After Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy was announced as India’s official entry to the Oscars a few days ago, the cheers were as fierce as the criticism. A common complaint online was that it wasn’t really the best film India produced this past year. Others countered that it wasn’t necessarily the best film, but one mostly likely to at least bag an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film that is usually the country’s official selection. This year, Gully Boy is up against strong contenders such as Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite (South Korea), Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain And Glory (Spain) and  Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor (Italy).

Here are 5 things you should know about how Indian films are selected for the Oscars:

It’s not about the best film

What kind of film has Oscar potential? One that will be seen by the 6,500 Academy members, which involves vast amounts of money being pushed into the Oscar campaign, a lot of clout and networking needed to grab eyeballs. We spoke to someone privy to the Film Federation of India’s selection process who said the fact that director Zoya Akhtar and costume designer Arjun Bhasin are Academy members boosted the film’s chances over Super Deluxe and Article 15, which were the two next closest contenders. Other things the Academy loves – stories set in the Indian slums, featuring underdogs and a crackling soundtrack. All of which are the ingredients of Gully Boy.

However, every film submitted, both arthouse and extremely commercial, is considered. This year, Kesari, Badhaai Ho and Andhadhun were also in the running. Still, winning a National Award or crossing the Rs 100-crore mark at the box office is no indicator of selection.

It’s an expensive gamble

It’s up to producers to decide whether to submit the film to the Film Federation of India. The submission fee is around a lakh, including taxes. (Rs70,000 plus 18% tax). More expensive still is waging the Oscar campaign once your film becomes India’s official selection. In 2017, director Vetri Maaran told Film Companion that campaigning for Visaranai was more expensive than getting it made. “It starts with finding a place to live in for those two months of promotions. The first thing you need to do is get a PR who specializes in foreign-language Oscar films. It’s essential to your campaign. There are two or three big names. Fredell Pogodin is the best. There’s another person called Bumble who is also a good PR…You start talking, they say $15,000 for promotions till it is shortlisted. If it’s shortlisted, another $5,000. If it’s nominated, another $5,000. Hollywood is all about wine and dine. You don’t eat lunch, you do lunch. Pre-breakfast meeting, breakfast meeting, post-breakfast meeting – that’s how they live. This wine and dine is an integral part of LA. We hired a beautiful villa where we could have parties and invite people to spread the word. Putting out ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter (is the norm). Two centrespreads cost $32,000. We did four. People started looking at these ads and saying: Okay these are guys with some money from India. Let us give them some credibility.

The right subtitles are crucial

The DCP you submit must have English subtitles. We were told Gujarati film Chaal Jeevi Laiye was disqualified this year because it didn’t have English subtitles. To qualify as an international feature, the film has to have less than 40% dialogues in English. The rest could be a mixture of two languages, for example, Tamil and Telugu, but they should still be more than 60% of the language spoken.

The film needs an official theatrical release in India

Films can’t be submitted to the FFI without being released theatrically first and having a Censor Board certificate. To be eligible this year, the film should have been released between September 2018 and August 2019. This date changes every year, depending on when the submission details come out. 

What happens if you can’t theatrically release your film here?

Release it in LA. Any language film from any country can be considered for the Oscars if it has a formal release in LA for at least a week. This makes it eligible for all categories except Best International Feature Film, as only films that are the country’s official selections are eligible for that category. “Everyone on Twitter is saying, ‘Why didn’t you consider Kumbalangi Nights?’ That film wasn’t entered. The producer didn’t submit it. But if he wants it to be up for other categories, he can release it in LA,” says a source close to the FFI. The cut-off dates for those films are more elastic – even films released this December could be eligible for the Oscars 2020.

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