India’s Oscar fight: Batra offers an apology, and some advice
(This post has been updated)
Ritesh Batra, director of the “The Lunchbox,” apologized to the Film Federation of India after accusing the group of corruption because it did not pick his movie as India’s contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Academy Awards.
Batra said his intention was to participate in the “vigorous debate” that arose over the selection process for the country’s Oscars entry. His letter to the group came after the federation, which chooses India’s entry for the Academy Awards each year, demanded an “unconditional apology”.
The FFI’s choice of Gyan Correa’s Gujarati-language film “The Good Road” drew heat from the makers of “The Lunchbox”, a film with backing from prominent Indian directors and other producers. The movie screened at the Cannes, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, and was listed by several U.S. publications as an Oscar hopeful.
“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,” Batra said in his letter, which his publicist shared with journalists.
Batra, as well as co-producers and directors in their own right Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar took to Twitter, to complain about the snub. Kashyap deleted his Twitter account after several heated arguments.
“This is a moment of defeat for me, and for independent cinema, because, for once, our chances were great. We could have sent a beautiful film, one that has captivated audiences and that truly deserved to win. Instead, we have let the opportunity go,” he told Tehelka magazine.
In a letter posted to Batra on Saturday, FFI secretary Supran Sen said the federation would take up the matter with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry after Batra wrote on Facebook that the selection process was corrupt.
“The Good Road” is produced by NFDC, which is a Government of India undertaking! Are you then suggesting that the I&B ministry, i.e, the Government of India has made a successful attempt in bribing the jurors?” the letter said.
Batra’s film, about a retiring bank employee and a young, lonely housewife who exchange wistful notes through a lunchbox she sends him daily, won praise outside India, including from Bosnian Academy Award-winning director Danis Tanovic, who said on Twitter that he would gladly give up his film’s place as an entry for Best Foreign Film to “The Lunchbox”. Tanovic is one of the many producers on the film.
Kashyap and Batra also said that “The Lunchbox” had a better shot at an Oscar for India, considering the buzz around the movie, the fact that Academy members have seen it, and its backing by Sony Pictures, which bought U.S. distribution rights to the film. “The Good Road,” they said, was by comparison a little-known film that even mainstream critics in India haven’t seen, and which got a limited release even in its home state of Gujarat.