Small budget & lesser-known stories: India’s hope for Oscars 2021

Three Indian films in Academy Awards race

Cinema

March 11, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Small budget & lesser-known stories: India’s hope for Oscars 2021

Three Indian films are still under consideration for the awards in various categories at Oscars 2021

Soorarai Pottru, Kalira Atita and Bittu, are the three Indian films that continue to be in the race for the 93rd Academy Awards. Except for Soorarai Pottru, the remaining two are very low-budget, true story based films. The three films carry a nation’s expectations of a long-awaited win at the biggest cinema competition.

After being delayed for months because of the ongoing pandemic, the Oscar nominations will finally be announced on Monday at the crack of dawn in Los Angeles.

Actor-producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas and singer, songwriter and actor Nick Jonas will announce the 93rd Oscars nominations in all 23 Academy Award categories in a two-part live presentation on March 15.

Ahead of Oscars 2021 nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled a list of 366 films that are eligible for Best Picture nominations. However, only three Indian films are still under consideration for the awards in various categories.

Tamil film Soorarai Pottru and Odia film Kalira Atita are still in the race for Best Picture nomination and Hindi short film Bittu has been shortlisted in the Top 10 Best Live-Action Short Film category.

Soorarai Pottru: Rags to riches tale

Maara and Bommi’s relationship is one of the film’s major strengths

Sudha Kongara Prasad directorial Soorarai Pottru has been submitted for the general categories, like Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score, among a few others. “Though it is a long shot, Soorarai Pottru offers a glimmer of hope for Tamil cinema,” says director Prasad.

Based on Captain GR Gopinath’s book Simply Fly: A Deccan Odyssey (2011), the Suriya starrer film revolves around Nedumaaran Rajangam or Maara (Suriya), the son of a school teacher (Poo Ramu) in a Madurai village, who decides to start a low-cost airline that can be aspirational for even the less privileged.

Soorarai Pottru is a Suriya show all the way. The actor digs in with his customary tenacity, making audiences feel Maara’s every delight and despair. Be it the dramatic scene where he begs for money from passengers in an airport to visit his ailing dad or the subtle hints of hesitation that he conveys over asking for a loan from his wife, Bommi (Aparna Balamurali), the actor shows that why he is considered one of the best of his generation.

Maara and Bommi’s relationship is one of the film’s major strengths. Bommi’s dream of running a bakery might seem small compared to Maara’s at first glance, but director Prasad keeps underlining the fact that she is also breaking the glass ceiling in her own way. Right from her introduction scene, when an older man tells her that it is only sons who provide for their parents, Bommi keeps questioning the patriarchy around her.

When a relative asks her the reason for her saying ‘No’ to Maara, she asks if he had ever posed the same question to the 20 men who had rejected her as a bride. And when her family is concerned that Maara might not be able to look after her, she asks if it is always the man who is supposed to care for his wife.

Beneath the inspiring rags-to-riches tale, Soorarai Pottru is also a solid commentary on caste. When the less privileged Maara questions his pacifist father about what good his worship rituals have done, it also becomes a discussion on Manu Smriti (ancient Hindu text that defines the caste system).

Bittu: Deepening friendship amid disaster

Bittu is a heart-wrenching story inspired by the 2013 school poisoning in Bihar

Karishma Dev Dube made Bittu as her thesis film for New York University’s graduate film programme, and now, it is on the shortlist for Oscar consideration.

The film is presented by Balaji Telefilmsowner Ekta Kapoor, founder of Sikhya Entertainment, Guneet Monga, and writer-director Tahira Kashyap Khurrana under their banner Indian Women Rising (IWR), a cinema collective aimed at discovering and encouraging Indian female talent, launched in January 2021.

Based on a true story, Bittu is a heart-wrenching story inspired by the 2013 school poisoning in Bihar that reported over 30 children’s death, through the eyes of a fierce little girl named Bittu. The film is set in rural Bihar and revolves around the story of two little girls and their friendship.

Though inspired by the poisoning accident, the film focuses on a child’s psychology rather than the incident. Director Dubey explained the same in a recent interview saying “film is less about why and how the poisoning happened; instead, it explores a child’s experience suddenly and senselessly thrown into such peril”.

Another important and probably the biggest surprise in Bittu is that it does not feature any known names. The director opted for street casting. She went to local communities and government schools in the rural area and organised theatre workshops and selected kids for her film.

Kalira Atita: Exploring the emotional cost of climate change

Kalira Atita premiered at IFFI panorama (2021)

In 2006, on the front page of a national daily newspaper, director Nila Madhab Panda saw a frightening picture of a lone hand pump sticking out of the sea.

It was surprising as a hand pump is generally located in the middle of a village that is used to pump groundwater. The exploration of this story eventually led to the making of Kalira Atita.

“This film was rather a sense of my own emotional trauma of seeing village after village become victim of the ferocious sea. I wondered what those people who lost their lives, families and livelihood went through which is why I call the film ‘Kalira Atita’ which means yesterday’s past,” Panda says.

The film, which premiered at IFFI panorama (2021), believes that yesterday’s past is the future of the country. The film is about the disappearing villages of India’s eastern coastline in Odisha because of climate change and rising sea levels.

Except for the lead, who is a trained actor, most other characters in the film are the villagers who had been shifted to a new place and arrived energetically to tell a story about what they had experienced and survived. This film has been shot on real locations without makeup, sets or even lights.

The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021. Like every year, it will be carried out in-person at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre, unlike major award shows such as Emmys and Golden Globes that were held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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