Indians in Hollywood

Oscar academy membership is ‘great honour’ and ‘huge boost to the talents of Indian cinema’

By adding 15 Indians to its membership, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has kept to its promise of ‘new faces and voices’.

Can increased diversity in the organisation that votes on the Oscar awards change the kind of films that get nominated? Sound designer Amrit Pritam Dutta seems to think so.

Dutta is among the 15 Indians who have been invited to be members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Dutta, whose credits include PK and Kaabil, told Scroll.in, “People from India and other Asian countries have a different perspective on cinema. We know more about our culture and that would mean a greater diversity in the kinds of films nominated.”

Apart from Dutta, the Indians on the list of 744 new members are as follows: Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai, Mrinal Sen, Goutam Ghose, Sooni Taraporevala, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Arjun Bhasin and Anand Patwardhan. Ujwal Nirgudkar, technical adviser for the National Heritage Mission, is also on the list.

Shah Rukh Khan, despite his recent TED talk and box office clout in North American territories, is missing from the list. There are no candidates from the Southern film industries, at least in this year’s round.

“I am thrilled, it’s a great honour,” said Sooni Taraporevala, the writer of Salaam Bombay! and Such A Long Journey and director of Little Zizou.

“It was a surprise,” added costume designer Arjun Bhasin, whose films include Monsoon Wedding and Life of Pi. “I am honoured and excited to be part of this community.”

If there is a pattern to the kind of Indians who have been invited, it is that they have vastly benefitted from being cast in Hollywood productions. Actors such as Irrfan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Aishwarya Rai are already familiar to the rest of the Academy, while Aamir Khan’s Lagaan was nominated in the Foreign Language Film category in 2002.

Mrinal Sen, Goutam Ghose, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Anand Patwardhan are respected names on the international arthouse circuit, which may have facilitated their membership even if none of their films has been sent to the Oscars. However, Sen is an odd choice – at 94, he is one year younger than the oldest invitee (American actress Betty White), and has been indisposed for years, making his ability to vote at the time of the Oscars doubtful.

A clear left-field selection is Anand Patwardhan, the acclaimed director of such documentaries as Ram Ke Naam and Jai Bhim Comrade. Patwardhan said that he was most surprised, especially since he hadn’t sent any of his films for awards consideration. Yet, the decision signalled that “from time to time, the Oscars have been meaningful, for instance, when Michael Moore made his statement against the Iraq War”, Patwardhan told Scroll.in. “The Oscars have been a forum where progressive ideas have to a limited extent been aired – that possibility exists.”

The new members have been chosen from among 57 countries. The decision to include talent from around the world is part of a wider push by the Academy to live up to its promise of increasing its diversity by 2020. Women comprise 39% of the new members, while people of colour make up 30%.

The number of Indians voting for the Oscars might have gone up significantly, but don’t expect to see all of them on the red carpet. The announcement means that more Indians will be voting, but not all of them will be invited to the annual ceremony in Los Angeles, said Academy member and Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty.

Pookutty is a part of the Diversity Committee, which is in charge of increasing representation across groups within the academy, and he too had put forth a list of recommendations. “I feel particularly happy to see so many of our recommendation and artists who we shortlisted has been accepted by the Board of Governers of the Academy, I feel this is a huge boost to the talents of Indian cinema,” said Pookutty, who won an Oscar for Sound Mixing for Slumdog Millionaire in 2008.

“It’s up to all of us to ensure that new faces and voices are seen and heard and to take a shot on the next generation the way someone took a shot on each of us,” Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the academy’s first African-American woman president, said in a statement. Isaacs, the departing president, had pledged to open up the academy’s membership, which was 92% white and 75% male in 2016.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.