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,
http://www.oscars.org/press/pressreleases/2011/20111219.html

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?

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