India at the Oscars: With Three Films and Six Nominees, It’s a Historic Night at the Academy Awards
- ‘RRR’, ‘All That Breathes’ and ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ are in contention from the biggest film industry in the world.
With three nominated films and six nominees at the 95th Academy Awards, 2022-23 has been an incredibly successful year for India in global cinema and TV entertainment, and the visibility has never been more prominent than in the last year. The films — diametrically diverse in their stories, visual brilliance, and powerful grasp of the filmmaking craft –reflect the vast talent thriving in India.
“All That Breathes” — nominated for Best Documentary Feature — tells the story of two brothers — Nadeem and Saud — who devote their lives to the quixotic effort of protecting the black kite, a majestic bird of prey essential to Delhi’s ecosystem that has been falling from the sky at alarming rates, victims of the city’s pollution.
Directed by Delhi-based filmmaker Shaunak Sen, the documentary explores the connection between the kites and the Muslim brothers who help them return to the skies. It offers a mesmerizing chronicle of inter-species coexistence. In the run-up to the Oscars, “All That Breathes” — available on HBO — has won top prizes at major career-defining film festivals: the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance and the L’Œil d’Or (“Golden Eye”) Best Documentary award at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, the first film to take both those honors in a single year.
Centering on an indigenous Indian couple from Tamil Nadu, “The Elephant Whisperers” — nominated for the Best Documentary Short Oscar –is about Bomman and Bellie, who successfully raise an orphaned male calf elephant named Raghu. Filmed in the Madumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu, director Kartiki Gonsalves tells a profoundly emotional story between man and animal and captures the stunning beauty of the forest where the couple lives. Produced by well-known Bollywood producer Guneet Monga and streaming on Netflix —
Gonsalves uses her extensive experience, knowledge, and technical skillset as a wildlife photographer to weave a majestic yet heartwarming directorial debut.
Both “All That Breathes” and “The Elephant Whisperers” focus on the intricately rooted connection between animals, man, and the disrupted ecosystem caused by man. But the films couldn’t be more different in treatment, visual style, and execution.
Then there is ‘Naatu Naatu’ — nominated for Best Original Song from the Telegu blockbuster motion picture “RRR” directed by S.S. Rajamouli. Since the film’s release last March, the centerpiece song and the complex and brilliantly choreographed dance have garnered a rabid global fan base never seen for an Indian film song and movie. ‘Naatu Naatu’s nominees, M.M. Keeravani (composer) and Chandrabose (lyricist), ingeniously synced the melody and lyrics with the choreography using a non-stop loop with the help of vocalist Kaala Bhairava. The song, which won the Golden Globe award for best original song, will be performed by Bhairava and co-singer Rahul Sipligunj live at the Oscars.
The nominees representing India at the Oscars, together rest the spotlight on the rich diversity within the South Asian country and speak of its multicultural representation. Keeravani and Chandrabose are from Andra Pradesh, Gonsalves from Tamil Nadu, Monga from Punjab, and Sen from Delhi but of Bengali heritage.
Further cementing the South Asian presence on Oscar Sunday, Deepika Padukone, Mindy Kaling and Riz Ahmed have joined the line-up of Oscar presenters.
There is an overall excitement and genuine love around the Indian films at the Oscars this year. And though it remains to be seen if any of them will win the film industry’s top award –this is the beginning of mainstream optics for Indian storytelling as history has been made with three Indian films nominated for the Academy Awards for the first time in one year.
Here is the complete list of the Indian nominees and the nominated films at the 2023 Oscars:
“All That Breathes” – Best Documentary Feature
Shaunak Sen, Aman Mann and Teddy Leifer
“The Elephant Whisperers” – Best Documentary Short
Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga
“Naatu Naatu” – Best Original Song
from “RRR” music by M.M. Keeravani; Lyrics by Chandrabose
The 95th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and broadcast live on ABC Networks at 5 pm Pacific Time and 8 pm Central Time.
Sunil Sadarangani is a Los Angeles-based multiple award-winning producer and writer. He has produced award-winning short films “In Transit” (Shorts TV and Oscar nomination qualifier), “Blind,” “Nova,” and “With You.” He is the co-founder and Director of Programming of the Ojai Short Film Festival, now in its third season. He is a charter member of the Programmers of Color Collective (POC2) and was on the jury of the 2019 Los Angeles Greek Film Festival and was a Senior Assistant Programmer at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. He currently volunteers on the assistant programming committee at Outfest, Los Angeles. Sunil is an officially accredited writer covering film and digital media at leading film festivals and industry award events. The California State Senate has recognized him for his ongoing commitment to creativity and innovation in the Los Angeles community. Sadarangani is the co-founder of Omagination Pictures, a production company representing and producing South Asian creators and stories. He has been instrumental in securing IP content as well as forging associations with industry executives and creators for the company.