Courtroom drama, and a resignation, in India’s Oscar fight

September 23, 2015

Chaitanya Tamhane‘s “Court“, a multi-lingual film about India’s creaking judicial system, has been chosen as the country’s entry to the 2016 Oscars in the best foreign-language film category. But Wednesday’s announcement was marred by a jury member resigning minutes before the final vote and accusing committee chairman Amol Palekar of corruption.

A 16-member committee had been set up by the Film Federation of India (FFI) to pick India’s official Oscar entry, but filmmaker Rahul Rawail resigned before the jury decision was made public at a news conference in Hyderabad.

“Right from the beginning, there was a lot of manipulation being done by Mr Palekar – he would count the votes wrong and then say it was a human error,” Rawail told Reuters over phone from Hyderabad.

“I told Palekar that he was corrupt three days ago, when the deliberations began. But today was the last straw,” said Rawail, accusing Palekar of not conducting the voting process properly.

“I have great respect for ‘Court’ and we had a great jury, but I couldn’t continue under the circumstances,” he added.

Palekar, who announced the jury’s choice in Hyderabad, said the decision to choose “Court” had been unanimous.

“I have absolutely nothing to say about this,” Palekar told Reuters when asked about Rawail’s allegations.

“Court”, a film with dialogue in Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi and English, features several amateur actors and was directed on a shoestring budget. It depicts the trial of a folk singer accused of sedition.

The film won India’s national film award this year and writer-director Tamhane picked up the “Lion of the Future” award for debut films at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.

“Ever since we started making the film, we kept our expectations low,” Tamhane said on Wednesday. “Especially in this case, since these results tend to be so unpredictable, it just felt like a wise thing to not expect too much.”

Supran Sen, secretary of the Film Federation of India, confirmed Rawail’s resignation. Sen said Rawail was unhappy about the jury having to watch the film again to ensure the film met Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences regulations on foreign film nominees having primarily non-English dialogue.

An Indian film has never won the best foreign film Oscar, but “Lagaan“, “Salaam Bombay” and “Mother India” were shortlisted for the award. “Lagaan” (2001) was the last to make the cut. The jury selection process has come under scrutiny after a dry spell for Indian films at the Oscars in recent years.

In 2013, the little-known Gujarati film “The Good Road” was chosen by the FFI jury over Ritesh Batra’s critically acclaimed “The Lunchbox“, sparking outrage on social media and in Bollywood circles.

And in 2007, the director of “Dharm” alleged her film was dumped by the selectors in favour of “Eklavya: The Royal Guard” starring Amitabh Bachchan because some members of the jury were known to the film’s director and producer.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Robert MacMillan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay, Tony @TonyTharakan and Robert @bobbymacReports. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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