Why bagging an Oscar is almost akin to winning elections

Why bagging an Oscar is almost akin to winning elections

The Academy Awards are among the most prestigious for cinema globally. However, merely doing good work as an artiste or technician is not enough to bag an Oscar. It is just as tough as contesting an election — and winning it.

While Naatu Naatu from RRR won the Oscar for Best Original Song, The Elephant Whisperers won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary Short Film category. However, several Indian films, such as RRR, Kantara, The Kashmir Files, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Me Vasantrao, Tujhya Sathi Kahi Hi, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, The Last Film Show, Vikrant Rona, and Iravin Nizhal, made it to the Reminder List of Productions Eligible for the 95th Academy Awards. But that does not mean they were all nominated for the awards.

Sounds confusing? So, here is how the Academy Awards work.

How to apply for an Oscar

Every year, the Academy allows filmmakers to submit their work to be eligible for the awards. It’s a simple and straightforward procedure where filmmakers have to visit the website and submit their work. They can choose the categories they wish to apply for, including Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, and Original Song, among many others. There is no fee to submit the application, but there are certain rules that need to be followed.

Also read: The Whale review: Brendan Fraser’s Oscar-winning role saves muddled tale of an obese man

Some of the Academy’s rules include the fact that film must have been released in the previous calendar year. It must have had a theatrical run in one of the six metropolitan counties in the USA for at least a week or won a qualifying award at a competitive film festival. Or, it must be submitted in the International Feature Film category by its respective country as the official entry for the Academy Awards. Filmmakers must produce the credits and a digital copy of the work and comply with the other rules of the Academy.

Once the submission process is done, the Academy puts out a contention list, better known as the Reminder List. This year’s Oscars had 301 submissions, of which 11 Indian films made it to the Reminder List. Voters are then sent the list to nominate their choice under various categories. Then, another round of voting takes place to decide the winners.

Even though films like The Kashmir Files, Kantara, Vikrant Rona, and eight others made it to the Reminder List, only Naatu Naatu from RRR made it to the nomination under the Best Original Song category. Two Indian docudramas, All That Breathes and The Elephant Whisperers, also made it to the list under Best Documentary Feature Film and Best Documentary Short Film category, respectively.

Just the beginning

Making it to the Reminder List for nominations is in itself an achievement, but that is just the beginning of a long journey before getting nominated and winning an award. The process works just like campaigning for elections in a democratic country.

Also read: AR Rahman says India is sending wrong movies to Oscars

Shobu Yarlagadda, one of the producers of Baahubali who was also part of the RRR team in campaigning for the Oscars, had posted a tweet describing the real challenges. In one of his tweets, he said: “So, the real challenge is to get 10,000 members of the Academy spread across the US and the world to know that your film is in contention and then to get them to see it and hope that they like your film enough to vote for it! This is no easy task even for Hollywood films!”

SS Kartikeya, son of SS Rajamouli, revealed that they had started campaigning for the Oscars way back in August 2022 for the award ceremony that was held in March this year. The RRR team had hired at least three PR companies in the US who helped them reach out to the Academy members in various ways.

A matter of crores

There was a lot of speculation that the makers of RRR had spent massive amounts of money to win an Oscar. Some reports even suggested that the makers had spent nearly Rs 80 crore to win the coveted award. However, Karthikeya revealed that their total budget was around Rs 8.5 crore.

“The initial budget to campaign for the Oscars was Rs 5 crore. However, we ended up spending nearly Rs 8–8.5 crore by the end of the campaign,” Karthikeya said.

Also read: Tourists meet baby elephant from the Oscar-winning documentary ‘The Elephant Whisperers’

The Federal spoke to Anup Bhandari, the director of Vikrant Rona. It was his second film to have made it to the Reminder List at the Academy Awards. His earlier film Rangitaranga (2016) had also made it to the contention list like Vikrant Rona (2023). He confirmed that winning an Oscar is indeed an expensive and complicated affair.

“Once our film has made it to the Reminder List, we have to promote our film to be nominated and then voted as the winner. It’s an expensive affair and sometimes it costs more than the film’s budget. Not only that, we make films for a certain audience, but the criteria at the Academy are different. You must please the intellectual mindset of the Academy members to get nominated and win an Oscar,” explained Bhandari.

How a film is promoted 

The Academy has rules for promoting a film among its members. The promoters can arrange in-person or digital screenings; Q&A sessions with filmmakers, hosts, and moderators; reception, parties, and other events; and send mails and emails to reach out to the Academy members and get their votes.

Lobbying is allowed but the Academy has certain rules for filmmakers. According to SS Kartikeya, PR firms like Cinetech, Accolade, Divergent, Variance, and Potentate Films helped RRR reach out to the Academy members. That was in addition to the organic reach they got due to the film’s content.

Despite the rigorous campaigning by the makers of RRR and PR firms in the US, the film was snubbed in most categories in the Oscar nominations. However, it did get a nod for Best Original Song and eventually won the award.

Also read: So many chin-uppy messages of encouragement: Shaunak Sen on Oscars loss

According to reports, studios around the world spend anywhere between $3 million and $25 million to campaign and win the prestigious award.

The voting for this year’s Oscars happened a few days before the main event. The voting opened on March 2 and close on March 7. The only people who get to know the winners beforehand are a couple of partners from the Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers who tabulate the votes.

Also read: Oscars 2023: ‘Naatu Naatu’ performance receives standing ovation

Several Indians have won Oscars in the Academy’s illustrious 95-year history. However, this was the first time that Indian production houses won the award. Several filmmakers in the country aspire to get an Oscar, but they will need to put it a lot of effort, money, time, and energy to hold the gold-plated Oscar statuette.

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