Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu is out of the Oscar race, but it was always a long shot

Posted on February 10, 2021


The only way to hope for a shot at the Academy Awards is to make India matter in the eyes of Uncle Oscar as a “country that makes good movies”.

As always, there was this dim hope that we’d make it to the shortlist, at least. After all, we’d picked a really deserving film, one that — narratively speaking — leapt out of the box like a rampaging bull. Plus, the Oscar voting committee has become far more ethnically diverse. But I think we all knew, in our hearts, that this was all it would be: a dim hope. If Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu had indeed ended up in that list, it would have been more of a fluke. This has nothing to do with the merits of this marvellously directed movie. It also has little to do with the admittedly important fact that — after a film is submitted for the Best International Film Oscar — we do not (or perhaps cannot, financially speaking) campaign hard enough. It has, I think, more to do with the perception of India as a “country that makes good movies”.

All ‘good filmmakers’ are not equal

Everyone knows that — like in every awards set-up — it is just not possible to read every book submitted (in the case of, say, the Man Booker) or listen to every album put out (the Grammys). Most voters, therefore, are likely to go for “names”. There was a period in the nineties when almost every year a Pedro Almodóvar film would make it to the shortlist. Of course, this has a little to do with the merits of this marvellous director (and god knows I worship his work). But it’s also that he had been canonised by the time: by festivals, by international critics, and most importantly, the American paying public who routinely made Almodóvar films among the highest-grossing at the box office. So, as an Oscar voter, when you have a hundred films you need to watch and don’t have two hundred hours, an Almodóvar becomes a safe bet. “I haven’t yet watched it, but it’s an Almodóvar. It has to be good, right?”

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