B’wood actors to filmmakers and technicians, the Academy, in its most diverse list yet, invited a record 774 film personalities to be new members.
On Wednesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a record 774 invitations to new members, which included 14 Indian film personalities, outdoing its record of 683 invitations in 2016.
Rubbing shoulders with Hollywood stars Chris Evans, Riz Ahmed, Dwayne Johnson and Kristen Stewart are Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Aamir Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Salman Khan and Irrfan Khan. Internationally acclaimed filmmakers Mrinal Sen, Goutam Ghose, Sooni Taraporevala and Buddhadeb Dasgupta, documentary filmmaker-activist Anand Patwardhan, costume designer Arjun Bhasin and sound designer Amrit Pritam Dutta have also made the cut. Also in the list are Indiaborn Mohit Kallianpur and Mahesh Ramasubramanian, who’ve done the animation and visual effects of films like Frozen and Shrek.
Patwardhan hailed the move as “surprising but much-needed”. He pointed out that for a long time the Oscars have been dominated by American and British ideologies and Hollywood has been pushing the American propaganda. “Apart from horror, the James Bond franchise and war films, powerful and progressive pieces of work need to be brought to the forefront,” he asserted, citing Michael Moore’s 2003 win, Bowling for Columbine (Best Documentary Feature) to emphasise how he used the platform to speak up about the Iraq war and rebel against the media. “Since there is a fairly closed system of naval-gazing at the Oscars, more people from different countries will fuel the rebel culture and that’s a healthy sign.”
However, his enthusiasm is tinged with scepticism as he wonders if all 14 Indians will actually be flown to Los Angeles for the ceremony or will it be only the stars. “How are they going to fit all 774 people?” he ruminates but says he’ll definitely exercise his vote.
Dasgupta is not only an invitee but also a member of the jury. “It’s a huge honour and I am definitely going to make my presence felt. I don’t care about categories, I plan on enjoying all kinds of good cinema,” he exults, insisting the number of Indian invitees will have no bearing on India’s performance at the awards.
In the last 80 years, only three Indian films – Mother India, Salaam Bombay and Lagaan– have made it to the last five in the Foreign Language category, with Mother India losing to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria by a single vote. “It is difficult to lobby for an Oscar at a ceremony dominated by English-speaking content. A country like India should be allowed a minimum of four-five entries and Indian federations need to write to the Academy on this,” suggests Ghose, speaking from Satara where he is scouting locations for his next film. The National Award winning filmmaker learnt of his invitation through the media.
Taraporevela who wrote the screenplays of Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala, Salaam Bombay and The Namesake before making her own film Little Zizou, has been a member of the Writers Guild of America since 1988. She woke up to an email congratulating her and woke up her husband with a delighted scream. “They used to choose actors and technicians of Oscar-nominated films before, now they have opened up the field. I’ve been a working screenwriter for nearly 30 years and in my mind, this is a prize for staying the course and not giving up,” she says.
Speaking to Mirror from New York, where he is presently filming his next Hollywood film Puzzle, Irrfan agreed that invitations to Indian actors would impact the representation of Indian film in the Foreign Language category. “But they don’t work as a boosting mechanism and will have no effect on the kind of movies we make in India. I am excited because I will now be updated on the nominated movies and as a privileged member of the Academy, I’ll get to watch them before the voting process,” he avers.
The actor whose repertoire boasts of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and Dany Boyle’s Slumdog Millionnaire, has walked the Oscar red carpet in 2009 but adds that now that he’s an official member, “his fondest memory is yet to come!”
Priyanka Chopra is presently filming in New York for her second Hollywood film, A Kid Like Jake. “I’m so grateful, such an honour! I’m excited about the Academy inviting me and all these amazing women into the fold. There’s Naomi Harris, Gal Gadot, Leslie Jones… It’s so good to see all these wonderful women on the list. And it’s good that the Academy included some guys too,” she quipped.