And the Oscar didn’t go to… Water


But regardless, the nomination has been significant.   And to judge by the increasing amount of coverage that Deepa Mehta’s Water has gotten on Indian television in the past few weeks, and the mention of it by Karan Johar and Anupama Chopra when interviewing them both in the past six days, it’s clear that this Canadian entry for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards has gotten a second wind with making it to this illustrious shortlist of five.  

Water releases (finally) in India on March 9th.

23 thoughts on “And the Oscar didn’t go to… Water

  1. Hi Fimiholic,

    Found your website thru BW?

    I think Water was not a good movie, and the German movie “The Lives of Others” fully deserved the Oscar. It is miles ahead of Water in all aspects of film-making.


  2. Hey SP, it IS coming to India, this month, on the 23rd, only two weeks away!

    I’ve been to two screenings and, aside from the visual beauty of the film, I found the acting to be damn solid and the whole film very moving. I guess, in part, that’s because my parents came to the U.S. also, and so many of the experiences of the Ganguli family are so familiar.

    Given our discussion of Water, I’ll definitely be curious to hear how you find The Namesake.

  3. Yup, I’m in India.

    I’m not a fan of Mira Nair movies, but I like all the actors in the movie, so I just might check it out, if it ever shows in India, which is doubtful, this again being a movie “about” Indians more than “for” them :).

  4. Hey SP,

    Yes, I realize my reasoning in my earlier comments was a bit all over the place.

    And it’s probably easier to have a discussion like this verbally (well, at least if you tend to be as chatty as me!), otherwise carpal tunnel syndrome ensues!

    I just got home from an event related to The Namesake at which Irfan Khan and Tabu were present…. are you planning to see it when it comes out? (You’re in India, yeah?)

  5. And thanks for your perspective as well.

    BTW, comparing Oprah who’s being philanthropic (or however that’s spelled) with someone who made a movie showcasing India’s problems to the world is not valid, imho.

  6. SP, sorry I confised you with someone else. Welcome. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your feelings on RDB versus Water.

    One last comment I’d throw in here is to say, and I sure as heck can’t speak for all Americans, especially since, as a New Yorker, I sometimes feel like we’re our own little country, but here’s a thought: just as with RDB, and the sentiments that it stirred in so any young people in India (and whether or not you want to draw parallels between it and their increase in activism about cases like Jessica Lal’s), I believe that part of this interest of people in watching movies (and TV) that shows someone struggle and overcome difficult or worse circumstances, is due to 2 things.

    First, the success of the underdog in beating the odds. I think the average person in the US (or anywhere!) enjoys these stories because they give us hope that, heaven forbid, if I were in those circumstances, I might be able to survive and triumph too. I doubt that there are many people sitting smugly in their theater seats, or sofas at home, thinking “Phew, thank God I don’t live there! Those people look awful!”, though yes, and here’s the risk for the filmmaker, I’m sure there is something at a conscious or subconscious level, where those images of, say, grubby street urchins and the like will leave people with some “Ewww” factor. But there I would argue, some folks are small-minded and parochial, and that has existed in them before ever catching a glipse of India on film in the news or on film. But I can also understand people in India saying “Oh come on, not with the poverty and religion again! There’s more to the country than that!”

    Second, I think people here have a tradition of believing in the ability of the individual (often through the power of the media) to affect change and seek justice. Full disclosure, I confess to being one of those glass-half-full kinda people who does firmly believe that…

    More than films, the prime example which comes to mind is Oprah Winfrey and her daily TV show. So many of the stories she’s done are about people in the US who have suffered or endured awful circumstances, and she steps in to usually give that person some sort of financial reward (a home for a woman with 8 kids, some who are nephews & neices she kept out of foster care), or in other cases, like her recent campaign against child sexual predators, she uses her TV exposure to publicize the photos of men wanted by police around the USA, and has led to 5 or 6 being caught, and for that she also rewards the person who makes the call to the FBI.

    Given her recent efforts in the last five years in South Africa to set up a secondary school for impoverished girls, I wonder if there is a parallel universe in the blogosphere where South Africans are saying “Who’s this interloper to come here and make us look bad”…….

    Thanks, SP, for your thoughts. It’s definitely got me thinking about past films I’ve seen, and future ones that I’ll watch.

  7. >From what I hear everywhere, DM’s next film will be about Canadians
    >turning away a ship of Indian immigrants from its shores. Wonder how that
    >will be, with AB in the cast too….

    Sounds like more Indians being miserable, heh. I’m sure it’ll do well..

  8. If you consider the list of movies that win acclaim there, it becomes obvious what Americans enjoy. It might not be just Indians being miserable, but misery being fascinating to Americans, reinforcing their esteem about being so much better off or something. Dunno.

    If RDB had made the final cut, I would be very happy. Whether it says negative things or not, it provides a self-reflective view from within, not an accusatory finger from abroad, especially by an ex-Indian who abandoned us and our problems.

    And to get this out of the way, I’m not SP from the Mutiny :). SP are my initials. I should probably pick a different nick.

  9. Hey SP, I often love your comments on SM!

    I guess, in this, we agree to disagree.

    It was not a perfect movie, but I still think the notoriety, had it gotten the award would have been good (as I said earlier, if it got more people to see Seema Biswas’ work, or if some girls, or guys, thought “Oooh, who’s this hunk? I must see what else he’s done.” and fell in love with mainstream Hindi cinema).

    With regard to the notion of Americans enjoying seeing miserable Indians onscreen, I don’t know….. It’s a hard charge to prove, isn’t it? I mean, we can make that assumption, but on what evidence can we base it?

    I’m curious, though. Tell me, if RDB had made the final cut, would it bother you that this film says negative things about India, with regard to corruption? I don’t ask that question with any hidden agenda, or thinking there’s a right or wrong answer, I’m genuinely curious what your take would be. (I enjoyed RDB too, more than Water, though I would also add I thought it had flaws as well.)

    From what I hear everywhere, DM’s next film will be about Canadians turning away a ship of Indian immigrants from its shores. Wonder how that will be, with AB in the cast too….

  10. That cliched Canadian movie about exotic, backwards India? I’m glad that didn’t win. Stories about oppressed people in the 3rd world serving only to make Canadians and Americans feel better about themselves are just SO old, it’s time for some action against these peddlers of despair. The fundamentalists were right, after all that DM was out to profit in fame and fortune out of India’s problems after running away from them herself via a Green-Card marriage. Yawn.

    filmiholic, I’m disappointed you are giving this p.o.s. space on your blog.

  11. TBS, good to hear from you again!

    When the rubber hits the road, I will confess that for me, I will never enjoy any of the trilogy the way I do “Monsoon Wedding.” In part, because I’m just a happy endings kinda’ gal, and all three of the Mehta trilogy have so much that is heartbreaking in them (think of Nandita Das being driven away by Aamir Khan, screaming back for them to get the Masseur, when the poor thing doesn’t realize he’s lying dead in a gunny sack against a lamppost).

    I agree with you on the Oscars. Totally.

    Yes, true, I agree there is this legacy of an excess of American TV and movies everywhere. But on the other hand, what John Doe in Florida may miss on his TV or movie screen, I think increasingly, given the growth of the Indian population in the US, and on the whole, a lack of aversion of the community from settling in smaller cities, he will find himself encountering Indians around him, and his kids seeing their kids at school. Slowly it’s happening.

    One other thought that occurs to me is, even if Mr. Doe did watch the Oscars, I doubt he’d be concerned much at all with the Fern Film category anyway, as I think (save for the folks now making use of Netflix) none of the nominees would even register with him at all. These movies get watched by such a small urban population anyway, and those folks are usually ones who’ve seen a lot of the world too.

    All of the above aside, I’d really be tickled to see an absolute mainstream Hindi movie get an Oscar, but I doubt it will happen.

  12. Oh boy…I just KNOW that this is going to get complicated. Am going to try to keep this straightforward, but note: I MAY RAMBLE! 🙂

    Firstly, let me just say one thing – unlike “Fire” or “Earth”, “Water” was never going to be be Deepa Mehta’s best movie. There are moments of brilliance, and yes, Seema Biswas & Chuhiya were the best things about the movie. However, that didn’t detract from the fact that on the whole, the narrative became too self-indulgent and almost didactic. “Fire” was a good movie, and so was “Earth”; unfortunately for me “Water” only became as big as did because of the controversies surrounding it.

    I also think that in so many ways, we’ve been SO hung up on getting ANY recognition for Bollywood in the West for years, that the recurrent Oscars saga is almost like watching the neglected child clamouring for attention, only to be passed over again and again. The Oscars in themselves are incredibly flawed awards, more to do with power & money than necessarily quality cinema. I think that this year, there’s been a little less craze around the issue, so perhaps the Oscars ghost is finally being laid to rest.

    Having said that, Filmi, I think that your argument about The Departed isn’t quite the same thing. Culture, power, imperialism, and knowledge are all incredibly interlinked. Historic imbalances being what they are, it is very different when people in India or South Korea or Ghana watch “The Departed” for two hours. The reason they will leave without thinking all Americans are gun-toting mafiosos is because that they’ve also been consistently exposed to things like “Friends”, “You’ve Got Mail”, and that endless list of US cultural exports. Unfortunately, John Doe in Tallahassee or Milwaukee WILL walk away from two hours of “Water” thinking that what is projected is still the norm in India. So there are issues there, and its not all kosher.

  13. Prashanth, thanks for stopping by.  I respectfully disagree with you.  I think the most central thing to what makes a film interesting to people is the story it tells, which usually involves some sort of a struggle. In the case of films set in India that might include unpleasant elements like poverty or child abuse, I can’t speak for everyone in the West, but I would hazard a guess that for a number of people it’s not that they revel in seeing people in unfortunate circumstances in India, but rather, that they enjoy the story of someone struggling to overcome something, and also that it’s interesting to see other landscapes on screen beside the same old ones you are surrounded by every day.

    In the simplest of terms, “Fire” had at its core two unhappy women wondering why should they just accept their unhappiness, and trying to find some alternative. In “Water”, the little girl, Chuyia, struggles against her new environment, and Lisa Ray’s character wants to be with the man with whom she’s fallen in love.

    Wouldn’t you agree that every country has its problems and negative people? Look at Scorcese’s Departed, about the Mob. This is an element of American society that no one is proud of, but it’s there and it makes for an interesting story (cops and robbers). I think most Americans are confident that when a theater full of people in India or France sit down to watch it, they won’t walk out 2 hours later convinced that all Americans are degenerate, foul-mouthed criminals.

  14. Dear Prashanth,

    How old are you?

    That’s a lot of stuff you’ve written – but we can’t have a discussion before the answer to that question is known.

  15. Am glad this movie didn’t get any award. See, every culture has got its share of maladies. But what amazes me is that in West ppl want to see only the negative side of it, and only those movies get recognized/appreciated by them. And to make it worse our guys (folks like Meera Nair n Satyajit Ray) will go to any extant to make that happen. See, its ok such movies were made in the past, and we did have some problems in our society. But haven’t we evolved from all those social maladies? Aren’t we making progress? How many cultures r there who r self-critical as ours? Why doesn’t Meera Nair make movies abt the ‘missionaries’ who come to India and lure poor people n convert them to Christianity? Why doesn’t she expose the main agenda of the so called social/voluntary organizations who r out there to ‘help’ the poor n needy in the ‘third world’ nations.

  16. Chandni, yes, I think the John Abraham character was rather preachy, though it was interesting to see him in a role that required him to be so covered up for a change!

    I thought Seema Biswas was far better at subtly portraying her character, and her dialogue too was less evangelical.

    But with regard to your comment about the jury not understanding foreign culture, I don’t know if that comes in to play here. The movie was a work of fiction, after all, and the members of the academy should judge Water and all other Best Foreign film entries as such, not for how accurately they depict the country they come from, don’t you think?

    I know people in India have gotten upset because they feel it shows a negative image of the country, and also because Deepa Mehta is seen as inauthentic because she lives in Canada and “only” visits India now, but again, I think we have to have faith that an audience is capable of understanding the difference between a piece of entertainment and a news story.

    All that said, I still believe it’s a good thing that the nomination brought with it attention to the actors, and the filmmaker and entire team involved in the picture. People are great at ferreting out more info on anything and everything nowadays, so if more people see some of Seema’s films, or discover Bollywood through John, that’s a good outcome, no?

  17. I watched ‘Water’ and found it extremely shallow and pretentious. Its nomination just goes to prove that western jury may not have too much of an understanding of a foreign culture, and more than anything its perhaps the hype around it that got ‘Water’ that nomination.

  18. Lisa, in the few photos I’ve seen, Ms. Ray’s dress didn’t look too nice at all.

    And Pri, yes John looked good, and I thought the haircut made him look so much younger!

    Krishna, love the thunder-tummy comment!

  19. I’d notice Lisa Ray ANYWHERE.

    Anyway, subcontinental males have rarely been show stoppers – even if John is an exception to the thunder-tummy embarassments of yore.

  20. I was trying to find some pictures of WATER at the Oscars. Getty images has some pretty good ones of Lisa. I found only one of John. He looks adorable in a classic black sherwani.

  21. Maria
    It was funny, as I covered the Oscars from the red carpet I could see that NOBODY was noticing John Abraham, who looked a tad distracted and discombobulated … but EVERYBODY had eyes for Lisa Ray.
    Goes to show you can never underestimate the power of a lowcut dress.

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