No Indian films made the BBC’s list of 100 Best Films of the 21st century.
In the last two and a half decades, Bollywood has turned up the heat to ensure that its products are seductively market-friendly. Moving from strength to strength in the business of identifying fresh global markets, aggressively promoting them, influencing people, wowing audiences and raking in the loot that could wake the dead, Bollywood’s movie mavericks have truly zonked large portions of the planet with their exotic, colorful and dazzling templates. Even their poor cousins in Art House Cinema have been making small waves in the International Film Festival circuit, winning appreciation, accolade and awards from critics, curators and niche audiences looking for cinema that pushes the envelope, enriches and empowers, even as it entertains.
Despite this glowing picture, isn’t it disappointing, even shocking that not one Indian film featured in a recent list of the BEST 100 FILMS OF THE 21st CENTURY, compiled by the BBC? Over 150 film critics representing every movie-producing continent save Antartica, were invited to vote their 10 best films between year 2000-2015. India scored a deafening zero. What does it indicate: Injustice? Bias? Ignorance about Indian cinema … or just the bitter and ugly truth that our films are just not good enough to make the cut when it comes to World Cinema?
Predictably, Bollywood fans were hysterical. Explodes 23 year old, Bangalore-based Shalu Menon, a die-hard fan of B-town movies: “What utter bullcrap? Do these learned blokes know that our films rock across the globe, even in countries and amongst people who don’t understand a word of Hindi or life and times in India? Didn’t Lagaan score big in the Oscar race? Do they know how adored our stars — Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun, Ashwariya Rai, Kajol, Madhuri Dikshit — are overseas? Doesn’t all this count for anything? If best means intent, content, execution and popularity, we are winners hands down!”
The Art House connoisseurs are amused by Menon’s outburst. Says one: “It is insanely funny how the Bollywood types genuinely believe that their masala stuff deserves a rightful passage to the hallowed gallery of the best of the best of World Cinema! Of the 100 films that comprise the list, I can bet that 95 percent of the B-town crowd have never heard or seen 95 percent of the movies named. Guys, World Cinema is not Sultan, Piku, Queen, Rustom or even Pink, okay? They don’t figure even 999th from left in their overall scenario! Sure, a Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, Masaan, Court or Thithi could have featured, but the curators and critics surely had their reasons to not consider them. Don’t forget that five critics from India too were on the panel, so it’s not the evil foreign hand in action. As for disagreements, which Festival or list has ever been controversy-free?”
Who better than Utpal Borpujari, one of the Indian critics on the panel, to clear the air: “Let’s put things in perspective before hyper-ventilating! Best will always be subjective, personal and colored by each individual’s sensibilities. But since World Cinema is the theme, certain parameters must come into play: unspooling a cinematic language rooted in universality and connecting with viewers at a human level; offering a narrative which transcends culture, language, region and background, powered by story-telling style that entertains and enlightens in one powerful, enchanting sweep. Secondly, can we please drop this colonized, hurt and angry, persecution-complex, chip-on-the-shoulder stand the moment things don’t go our way?”
Borpujari agrees that several magnificent Art House films are worthy of gracing the list (having won high praise at renowned global Film Fests) but possibly not seen by a majority of the critics: “Our Art House films — for whatever reason — have obviously not been marketed in a focused manner, so they are outside the viewing radar of many critics. How can they vote for films they have not seen?”
Celebrated, Bangalore-based filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli agrees: “Apart from lack of opportunities to see our best work, there is another vital aspect that is often ignored and overlooked … cultural divide. The concerns that power many of our best films — political, social, emotional, psychological — appear irrelevant, vague and unimportant to them, because their cultural contexts and reference points are totally different. They just don’t get it … or maybe they are not interested or curious enough to want to understand.”
Respected veteran film-maker Shyam Benegal is befuddled by the list: “Frankly, and sorry to disappoint, but this list doesn’t make any sense to me. If it was Sight and Sound … yes … but this is too general and vague. For me, Cinema is a cultural product, embedded in its very own history, mythology and traditional mores. Each country has its own cultural roots as well as its own grammar and idiom to express them. The list would make some kind of sense if there was a specific criteria … but this 177 critics and curators from across the world, are bound to come with their own biases. This list will undoubtedly attract attention, provoke debates, trigger discussions, but then that is the nature of the beast!”
Veteran film critic Jugu Abraham points out interesting characteristics of this BBC list. Six American films made the top 10, with only one Oscar winner (No Country for Old Men), suggesting grabbing an Oscar doesn’t necessarily square off with international stature. Incidentally, 66 of the 100 films listed never won an Oscar, and only 4 won an Oscar for best picture. Interestingly and appropriately — in keeping with the arthouse vision? — most of the winners in the list were showcased in Cannes, Venice or Berlin Film Festivals, reiterating Europe’s recognition of cinematic gems as opposed to USA.
Notes Abraham: “Apart from America, four other countries who made it to the top 10 are Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Iran. Though not a single film from Russia featured, two works of the Russian director Andrey Zyagintsev made it to the top 100. Mauritian film Timbuktu and three from Iran — Certified Copy, A Separation and Ten — hit target, without a single voter participating from those countries.
“The Poll also indicated a soft-focussing of major star-directors of Hollywood, like Spielberg and Scorsese who had only one film each, shockingly ranked 83 and 78 respectively! They were outpaced by the Cohen brothers, Terence Malik, Wes Anderson, Paul T Anderson and Chris Nolan. Another fascinating aspect revealed that interesting cinematic fare of this century were being made by countries not remotely associated with cinema — Turkey, Senegal, Thailand, Hungary — at a fraction of the cost compared to USA.”
Abraham concludes: “Polls like these indicate the growing awareness of the definition of good cinema that is rapidly changing and even Americans are embracing this change, slowly but steadily. Also, it makes the powerful point that the glamorous Oscars are not necessarily the true indicators of good cinema, but reflect at its glitziest best, the body and soul of popular cinema.”
So, at the end of the day, the vision is clear: lack of compromise, imagination, original vision, daring, obsession with the linear truth along with an identity disconnected from comfort zones, that’s the name of the game … touch points required to make that sacred tryst with this hallowed list.
Top 10 Movies of the 21st Century
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
Top 10 Movies of the 21st Century