Global Economics

Slumdog Oscars Boost India Film Industry


The eight Oscars awarded to Slumdog Millionaire will open plenty of Hollywood doors for India's film artists and technicians

Until this year, Indians never took much interest in the Oscars—and America's Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences likewise had little interest in India. The country may have the world's most prolific film industry, but Bollywood has long had a dismal showing at the Oscars. Costume designer Bhanu Athaiya won the country's first Academy Award in 1983 for director Lord Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, and in 1992 legendary director Satyajit Ray received a lifetime achievement award. Lagaan, a colonial tale with cricket as a backdrop, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002 but lost out to a movie from Bosnia.

Now, though, Indians are certainly paying attention to the American awards. On Feb. 22, Slumdog Millionaire, director Danny Boyle's film about an Indian slum boy making it rich, scooped a rich haul of eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Indians were among the winners, with Allah Rakha Rahman—known as the Mozart of Madras—getting the Oscar for Best Music Score and sharing the Oscar with countryman Gulzar for Best Original Song, and Resul Pookutty winning for Best Sound Mixing. The Slumdog victory is the top story on Indian news channels, and Bollywood is all set to party tonight.

The celebrations are understandable. Ever since the global success of Slumdog—written by an Indian diplomat, made by a British filmmaker, distributed by American studio Fox Searchlight, with Bollywood talent—Indians have claimed the film's success as their own. Ties between India's film industry and Hollywood have been growing over the past few years, with Indian financiers such as Anil Ambani's Reliance Big Entertainment forming development deals with stars such as Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Tom Hanks, while big studios such as Disney (DIS), Sony (SNE), and Warner Bros. Entertainment (TWX) have been ramping up local productions. But unlike most foreign films made in India, Slumdog is like a typical Bollywood film, complete with the local industry's favorite seasonings of survival, love, and triumph.

Hollywood Offers Roll In

That has gone down well with audiences worldwide, and people working in the local film industry say they suddenly are getting more calls from Hollywood producers wanting to know more about India. "Slumdog's Oscar tally is an absolute victory for India, as it has opened up so many gates for us," says local director Anurag Kashyap, who made Black Friday, based on the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. Kashyap, who gave Bollywood tips to Danny Boyle, says that Slumdog's victory has helped Hollywood discover Black Friday. "I am getting offers, and foreigners want to know where they can shoot their films in India," he adds.

The success of Slumdog will help earn respect for the local industry, says Bollywood director and actor Amol Palekar. Hollywood has consistently "ridiculed our song-and-dance sequences, but when the same is done by a British filmmaker, the world laps it up," he says. The biggest beneficiaries of Slumdog's Oscar win are likely to be the Indian technicians, he says. "Four of Slumdog's Oscars were won by Indian technicians," says Palekar. "Now that's sweet victory for us."

It also means that the Pune-based Film & Television Institute of India, which churns out excellent technicians, could be in the limelight. Slumdog's Oscar-winning sound mixer, Resul Pookutty, is an FTII alumnus. If that happens, some industry figures believe India could have yet another institute favored by global professionals looking for low-cost outsourcing possibilities.

Lakshman covers India business for BusinessWeek.

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