Tracing The History Of Homegrown Artists Who've Represented India At The Oscars

Tracing The History Of Homegrown Artists Who've Represented India At The Oscars

Oscar season is here and there's a lot of excitement around with some of the international favourites like Everything Everywhere All At Once and Triangle Of Sadness making it to the nominations. Here at home, we have three projects that have been nominated and the internet has been buzzing about Deepika Padukone presenting at the Academy Awards this year. With only a few days left for what is probably the biggest celebration of international film culture, let's take a look at a brief history of Indian artists at the the Oscars.

In 1980, Persis Khambatta became the first Indian to be chosen for presenting an award. Born in Mumbai to a Parsi family, Khambatta was an actor and model best remembered for playing Lieutenant Ilia in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. She went upstage to hand out the Best Feature-Length Documentary Film award. More recently, it was Priyanka Chopra, who in 2016, presented the nominees for Achievement in Film Editing. She was accompanied onstage by American actor and director Liev Schreiber.

Persis Khambatta, Priyanka Chopra
Persis Khambatta, Priyanka ChopraFandom, Vogue

Over the years many Indian films made it to the Oscar nominations like Mother India, Salaam Bombay, Lagaan and Writing With Fire but we never really managed to win one for a feature film. Instead, the first Indian to get an Oscar was Bhanu Athaiya for costume design. A decade later, a lifetime achievement award honoured Satyajit Ray's work and more recently Slumdog Millionaire bagged 4 awards in one scoop; Resul Pookutty for Best Sound Mixing, A.R. Rehman for original score and the track 'Jai Ho' and Gulzar for Best Original Song for the same track.

This year, 'Naatu Naatu' from RRR is nominated for Best Original Song along with Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes and Kartiki Gonsalves’s The Elephant Whisperers, for the best documentary and best documentary short awards respectively. Both of these documentaries focus on wildlife conservation; the only films in their respective Oscars award categories to do so.

All That Breathes, The Elephant Whisperers
All That Breathes, The Elephant WhisperersIMDb

It's true that Hollywood is a massive industry that stretches the height of excellence every year maintaining a dominance on the film world. But it has also been known to undermine the work of other countries. We can already trace the pattern in the kind of films and stories from India that get the attention of the Academy. It's always the ones where our country and culture is glorified with an external gaze in all its 'desi-ness'. It's either that or wildlife which is true for this year. While culturally informed representation is necessary, it can and has been done so without enforcing cultural boundaries; through humanity. The human interest stories and the art of filmmaking in Indian cinema has a tremendous potential to be appreciated on a global scale.

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