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Oscars 2023: Mother India To Jai Ho – India’s Journey So Far

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Picture was shared on Twitter. (courtesy: tandonrahul24)

Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are often considered the most prestigious awards in the field of cinema, at least in popular culture. Established in 1929, the Oscars recognise excellence in cinematic achievements across various categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, and Best Original Screenplay, among others. The awards are presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a professional organisation of over 9,000 members working in the film industry. Over the years, film industries from across the world have competed to win the coveted Oscar award. India, which is not only the second oldest film industry in the world but also the largest producer of films in the world, has made remarkable contributions to world cinema. As a result, over the years, India has had several trysts with Oscar awards. 

Here is a quick glance at how India and Indians have fared at the Oscars over the years.


Bhanu Athaiya – Best Costume Design – Gandhi (1983)

Bhanu Athaiya is the first Indian to win the coveted Oscar award 40 years ago. She received the honour for her work in Gandhi. The Richard Attenborough directorial based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi was not an Indian production. The film was produced jointly by Richard Attenborough and the National Film Development Corporation of India.

Satyajit Ray – 1992

 A name and legacy that needs no introduction, Satyajit Ray was presented with an honorary Oscar award in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement. 

AR Rahman and Gulzar – Best Original Song – Jai Ho (2009)

In what can only be described as a historic win after several years of no wins at the Oscars, Danny Boyle’s  Slumdog Millionaire put several Indian names on the global map. AR Rahman and Gulzar, two of India’s most prolific musical minds, won the Oscar Award for Best Original Song (Jai Ho) for the film. 

AR Rahman – Best Original Score  – Slumdog Millionaire (2009)

AR Rahman created history by winning not one but two Oscars at the Oscars in 2009 for his work on Slumdog Millionaire. The second award was presented to AR Rahman for Best Original Score. 

Resul Pookutty – Best Sound Mixing – Slumdog Millionaire (2009)

The same year and for the same movie, Resul Pookutty won the Oscar award for Best Sound Mixing award for Slumdog Millionaire. 


Best Foreign Language Film: Over the years, several Indian films have been nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category but the award, however, has remained elusive so far.

Mother India (1957) 

One of Bollywood’s most popular films, Mother India was India’s maiden nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film, by Mehboob Khan, portrays the struggles of a rural Indian woman to bring up her children in the pre-independence era. 

Salaam Bombay! (1988)

Directed by Mira Nair, Salaam Bombay!  traces the harsh realities of the lives of street children in Mumbai (then Bombay). Thanks to Mira Nair’s masterful craft, the film received widespread positive reviews and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

Lagaan (2001) 

Headlined by one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, Aamir Khan, Lagaan was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film directed by Ashutosh Gowariker follows a group of farmers who form a motley crew to challenge the British to a game of cricket. The end game? To eliminate the burden of taxes levied on the farmers by the English.

Indian producer Ismail Merchant has been nominated for the Oscars four times. His nominations include: 

The Creation of a Woman (1960)– Best Live Action Short Film

A Room with a View (1986)  – Best Picture

Howards End (1993)– Best Picture

The Remains of the Day (1994) – Best Picture 

Fali Bilimoria – Best Documentary Short (1969)

Director and cinematographer Fali Bilimoria were nominated in the Best Documentary Short category in 196 for the film The House That Ananda Built.

Ishu Patel – Best Animated Short (1978)

Animation filmmaker-educator Ishu Patel received a nomination in the Best Animated Short category in 1978 for the project Bead Game.

KK Kapil – Best Documentary Short (1979)

Director-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra directed An Encounter with Faces, a short documentary film that centres around a group of children residing in an orphanage. The film, produced by K.K. Kapil produced, received a nomination for the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 1979.

Ravi Shankar – Best Original Score – Gandhi (1983)

Sitarist maestro Ravi Shankar was nominated in the Best Original Score for Gandhi. He earned a nomination in the best score category for the same film with George Fenton but lost to John Williams for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Ashvin Kumar – Best Live Action Short Film – Little Terrorist (2005)

Little Terrorist, a short film by Ashvin Kumar, received a nomination for Best Live Action Short in 2005. The film stars Irrfan Khan and Koel Purie and tells the poignant story of a young Pakistani Muslim child who ventures across the border into India. 

Bombay Jayashree – Best Original Song – Pi’s Lullaby (2013)

The film adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee, received a Best Original Song nomination in 2013 for Pi’s Lullaby,” composed by Carnatic musician Bombay Jayashri.

Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh – Best Documentary Feature – Writing with Fire (2022)

Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s documentary Writing with Fire won the nomination for  Best Documentary Feature at the 2022 Oscars. The film follows the journey of the Dalit women-led newspaper Khabar Lahariya and how the team adapts to the new landscape of digital journalism.

Kartiki Gonsalves – Best Documentary Short –  The Elephant Whisperers (2023)

Directed by Kartiki Gonsalves, The Elephant Whisperers has earned itself a  Best Documentary Short nomination at the 2023 Oscars. The film narrates the story of a tribal couple’s efforts to take care of an orphaned baby elephant in South India.

Shaunak Sen – Best Documentary Feature – All That Breathes (2023)

Shaunak Sen’s documentary All That Breathes has been nominated in the b Best Documentary Feature category for the Oscars, this year. The film showcases the struggles of black kites, a once-common bird of prey in Delhi, as they face challenges posed by the city’s smoggy and polluted air. The documentary highlights the efforts of siblings Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad to rescue these birds and protect them from harm.

M. M. Keeravani, Chandrabose – Best Original Song – Naatu Naatu (2023)

SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus RRR has marked its presence at the Oscars this year with a nomination in the Best Original Song category for Naatu Naatu.  The song has bagged several awards including the Golden Globe.

With three nominations this year, Indian cinema fans are hopeful that the country will win an Oscar this year.

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