Academy Awards: How many Oscars are expected from Indian documentary films?

Arvind Das
Over the years, documentary films made in India have made a lot of headlines outside the country. He has also been honored with prestigious awards. However, there is no special enthusiasm about them in the country. In fact feature films are so dominant that even critics don’t talk about documentaries. The problem is that most documentaries are confined to film festivals. Their performance is also not like feature films.

The song ‘Naatu Naatu’ from SS Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ has been shortlisted for the Oscars to be held in March in the ‘Music (Original Song)’ category. Also two documentary films from India ‘All That Breathes’ and ‘The Elephant Whispers’ are also shortlisted (nominated) in the final five. Last year, filmmaker Shaunak Sen’s documentary All That Breathes won the Golden Eye Award for Best Documentary at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival. Payal Kapadia’s ‘A Night of Knowing Nothing’ has also won the Best Documentary Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021.

oscar award

HBO aired ‘All That Breathes’ last week. It is expected to be shown in India on the online platform next month. ‘The Elephant Whispers’ is available on Netflix. It seems that after famous filmmakers like Anand Patwardhan, Amar Kanwar, Sanjay Kak, Kamal Swaroop, the time has come for young filmmakers in the world of documentary films, whose threat is being heard clearly. The documentary ‘All That Breathes’ revolves around two brothers Saud, Nadeem and their colleague Salik, who take care of injured birds in Delhi for twenty years. Along with this, the problem of pollution in Delhi is also included in this. This documentary is like waiting for a ‘bright day’ in the gloomy Delhi sky.

While feature films focus on entertainment, documentaries focus on elaborating on a topic and educating the audience. A skilled filmmaker does not differentiate between the genres of feature films and documentaries. In a conversation, noted filmmaker Kamal Swaroop had said, ‘I make feature films in the style of documentaries and documentaries in the style of feature films.’ The way images and sound are used in ‘All That Breathes’ takes it closer to a feature film. In this documentary of one hour and thirty-six minutes, the sense of ‘fraternity’ between human beings and the living beings around it touches the hearts of the viewers.

The echoes of the Citizenship Act (CAA) are heard in the background of this documentary, under which there is a provision to give Indian citizenship to people from Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi and Christian communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. While the ruling party says that this law will not take away the citizenship of any Indian, those opposing the law say that this provision of religion-based citizenship is discriminatory and against the basic spirit of the Constitution. In this documentary, on the one hand, the voice of ‘peace and non-violence, the fight to save the constitution’ is heard, on the other hand, the politics of discrimination in the name of religion is also debated.

An elephant is at the center of The Elephant Whispers by Kartiki Gonsalves. The relationship between man and animal is shown here with sensitivity. Hathi (Raghu) is also a prominent character in this forty minute documentary. There is no doubt that the question of environment has become a major part of the discourse in the media of the 21st century. Barring exceptions, the environment is not portrayed as a theme in feature films, but the question of water, forest and land has been present in documentary films. Filmmakers like Shaunak Sen and Kartiki Gonsalves are carrying forward this tradition. Oscar is also expected from them!

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own.

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