How could "Paheli" be nominated over more deserving films like "Black"?
I can tell you, the choice for the jury was extremely difficult. The films were of really high calibre. We had resolved that we'd have discussions only after all the screenings. We had bargained for an hour's discussion. We went on discussing for an hour and half. We took into consideration every aspect. All of us in the jury wrote down our recommendation, almost like a citation. We were absolutely unanimous in the selection of "Paheli".
Was the decision to elect "Paheli" unanimous?
Yes, absolutely. We definitely feel this film is very high on cinematic excellence, directorial competence, it's deeply seeped in the Indian ethos and true to the Indian concept of fine arts, costumes, art designing... performances are also outstanding.
I cannot tell you why "Black" was not selected. But let me tell you, it was a bloody tough competitor. It was rejected outright by some jury members for being a copy of some foreign source. But I vehemently defended it. If a film is inspired by a true event it doesn't mean there cannot be two versions of it. The jury understood my point of view. Then some jury members argued that "Black" was rejected outright by Cannes. I convinced them that our decision shouldn't be governed by any international competition.
Was language the clinching factor against "Black"?
I wouldn't like to comment on that.
Was "Paheli" selected because it panders to the foreigner's view of Indian ethnicity?
Indian culture alone is not everything. There was another beautiful film in the running called "Uttarayan". You've to have a very composite look while selecting. We saw all the films.
But "Paheli" was neither a critical or commercial success in India.
We weren't perturbed by that. We've seen some fine films in the past not getting their due. When we did our job, we did it with a clean conscience. We had our own judgement and creative faculties to rely on. We are as capable of assessing as any member of the press. I insisted on a press conference because an afternoon paper carried a malicious and salacious article on the Oscar nominations hours before our decision was taken... How dare they talk like this? Three members of this year's jury, including me, were part of the jury that had elected "Lagaan". The press owes us an apology.
But someone like Harmesh Malhotra hardly seems qualified to decide what goes to the Oscars.
Have you spoken to him ever? He's such a cogent coherent speaker. When you've chosen someone you've to look at his overall competence.
But where does a man who made "Nagina", "Pathar Aur Payal" and "Ankhiyon Se Goli Mare" show any aesthetic sense?
Bhaiyya, ek business hoti hai ek aesthetics hoti hai (Brother, there is something called business and something called aesthetics). When he was in the jury we should respect that... we should discuss films, not jury members. Harmeshji wasn't there today during the final decision. He fell ill seriously. We were keen to have him. But he requested me to assume the position of the acting chairperson. We were all collectively and absolutely sure "Paheli" was the right decision.
How could "Paheli" compare with "Black" on any level. Look at Mr Bachchan's performance in "Black"...
He's outstanding even in "Paheli". He was assuming a completely new character. Let me repeat, it was a very tough competition. We had to exercise caution about our judgement. We couldn't select a film that could be rejected later on at the Oscars.
When we send a film we didn't want it to be rejected on account of some legalese or loophole.
You mean "Black" got the boot because it has portions in English?
You know my high opinion on "Black". We've discussed it earlier. Some people who tried to keep it down for being copied were firmly told to keep quiet.
"Black" is not a copy of "The Miracle Worker".
These are lobbies working... Finally it's every individual jury member's subjective decision that determines the final decision.