While India has not always been lucky at the Oscars, the 91st Academy awards had a stronger connection to India than many would accept. While India’s official entry, Rima Das’s Village Rockstars failed to make the cut for Best Foreign Film, Guneeet Monga-backed Period. End Of Sentence. managed to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. The win marks the first win for a film, backed by an Indian production, in a competitive category at the Academy Awards.
The Academy has been slowly moving towards increased integration of racial and ethnic ideas in cinema, and the major winners of the night included Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematic portrait of a maid’s view of life in a Mexican family. The only surprise was the film being pipped to the Best Picture award by the comedy drama, Green Book. The film beat out favourites Roma and A Star Is Born to the award.
Green Book also won actor Mahershala Ali his second award as Best Supporting Actor. The actor had previously won in the same category for Moonlight (2016).
As for India, Period. End Of Sentence., was not the only connection to the awards night. The biggest winners, Rami Malek and Olivia Colman, owed quite a bit to the country.
Malek won the Best Actor gong for his role as Freddie Mercury, the radical frontman of the rock band, Queen, in the film directed by Bryan Singer/Dexter Fletcher. Mercury, born Farrokh Balsara, to parents hailing from Gujarat, was educated in Bombay till 1963. The singer was considered by many to be one of the greatest ‘virtuoso rock singers of all time’.
While the film ran into controversies over allegations of sexual assault against Singer, the film took home Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing awards as well.
Another deep-set India connection ran through the winner of the Best Actress Oscar, Olivia Colman. The actress, who won her first Oscar for her performance as Queen Anne in The Favorite, traces her roots back to Kishanganj, Bihar.
In an episode of BBC’s documentary series Who Do You Think You Are?, Colman had travelled to India to rediscover her great great great great-grandfather’s roots. Employed with the East India Company, Colman’s ancestor had married a woman called Harriot, and lived in India. The documentary went further to explore the possibility that the woman was a ‘local lady’ rather than an Englishwoman as previously thought.
While AR Rahman, Gulzar, Resul Pookutty and Bhanu Athaiya remain the major individual honours at the Oscars so far, it looks like the connection is only growing.