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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 09:14 GMT
Picking Oscar winners - a juror's tale
By Rebecca Thomas
BBC News entertainment reporter

Indian director Ashutosh Gowariker
Director Ashutosh Gowariker enjoys the Academy's perks
For Indian film director Ashutosh Gowariker, this year's Oscars will be a landmark occasion, marking his first year as a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Gowariker was asked to join this elite film-making fraternity after his movie Lagaan was nominated for the best foreign film Oscar in 2001.

In the event, Lagaan - which went on to achieve global success - lost out to No Man's Land from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But the value of the nomination and Gowariker's Academy position have not been lost on the director or his countrymen.

Despite India's own thriving film industry, Gowariker says people there understand the global recognition brought by inclusion in the Oscars ceremony.

"Right now, there is a lot of hype in India because everyone has understood that the Academy Awards are the equivalent of the Olympics and many people watch them on TV.

"When I was nominated it was an unbelievable moment. I wanted to ask others around me if I had heard right or whether I was just being optimistic.

It's very difficult because no five films can be compared to each other but, for me, the most important aspect is how great a moral message a film has
Ashutosh Gowariker on voting

"It opened up doors in countries where Indian films did not have a presence in the past, such as Finland, and when I was asked on the jury it was exhilarating."

According to the Academy's voting rules, Gowariker nominates five films within his own professional category, namely directing. But all Academy members also put forward five films for best picture.

To this end, the Academy has to make sure its voters have seen all the eligible films - for this year's Oscars that equated to more than 200 - and duly sends them out on DVD.

Academy perks

Gowariker, like all his peers, has to fit all this movie watching around his day job of actually getting films onto the screen.

"It keeps me very busy but it's fun too and I've never enjoyed popcorn more," he jokes.

Academy rules, of which there are many, also state that voters cannot discuss their choices, but Gowariker can say what he is looking for in a good film.

Lagaan's mixture of genres has been a big hit

"It's very difficult because no five films can be compared to each other but, for me, the most important aspect is how great a moral message a film has. Films must entertain but also leave something behind with the audience," he explains.

Lagaan - a period drama about colonial rule, cricket and kinship - certainly seemed to follow this ethos, drawing many thousands to cinemas across India for many weeks.

Gowariker is committed to staying in India, working in Mumbai (Bombay), making traditional Bollywood musical films, such as his latest release Swades.

But he also makes the most of his visits to Hollywood, where his Academy membership gives him access to its library, archives and screenings.

He also gets to meet other film-makers, and recently had a satisfying meeting with British director Roland Joffe.

"Roland Joffe's views have been very interesting. He has a lot of experience of Indian films, has visited the country quite often and is most hopeful about the kind of cinema emerging from India," says Gowariker.

"He loved Lagaan and its combination of different genres: music, sport, drama, romance - this fascinated him."

Country divides

As a result of his visits, Gowariker has concluded that film-making is essentially the same worldwide.

"The grammar of making a movie and, as far as I can tell, the process is the same be it in America or India.The difference lies in the marketing," he says.

Swades is Gowariker's fifth film but a James Bond could be next

"Hollywood has a truly global market as mainstream movies find themselves in the remotest corners of the world, whereas our films remain amongst non-resident Indians overseas."

Hollywood movies are indeed very popular with Indian audiences whereas few Indian movies get a US release, and then it is only limited.

But Gowariker is neither bitter nor surprised by this apparent lack of appreciation, admitting he would only see a foreign film in India if it was in a festival or it had been much-hyped.

Still, his ultimate dream project could, he hopes, break down the barriers.

"I would love to go into Hollywood with my baggage and make a James Bond movie. They already have a strong theme song and then when they see Bond in places like Morocco in a belly dancing club - that for me is an opportunity for song."


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