Newton, Ventilator, Posto or Hindi Medium – Which was the better bet for Oscars 2018?

I admired Newton, at a Bengaluru theatre. The hall was 80% full with enthusiasts desperate to catch India’s official Oscar entry for a 9am show – the only timing available to watch the Pankaj Tripathi – Rajkummar Rao film. This precise unfairness is a nett residue of the theatre owner-distributor-big banner nexus that holds the common public to ransom by scheduling 90% shows of all theatres with Judwaa 2. One of many unfair practices that surround our lives, that we have got used to, as we lack the courage to hire a Newton or be a Newton.

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Newton (Hindi) Review

Rajkummar Rao’s “idealistic to the core” character is so rare to life that you know he is right, but stupid, at the same time. We often discuss a good relative or a friend’s dad as being upright honest, nod our heads in respect, and move on to the next topic! That may be the case with Newton the film, once it’s marketed to the Oscar committee!

Honest, gritty, top performances and eye-opening as the film may be, it is not a visual delight, nor it has any depth in content or thrill element, worth being called a classic. Like Satyakam (1969), Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1990) or like Rajkummar Rao’s own brilliant Shahid (2013), this movie will remain in Bollywood annals as an art movie about honesty – The Ardh Satya (1983) without a gun.

The protagonists of the aforementioned three movies died cruel deaths, while Newton lived … hopefully to inspire a few of us to emulate him. I left the movie hall also with a pitiful impression of a big chunk of India – living as tribals in deeply forested areas, nearby barren mountains an parched rivers, struggling for existence and identity. Precisely the reason why Naxalite groups end up mushrooming in such areas, with a gun.

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Newton is the type of a person you want as your employee, your neighbour and your minister but never as your son-in-law, office boss or your son. Because he would force you to take the honest, gruelling and sincere path in life. Watch it for what humans could have been, but never became. 

Newton must live.

Rating: 3/5 (Must watch at home, tad slow and unengaging for theatre visit)

Oscar-winning chances: Very Low

What America prefers in Oscar Nominations

Newton’s box office collections will be bloated due to curiosity generated post the hurried Oscar entry selection. But my gut feeling is, even if Drishyam films adequately market, it won’t make any buzz, forget making to the nominations. This is not to say the film isn’t good – far from it. It’s because there is no element in the movie which the western world can relate to or benefit from – the unsaid supreme criteria for Oscar-nominated movies – or even get interested in viewing. Do remember, the best movies seldom win Oscars. The ones with American fantasy, connect or commerce stakes, win.

A free and fair election in a Naxal infested remote village has nothing to do with the US of A. Instead, an American software (Google) helping a lost kid trace his remote home in the same Naxal area (remember the Dev Patel starring Lion) will have more Oscar takers. Or a western couple willing to embrace and adopt a malnourished child, making an ordinary Lion roar like the king of the movies! Or Bollywood dancing at a railway station, while a Slumdog Millionaire (2008) grows from dips in excrete dumps to winning an American television game show, eases to the winners list!

Last year I had loved Visaranai (Tamil) and blogged why it deserved an Oscar nomination. But my eyes opened as superstar Dhanush-led marketing team could not create much news in a country where custodial deaths is a rarity and legendary security lapses (remember 9/11) hardly discussed. Dhanush had re-tweeted my blog but it possibly received more reads, than the count of minutes the Academy awards committee would have given in viewing the movie. In recent times, Lunchbox, powered by our only import to Hollywood, Irrfan Khan, had a genuine chance of winning. Falling in love over home packed tiffin food would have attracted the west. But the Lunchbox stayed packed – wasn’t even sent as an official entry.

Ventilator (Marathi) Review

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Priyanka Chopra considers herself a star at US of A too. High profile television shows entering American homes every day has more recall value than her blink-and-miss Hollywood movie appearances. It’s been reported that she is angry at her Marathi drama Ventilator not being selected as India’s official entry. Over two Jet Airways flights, I tried watching Ventilator. Thrice switching on and continuing, but still, couldn’t finish the movie. The plot of a sick family head and his extended house members’ indecision about his treatment, mainly due to upcoming Ganpati (Lord Ganesha) festivities, forms the crux of this black comedy.

Renowned Bollywood director Ashutosh Gowariker is mighty impressive playing himself, surrounded by relatives, in the hospital, busy taking selfies or acting selfishly. There were two instances in the script, aside from strong performances by Ashutosh and Boman Irani, which genuinely touched the nerve – when an obese boy swallows a coin and that Tupperware selling aunt who displays her products at the hospital waiting area. But, with a plethora of characters (100+), confusion and the central theme of a joint family prioritizing a Hindu festival over an aged family head’s life, the film would have attracted American audience and their sniggers.

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Who would not like to laugh at Indians tomfoolery and their crazy Hinduism traditions? “That dark stinky call centre bloke belongs to this junk culture” – is an impression the West would have loved to swallow. This was a big reason why Dharm (2008) would have done well at Oscars, why Water (2007) did well there. There is no doubt Ventilator isn’t even the best regional film of the year, but Chopra & Gowariker did ensure it lapped up three National Awards. However, I have serious doubts if PeeCee and the marketing team could have made her maiden production be viewed by Oscar committee adequately.

Rating: 2.5/5 (Good satire, but nothing great)

Oscar-winning chances: Medium

Hindi Medium (Hindi)

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Irrfan Khan’s Hindi Medium, I would think had a grand chance of doing well at the Academy Awards. The movie isn’t a classic but it does establish how English language, western culture, brands, music, fast food joints, western tourist places, clothes, cars etc define a ‘classy life’ in developing nations. At the same time squashing local languages and customs. This was a movie that would have made America proud, for the state of confusion they have thrown most local languages and cultures into; and precisely what they want the entire world to aspire up to. Irrfan’s stardom would have ensured enough viewing and an eventual nomination.

Rating:Check my full review

Oscar-winning chances: High

Posto (Bengali)

img_9097Liberalization and the opening of markets have left other confusions too. Whether dual-earning couples (it’s a must to maintain the American lifestyle of alcohol, pubs, mortgage house, loan-burdened car and culture) should have kids and if they have, should they outsource the upbringing to their parents. A brilliant Bengali flick,  Postois the story of a set of parents and grandparents fighting for the custody and rights of a child. It is a concept which the west can relate to and dwelve into both sides of the argument. However, the production team’s marketing ability in the corridors of Academy Awards would have been a big question. Also, the fact it doesn’t have any star power (Indian or global) nor won any international award would not have helped its case.

Content-wise, Posto is superior to any of the other movies discussed here. A father taking his son to court over custody of grandson touches the heart forever and immerses into the truth of how we have degraded our real priorities in life. If you haven’t yet, it’s a must watch. There is news that the movie is being remade in Hindi with no other than Amitabh Bachchan playing the lead.

Rating:Check my full review

Oscar-winning chances: Low

If you know any Indian movie which had better potential at the Oscars 2018, feel free to discuss in the comments.

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