Archita Kashyap - 41 weeks ago
Popular stars, great actors and Zoya Akhtar apart, it’s contemporary storyline set in slums might stand a good chance of making it to top 5.
(Siddhant Chaturvedi and Ranveer Singh in a still from Gully Boy)
When it comes to the Best Foreign Language Film, India has had a poor show for it’s sizeable film industry. Regional films, indies and Hindi film have mostly met wit the same fate, rarely making it to a short list of 13.
Gully Boy follows Village Rockstars, the ultimate inspiring indie that Assamese filmmaker Rima Das produced, directed, shot and edited with a crew of cousins and village kids. A beautiful, surreally touching story that had none of the frills attached to the perception of popular Indian cinema, it got a warm welcome at forums and pre-Oscar events featuring American and Hollywood film intelligentsia. But it didn’t win or make it to the top 5.
Village Rockstars, despite being authentic and original like few films can claim to be, didn’t have clout, spending capacity and brouhaha that a powerful international film studio, or recognized international filmmakers command. More often than not, Hindi films face this challenge. Like Aamir Khan had stated after he put his might and money behind the Oscar run for Lagaan, it’s too much work and costs a lot.
(Bhanita Das in a still from Village Rockstars)
India has also sent a mixed bag of films over the years for the Academy to view and assess. In turn, the Academy has expanded its numbers to bring in recognized film folk from across the world, including technicians and stars from Hindi cinema. The aim is to enhance diversity. It doesn’t necessarily reflect on the short list or the top 5 competitors for a foreign language win. At times, India has chosen to send Barfi, heartwarming but heavily influenced by Amelie and Chaplin’s films. Quality regional cinema has also been sent without making much impact.
The difference that Gully Boy can make is its unusual mix of starry clout, glamour and a relevant, inherently Indian story. Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar have lived and adapted existences in Mumbai’s sprawling slums with such detail and ingenuity that believing in the dreams of it’s protagonist comes naturally to the viewer. Women in the film are empowered or seek to be. The men are caught in different traps that poverty brings. And Ranveer Singh towers over a brilliant cast of characters played by actors that have delivered their utmost in creating them. The story of Gully Boy follows the classic underdog trope; but it does so by incorporating dreams of a large section of India’s population. Everyone seeks a better life, no matter what their circumstances. In capturing this essence, Gully Boy becomes universal.
A second point in it’s favour is it’s setting in slums- call the author’s point of view cynical, but these overcrowded, difficult living spaces fascinate Western tourists, movie goers and social commentators. That life thrives in such closeted spaces where filth co-exists with families has always drawn attention in the West. Choosing Gully Boy might be a strategic move on the part of a committee that could be counting on the appeal of these claustrophobic gullies.
Zoya Akhtar makes for great copy as does her co-writer Reema Kagti. Combined with a cast of stars and actors, they are ideal PR draws for the media. So far, Gully Boy has gotten positive responses at Sundance, Berlin and a couple of other film festivals. Of course, the lingering influence of Eminem starrer Eight Mile won’t be ignored. Most Academy members will definitely make that connection. But with it’s potent storyline of the current Indian youth aspiration, Gully Boy will have a relatively easy time building interest amongst those who matter. The rest of course, will depend on who its competitors are. Worldwide, films beyond Hollywood have steadily raised the bar and streaming giants Netflix and Prime Video are dead set on notching up Oscar wins. Still one nurses the faint hope in one’s heart, ‘Apna Time Aayega’.
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