Bhavna Talwar fumes as 'Eklavya' goes to the Oscars

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By Subhash K. Jha

Mumbai, Sep 26 (IANS) Director Bhavna Talwar, whose "Dharam" was a strong contender to be India's entry to the Oscars this year, is angry and upset at "Eklavya" being chosen instead.

"The chairperson of the Oscars jury, Vinod Pande, called up my producer yesterday to say 'Dharam' was the film that deserved to go. He kept saying he was sorry and that he called for an open ballot among the jury. Isn't that against the rules? The rules call for a secret ballot. Why was that rule flouted? And as the chairperson of the jury isn't it Mr. Pande's duty to stand up for a film that he believes in?" Talwar asked."It's all about personal agendas. Strings are being pulled all the time. And if Mr. Sudhir Mishra thinks the film is technically sound then please have the balls to enter 'Eklavya' in the technical sections in the Oscars," Talwar fumed.

"I won't let this go. In recent times every year the wrong film has gone. The Film Federation of India is embarrassing not just the film industry but also the whole country. Yes, 'Lagaan' and 'Shwaas' deserved to go. Other than these films, we've been sending the wrong films to the Oscars," she said.

"I've seen Eklavya. I was bored. I couldn't connect with any of the characters. What was that whole ending about? What's the film saying? My 'Dharam' has a much larger statement to make. At the Venice film festival I was with Danny Houston and Michelle Yeoh. They loved 'Dharam'. We went to the Palm Springs festival, which is the precursor to the Oscars. Which significant festival has Eklavya gone to?

"A film may not be a matter of life and death. But come on, if we send films like 'Eklavya' they're going to say we don't know how to make films. Apart from big budgets and big stars what does 'Eklavya' have?" Talwar questioned.

Jury-member Sudhir Mishra would rather not have Bhavna Talwar or any other filmmaker question the jury's decision on which film goes to the Oscars.

Mishra said: "I can tell you in no uncertain terms that there was no politicisation this time. I feel 'Eklavya' stands a good chance of making it to the top five nominations for the Oscar for the best foreign-language film. And I say this in all honesty. Technically, Eklavya is an impeccable film. And it's a very Indian work.

"Mani Ratnam's 'Nayakan' was a good film. But I don't think it could be sent to the Oscars because it was influenced by 'The Godfather', which is their film. Originality counts. So does technical excellence. Also, 'Eklavya' is a short film, under two hours. Foreign reviews have been very generous to 'Eklavya'. There are lots of meritorious elements in this work. So I think it's unfair to question the selection."

When asked if he approved of the choice at a personal level, Mishra dodged the question by saying: "There was an overall approval of 'Eklavya' being selected, and I went ahead with the choice. A jury always works through consensus."

As for the two other strong contenders namely Talwar's 'Dharam' and Shimit Amin's 'Chak De India', Sudhir agreed Amin's film was a good attempt.

"It's a very Indian film. But sports films of this nature are not very unusual in America. As for Bhavna's film, that too was a strong contender. It's a pity that in a country with such diverse culture, cinema and languages we are allowed to send only one film to the Oscars," Mishra said.

Reverting to the issue of the jury's wisdom, Sudhir said: "At the national awards two years ago, everyone questioned our decision when we selected Saif Ali Khan as best actor. Everyone said he was no actor. He won in a year when the usual award winners like Mamoothy, Naseer and Mohanlal were not competing.

"But Saif was pitched against Shah Rukh who was also very good in 'Swades'. By giving Saif the award the jury liberated the national awards from the idea of a particular kind of cinema and performance monopolising the awards. After the national award Saif was suddenly acknowledged as a brilliant actor.

"My point is, there was no politicisation of the awards then, there's no politicisation in the selection of 'Eklavya' for the Oscars. That way I'm really proud of the industry. It has never tried to pressurise or persuade me for any jury decision."