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    Dattani enters film for Oscars, hopes to set precedent

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Saturday, December 31, 2005
    Playwright-filmmaker Mahesh Dattani has entered his second movie "Morning Raga" at the Oscars even though it isn''t India''s official nomination and is hoping it will set a precedent.

    "Other filmmakers who feel they''re left out would now know there''s another way of doing it. One needn''t go through the Indian government. The immensity of our move hasn''t sunk in. Somehow, I''m still in denial," Dattani told IANS in an interview.

    He also said his next movie would be much more mainstream than his last two films. Excerpts from the interview:

    "Morning Raga" has become much bigger than you thought.

    Oh yes! It just seems to have acquired a life of its own. I'm quite surprised by the extent it has gone. Currently I'm looking into a couple of theatre projects. But I've discovered the filmmaker in myself. I think "Morning Raga" reflects the true Indian cultural condition.

    As modern Indians we have a tradition to carry forward. Shabana Azmi, I think, added greatly to the film. And to think I was told I should take a south Indian actress to play the Carnatic singer! That would've been so unimaginative and simplistic. What's the point in choosing someone who's the right breed and letting her do the predictable?

    You've submitted "Morning Raga" at the Oscars on your own.

    I think Amol Palekar's "Paheli", which is our official entry, is a good choice. But the selection for the Oscars isn't always right. One always feels there're better films that need to be showcased for Oscar nominations.

    Did "Morning Raga" get left behind because of the language?

    I think so. It was mainly the apathy of the jury. It seems one has to lobby to get one's film considered. We weren't even selected in the Indian Panorama, leave alone an Oscar nomination. The language is just an excuse. Didn't they select Aparna Sen's "36 Chowringhee Lane" in the Indian panorama? So, I think, was "Monsoon Wedding".

    I feel the selection process is very arbitrary. When you say my film can't be eligible because it's in English what are you implying? That my film isn't Indian? How much more Indian can a film get than "Morning Raga"? The Film Federation needs to do a reality check.

    There are more Indians speaking English than the British. If I can be awarded by the Sahitya Akademi - which is one of the greatest literary honours of the country - for my plays in English, why can't my English language film be eligible? It's just a stupid rule that no one has crosschecked.

    Maybe Aparna Sen is more Indian than you are?

    Yeah, maybe because she wears a 'bindi'. Maybe I should start wearing a bindi to be more Indian for the Film Federation. The selection depends on the taste and mood of those in charge. One thing I can be proud of is that "Morning Raga" is not derivative. It's an original script.

    Was it your producer K. Raghvendra Rao's idea to enter the Oscars on your own?

    No, it was our international distributor Prashant Shah who did it on his initiative. My producer and I didn't even know we could enter our film in the Oscars' mainstream categories, though it has had a mainstream foreign release and has been covered by all the mainstream US media. We thought it had to go through the Film Federation as a foreign entry. "Morning Raga" is probably the first Indian film to enter in the mainstream category. Quite an honor.

    Wouldn't it create an awkwardness vis-a-vis "Paheli", India's official entry?

    Not at all! We aren't competing against each other. "Paheli" is up for best foreign film. "Morning Raga" is being sent for the mainstream categories - best film, actress, music, director. I'm hopeful about at least the music.

    Do you feel this is a new precedent?

    I think so. Other filmmakers who feel they're left out would now know there's another way of doing it. One needn't go through the Indian government. The immensity of our move hasn't sunk in. Somehow, I'm still in denial.

    What next?

    I'm working on something. "Morning Raga" really left me exhausted. I had decided never to make another film after it. But now I feel recharged. I've realized that marketing a film is as important as making it. One can't be romantic and naive and believe it's enough to make a good film and let it loose.

    So, yes, I'll be going more mainstream in my next film, just as "Morning Raga" was more towards the mainstream than my first film "Mango Souffle". But I don't want to get sucked into the demands of the box office. I believe it's possible to make a mainstream film without getting mired into the stereotypes. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" and "Devdas" and Ashutosh Gowariker's "Lagaan" did it with so much panache.


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