics’ Tom 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.”
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