Friday December 23, 2011

How did 3 songs from Dam 999 make it to the Oscar shortlist?

Posted by Karthik

damWhen I first noticed the 2011 Oscar shortlist for Best Original Song, I was more stunned than happy. I mean, isn’t that staring right in your face? Let me list the reasons.

  1. There are 39 songs in that list. Not 5. Not 20. Not 40. But 39.
  2. There are 3 songs from an Indian film, Dam 999.
  3. There are no other Indian films anywhere in that list. Just for the record, India makes a LOT of movies ever year and most of them have at least 5 songs per film.

So, to cut a long story short, I strongly believe that this shortlist is possible only because of lobbying, which isn’t such a bad word in Oscar circles anyway. Actually, more than lobbying it could be something even more fundamental – more on this, later in this post.

Consider the odds. If this listing was based on film makers sending their works for consideration, do I believe that NO OTHER Indian film producer sent his/her film’s original scores to the Oscar committee?

If one another/many other film producers did send it, what was the selection criteria that led to only Dam 999’s songs (3 songs, at that!!) to make it to this list?

And, who is the jury that selected these 3 songs (and the other 36 songs) to the shortlist for nomination?

Also remember – most importantly – Dam 999 is being released by Warner Bros which has considerably clout in Hollywood, far more than any Indian studio or production house.

I did write to the contact listed in that press release – Teni Melidonian (Publicist, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), but I haven’t got a response yet. Here’s what I wrote to her, on December 20th.

Hi Teni,

My name is Karthik and I’m a music blogger from India.

I noticed the Oscar’s 2011 playlist press release earlier today,

The list includes 3 songs from an Indian film titled ‘Dam 999’. Considering how poorly the film fared in India or how bad its music was, I’m wondering about the process based on which this list was arrived at. Moreover, there are 3 songs from this lone Indian film in the list.

Since I couldn’t find any mention of the selection process for this list, could I request some details around it please?

On my part, I did search the Oscar website for rules pertaining to shortlist for nomination. But there’s no mention of this anywhere in the site – it only talks about the actual nomination criteria, not the shortlist for nomination part. There is basic information on eligibility and these could apply to any Indian film song, incidentally.

Like, An original song consists of words and music, both of which are original and written specifically for the motion picture. There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyric and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits.

Check the Eligibility and Submission rules in this page. Most are pretty simple and within the reach of any film producer in India, if they were bothered about sending their song.

So, the question again – does it mean ONLY Dam 999’s producers were interested in sending their songs to the shortlist for nomination? Was there NO OTHER Indian film producer who wanted to do this? Or, did they all miss the December 1 deadline? Clerical error, perhaps?

Also remember, India sends an official Oscar entry every year for the Best Foreign Film category and that is for the shortlist to nomination too – the actual nomination is announced later and has only 5 films (usually) and this list invariably does not have the ‘official Indian entry’, year after year.

Now, I can hear you ask – what am I going to say about other Indian song nominations in earlier years, particularly the ones involving A R Rahman? Yes, I hear that.

So, if you notice the archives,

  1. In 2010, there were 41 songs in contention. 127 Hours’ ‘If I Rise’ was one of the them. It was NOT an Indian film and Rahman was perhaps one of the few Indians in that film’s crew.
  2. In 2009, there were 69 songs in the shortlist for nomination. ‘Na Na’ from Couples Retreat was one of them. That film was also NOT an Indian film and with just the Rahman connection for the nominal Indian link.
  3. In 2008, there were 49 songs. ‘Jai Ho’ and ‘O Saya’ from Slumdog Millionaire were in the list. It was a film that had an Indian theme but was produced and made by a predominant non-Indian crew. It was marketed heavily in India because of its Indian theme, obviously and the source story, which was also by an Indian.

That leads me to conclude two things.

  • Warner Bros was smart enough to send 3 songs (not just one) from an Indian film they are backing, to this year’s shortlist for nominations.
  • No other Indian film production house was vigilant or intelligent enough to send their song nominations in 2011.

If the above statements (both) are true, then it cannot be called lobbying – it is just good old luck. After all, what are the chances that they send 3 songs to the list and all 3 make it to the list, and there is NO OTHER Indian film anywhere in the list?

You would have noticed that I have not spoken about the quality of these 3 songs anywhere in this post – since quality is subjective. In my opinion, Dam 999’s soundtrack was terribly contrived and jaded. These 3 songs do not deserve a place to be in this list, if I (I, not you or the world – my opinion) go by their quality compared to many other Indian songs from 2011. But that has always been the case with Oscars – remember all the disapproving nods when Jai Ho won and a majority of Indians went, ‘But there are far better songs by Rahman!!’?

So, simple lesson for Indian producers – remember the December 1, 2012 deadline and send as many song entries as possible to the Oscar’s next year. In fact, flood them (like the dam breaking in Dam 999) with thousands of songs so that they are forced to re-look this criteria of listing 39, 41, 63 or 49 original songs into the shortlist for nomination and include some kind of filtering mechanism before they make even this list. At least then we won’t have odd entries like Dam 999 (with 3 songs!!) into this list to mock the Oscar’s.

More importantly, it’d be wonderful if Indian media stops buying the pointlessly silly hype about everything-Academy Awards without questioning the criteria. Like film scripts being added to the Oscar library, besides what is explained above, in relation to original songs.

Dam 999 poster is from Wikipedia.

PS: This is not the first time an Indian is piling on to the Oscar bandwagon for publicity. Remember Bappi Lahiri, earlier this year?



  • Interesting read.

  • R

    The movie was distributed by Warner Bros (American producer), I would assume that being the reason for the songs to be considered for nominations. I dont think Indian producers are allowed to send the entries. 


      No Mr. R, it s not like that Sir.

  • Rakesh Kommineni

    The 39 songs that you were referring to, is not the final shortlist for Oscars. Among these 39 songs, around 5-6 songs will be shortlisted for the final consideration. This is how it always worked. That’s why Rahman’s Nana from Couples Retreat was there in the initial list during the 2009 Oscars but failed to get into the top 5.
    And Dam999 is a hollywood collaboration and would be treated as the motion picture created in the United States. I don’t think any Indian films can directly nominate themselves for this category unless there’s some collaboration with Hollywood Marketing studios.

  • Karthick Krishna CS

    as R said, movie produced or distributed by american/british production companies are eligible for nominations i hope…

  • Aditya Grandhi

    In order for a movie to be eligible for an Oscar nomination it simply has to run in a commercial theater anywhere in the US between January 1 to December 31, for at least seven days. It can’t be shown on TV before the theater release. It doesn’t have to be in English.Read more:

  • milliblog

    Rakesh, R and Karthick: Good argument, but how can we explain Rang De Basanti’s songs making it to the shortlist for nomination in 2006? That film did not have a foreign studio behind it.

    Even the Wikipedia entry to the film states this: “producer Screwvala planned to use resources and expertise from his partners in 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney Pictures for organizing its publicity efforts”.

    I’d assume that there’s no need for a Hollywood backing, but it coud be more to do with releasing the film in US for a specific duration to be eligible (1 week, for example). That is technically not a huge issue for most mainstream Indian films.

    • R

      Rang De Basanti was India’s official entry to Oscars for 2006, thats why the songs were considered during nominations. 

      • milliblog

        Then how come other official entries to Oscar did not have song nominations too? For example, Peepli Live (2010), Taare Zameen Par (2008), Devdas (2002), 1949 Earth (1999), Jeans (1998) and so on. Some of these songs had great music too.

        Do we believe that these film makers were not keen on a music nomination shortlist and hence did not submit/lobby for it?

        • R

          It is possible that they made the changes to the rule (to consider music from foreign language movie) from 2006 onwards. If we liked Taare Zameen Par songs, doesnt mean the selection jury also liked them… also the jury changes each year. I and you can just assume things, as we dont know behind the scene process behind this selection. 

          • milliblog

            That’s your conjecture. I’m not talking about liking or not liking the music of Peepli Live, TZP, Devdas, Earth or Jeans. I’m talking about the amazing coincidence that not even one film’s producer thought of ending their original songs to the nomination shortlist year after year after year. And, in one year, you have not one, not two, but three songs from one move making it to the list.

          • How many originals do India produce every year???

          • milliblog

            In 1000s, every year, if you take all languages? Didn’t you know that?

          • john jeevinth

            Wats been pointed out in this topic is abt many more Indian music directors probably missing out on taking a shot at the oscar …it has nothing to do with de songs of Dam999 ..

            it looks more like de music directors/production houses are not very sure abt this process and are over looking it..

            When the songs from RDB were shortlisted remember ARR saying that it was a bit complex process.. and dat could be one reason y many others did not do it..

            secondly as far as my understanding goes.. the sound track from movies which make it to the first  set of nominations can be considered and shortlisted provoided the production house does de required paper work..

            RDB,water,SDM,127 hours all had been nominated to de oscars…so i guess dats how it works..

            Step-1 nominate de movie
            Step-2 Select de best songs
            Step-3 Nominate the best songs..
            and den u get to promote it 🙂

            But before de do all this dey need to have some confidence/faith dat all de marketing dey do for de songs will be worth it
            I mean dey should atleast make it to de final cut.. i guess dat could be were de production houses back out

          • ARUN MENON

            It s ok Sir, Let one Indian Directed/Produced come home with an Oscar!!! We gain many and don’t lose any in the process…

  • Niyan

    What bloody hell 
    all three songs are very good its a very good work we have to proud an Indian Movie Song reached Oscar 

    • milliblog

      May be. Only question is, why didn’t any other ‘good song’ with ‘good work’ from other composers in so many other Indian films make it to this list?

    • Again another PR from biz tv networks

  • ClarkSon11

    I heard all songs its good with Magical voice of Hariharan so this songs selected for Oscar  its utter nonsense.

  • Gireesh.M. Menon

    Ok. DAM999 songs may not be the best Indian scores of last year, But before writing the comments as above, did you take the time to hear the other 36 songs on the list ? How good (or bad) are they in comparison ?? If not, your comments do smack of a bit of hypocrisy.

    • milliblog

      Gireesh: I have clearly mentioned that quality is subjective. I’m taking about entry criteria for 3 of Dam 999’s song vs. 1000s of other Indian film songs that don’t feature in this list.

      Could I trace hypocrisy in your comment because you seem to be a Malayali siding a Kerala-crew film?

      I don’t care how good or bad Dam 999’s songs were – how did they reach while no other Indian film song reached is my only point.

  • Subramaliya

    Well said! Indian artists are more talented and can easily have a very good international reach! Only problem is that they don’t or we don’t realize it!


    This is a film which entered into the race not as a Regional Entry/Indian Film….There will be many Indian Films that would have loved to get into there…but it takes some effort to get into the final list ….and who told it is ‘lobbying’…this take place in Bolly/Molly and Tollywood…and remember there were so many beauties than the Aiswaryas and the Susmitas, when they won the Miss Word and Miss Universe Titles!!!, who couldn’t meet the so called ‘dead lines’!!!!so let’s all hope and pray that DAM 999 win the Oscar…don’t pray the other way round, who ever has posted against DAM999…!

  • huzefa jairajpuri

    I visit milliblog regularly n went thru the review of dam999 and found out the same on listening them.but i was surprised n shocked to read in a newspaper tht it was shortlisted for i read the blog again n found out the lobbying thing u r pointing at..

    i m concerned as i heard ismail darbar commenting on a r rahman winning an oscar and criticising his music and questioning oscar’s trustworthiness n faith..i too feel jai ho was not an oscar winning song and now dam999 in the list of oscars has made me even more skeptical.

    Are Oscar award based on any criteria,is it worthy of the name and reputation it beholds?

    i m mentioning this in ur blog coz i dnt have a technical sense or
    knowledge of songs..but many musicians go thru this blog and u have a
    grt knowledge of music i myt get my ans (as far as jai ho is concerned)
    (i dont feel jai ho has a grt music,orchestration or arrangement,i find it noisy,chaotic and may be my opinion and it may be subjective.please correct me if i m wrong..Is it such a grt song tht it has received so many accolades..)

  • I am not perfectly sure, but I think that a movie (or anything related to a movie – in this case, the songs) qualifies for an Oscar only if it has been screened in Los Angeles, California in that given year. 

    As most Indian movies are not screened there they are not considered for the Oscars.

  • As most Indian movies are not screened there they are not considered for the Oscars.

  • Saumen Ray

    Why dont you accept the truth – If Rehman can given oscar for slumdog , then there is no harm for Dam999 – After all we are linked in this universe. its time to realize …

  • now they have considered it among the 97 original scores as well.. 😀

  • IMHO.. the songs from Dam99 are terrible. Ouseppachan is a good composer who has many memorable melodies to his crdit.. but this one is one of his worst works.. but it is my opinion. Others may differ.

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