Oscar Selection Committee Forces Indian Filmmaker

Film Federation of India calls Ritesh Batra's comments 'serious allegations'

Oscars touch a nerve around the world. The Film Federation of India has written to filmmaker Ritesh Batra demanding an apology for his Facebook posting that set off a media firestorm when he criticized the org’s choice of its foreign-language submission.

The FFI chose “The Good Road,” and Batra’s “The Lunchbox” was among those passed over.

“We were maintaining a dignified silence till now amidst your constant ranting as we believed them to be the result of acute disappointment of a young boy with his debut film. Your presumptuous and dismissive comments without even seeing ‘The Good Road’ was highly objectionable but we let that pass,”  the letter stated.

“But what you have recently posted in your Facebook account about ‘there being a corruption’ in the process is a serious allegation. As you are aware ‘The Good Road’ is produced by NFDC, a government of India undertaking! Are you then suggesting that the I&B Ministry, i.e. the government of India has made a successful attempt in bribing the jurors??? … Very serious allegations indeed.”

The letter also brought up a remark Batra had made earlier about Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing the film domestically: “They feel this was one Indian film that could have gone all the way.”

“How can Sony Classics assure you of any such thing? Are you suggesting that the Oscars is rigged? We are taking this up separately with the Academy … we are led to believe that you have a letter from Sony Classics which is the reason for your confidence … can you share it with us?”

Batra has removed his posting and apologized. He never suggested bribery, and never suggested that Oscars are rigged and never disparaged the FFI. But his postings ignited huge debates in India and in fans of India films around the world. The organization’s reaction is just one sign that film execs in India can be highly emotional — and that Oscar consideration can have ripple effects, as some digital conversations have also questioned FFI.

Batra’s co-producer Anurag Kashyap had tweeted his disappointment when neither “Lunchbox” nor “Ship of Theseus,” which he also produced were chosen. He said, “I have lost faith in everything because of the Film Federation of India’s decision to send ‘The Good Road’ to the Oscars, not because it is a bad film — I’ve not seen it; it may be a good film — but because I have realised that the community of independent filmmakers in India is essentially crabs in a basket; they cannot bear to see a film or a filmmaker do well.”

This is not the first time the FFI’s choice has caused controversy. In 2007, the FFI was sued by filmmaker Bhavna Talwar whose “Dharm” lost out to “Eklavya, the Royal Guard” as India’s choice for Oscar. She dropped the suit when the Academy accepted “Eklavya” as India’s entry.

Under Academy rules, each country can submit one film in the category. It is up to the country to determine who chooses the film.

The deadline for submissions was today, the Academy will announce the final list shortly. Nominations are to be announced Jan. 16 for the March 2 Oscar ceremony at Dolby Theater.

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