Should Indian films go to the trouble of getting Oscar recognition? That is a million dollar question.
Malayalis are celebrating the recent announcement of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s ‘Jallikettu’ being the official Indian entry for the 93rd Academy Award 2021. Now that is a moment of happiness, but the journey forward will be an amalgamation of an aggressive PR, lots of money to splurge and business meetings in Hollywood. That is the reality and that is the way of Oscar for many years.
This is not the image Oscar want to project. The king of award shows, a glittery, glamourous evening of celebrating an art form- they are supposed to be recognising the best movie, the best performances, the best cinematography, the best costume design. However the ultimate winner is the “best Oscar campaign”.
In 2016, National Award winning filmmaker Vetri Maaran’s Tamil film ‘Visaranai’ was India’s official entry to the 89th Academy Awards. Although the film didn’t make it to the shortlist, Vetri Maaran made an honest attempt at campaigning for his film in Los Angeles.
In an interview, the director elaborated about the long tiring process of ‘wining and dining’ in Hollywood and what it takes to get their movie watched by Academy voters. Vetrimaran said that if you want to get noticed, be prepared to splurge. The Oscar campaign cost his producer and frequent collaborator Dhanush, more than the film itself.
Watch Vetrimaran’s interview here talking about his Oscar experience.
The first thing the team of ‘Visaranai’ did was getting a PR who specialised in foreign language Oscar films. The PR should be from the big names that have a good winning track record. This is essential for the campaign.
The wine and dine is very important, an integral part of Los Angeles. Everything costs. A $15,000 for the promotions till shortlist, if it’s shortlisted another $5000, if it’s nominated another $5000. That is a lot of money.
According to Vetrimaran, putting ads on major magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter had cost almost $32,000 each. “People started looking at the ads and thought, ‘Okay, these are guys with some money from India. Let’s give it some credibility. Let’s listen to what they have to say,” he said.
The process won’t end there. Vetrimaran said that the biggest lesson he learnt is that Academy voters prefer lighter, emotionally moving films which they can relate to. They may not be able to handle the harshness of the film even if the subject and plot of the movie is relevant.
The Oscar Campaign trail
It is not a hidden fact that Hollywood studios spend millions in their Oscar campaign trail.
Hollywood studios and production companies have hired strategists and consultants to run Oscar campaigns, spending millions of dollars to catch the attention of the right voters who could help push their films to victory.
In 2016, Variety estimated that studios spend around $3 million to $10 million to lobby Oscar voters. According to a 2017 New York story about modern Oscar campaigns, that figure can climb as high as $15 million. Consultants on the campaigns can charge tens of thousands of dollars for their services, with more in bonuses if their film wins.
In her Vox article,’How to Win an Oscar’, Alissa Wilkinson mentions about a prominent factor called ‘electability’. Studios pick their candidates based on “electability”and pour money into them, targeting Oscar voters.
Electability is based on a number of factors from whether the movie’s subject matter is likely to appeal to the Academy to the stars’ charisma both onscreen and off. But its most important element- and what every piece of an Oscar campaign is devoted to constructing- is the narrative of Oscar-worthiness around the film.
Although there were certain anomalies like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight ( was nominated for 10 oscars and won two, yet couldn’t make through the Best Picture), majority of films had to go through million dollar campaign trail to grab that golden statuette.
Hence, with no doubt, Lijo Jose Pellissery and his movie Jallikettu have to be a part of this costly campaign trail if the director wants to get noticed by the Academy. Is he ready for the costly affair, one has to wait and see.
There should also be a realisation that winning an Oscar is not an ultimate recognition for a great movie.