Gully Boy Goes To The Oscars, But Is It The Best Choice To Represent India?

Posted: September 24, 2019
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Gully Boy may have been chosen to represent India at the Oscars because it caters to Hollywood sensibilities, but not everyone is happy that better movies, both from Bollywood and regional cinema, were overlooked.

Have you watched Gully Boy? Did you like it?

I enjoyed the movie immensely. From its fabulous music to some beautifully framed scenes, the movie has a lot to offer. It certainly deserved to be in the list of movies being considered for submission for India’s entry to the Oscars.

As entertainment industry tracker Ramesh Bala points out, the movie has a lot going for it.

Not to mention that it has been helmed by a female director, and features lead characters who are disadvantaged from a socio-economic perspective and from a religious minority. It drew attention to India’s thriving rap scene, and touched upon important social issues.

And yet, I, among many others, was disappointed that it was chosen to represent India at the Oscars.

What are the objections to Gully Boy?

For some the issue is their own bigotry and jingosim – they are upset that a movie with Muslim characters has been chosen. Nationalists would rather that a movie like Uri be chosen. Some have resorted to conspiracy theories about how the The Tashkent Files was pushed out of the running.

Others have more valid and logical objections.

As many have pointed out, Gully Boy, based on the lives of Mumbai rappers Naezy and Divine, is “inspired” by the movie 8 Mile, which in turn is based on the life of rapper Eminem. It lacks originality and will showcase India’s “copycat culture” instead of bringing home a victory.

It has also been pointed out that Gully Boy, like Slumdog Millionaire, panders to Western ideas about India as a third world country.

As one American viewer pointed out, the Oscar voters don’t particularly care to learn about other cultures.

This may be a reason to send the movie to the Oscars, but one wonders if bowing to Holywood sensibilities is how we really want to represent ourselves.

Many other Bollywood movies, like Article 15 (which is socially relevant), Badhaai Ho (which is very Indian in its sensibilities, while dealing with a pertinent cultural issue), or Raazi, (which is patriotic without resorting to jingoism), Andhadhun (entertaining without pandering to the Western ideas about India) would all have been better choices.

What about regional Indian cinema?

For others, it was just another example of Bollywood/Hindi language movies overshadowing great work in regional languages. Given the debate around “one nation, one language,” this is an especially pertinent observation. Dhanya Rajendran, in her insightful post that questions why south Indian movies are often overlooked, points out that, of the 52 entries sent by India to the Oscars so far, only 20 are in languages other than Hindi.

Movies like Anandi Gopal (Marathi), Tumbbad (bilingual; internationally acclaimed), Kumbalangi Nights (Malayalam), Virus (Malayalam), Peranbu (Malayalam), Super Deluxe (Tamil), Vada Chennai (Tamil), Dear Comrade (Telugu) etc were all picks that are much better not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of how “Indian” they are while being universally appealing.

Unfortunately, regional cinema has few takers even within India.  For the Oscars jury all Indian languages are equally foreign, so it doesn’t really matter to them.

The problem is and always has been that movies in languages other than Hindi have never got the reach they deserve. We all watch Bollywood movies, but not all watch regional movies of languages other than their own mother tongue. When Malayalis also watch Gujarati movies or when Maharashtrians also watch an Assamese film is when things will change.

Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have made regional movies more accessible to the masses, and the hope is that once Indian viewers start paying attention to regional movies, jury members and the international audiences will too.

Practical limitations choice of a movie

As of now however, the choice is not necessarily about which film is the “best” film. It boils down to few practicalities, such as who can afford to promote their film internationally, or as film critics Baradwaj Rangan and Aniruddha Guha point out, if the film checks some boxes or not.

Like those who have taken the opportunity to make some tongue-in-cheek remarks about the choice, sitting back and having a laugh seems to be a good option.

Let’s hope Gully Boy brings home the Oscar, and if it doesn’t we only have ourselves to blame.

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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a

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