Looking back: India at Oscars through the years

It’s been a slow and steady climb

Naatu Naatu and The Elephant Whisperer are all the rage currently, and why not! After all, it’s not often that India is represented at the Academy Awards, let alone win an award. The historic importance of these wins made us look back at other key Indian nominations through the years. India’s association with the Oscars began in 1957 with Mother India being nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film. It narrowly missed the win, but opened the gates for Indian cinema.


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The same category saw Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2002). There was much fanfare for the latter, thanks to Aamir Khan being the lead actor, and the film having enjoyed massive popularity in India. As for Salaam Bombay!, it becomes doubly special now, as we get to see a young Irrfan Khan on screen.

In 2009, three Indians created brouhaha in the country, as their work was nominated for the 81st set of Oscars. A.R. Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar were feted globally for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. They won Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Song (for Jai Ho)  respectively.  It also made actors Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto global stars. Rahman was also nominated for Danny Boyle’s other film, 127, for Best Original Score, couple of years down the line. In 2013 Jayasri Ramnath’s earned Best Original Song (for Pi’s Lullaby) monination, and that was India’s only connection.

A notable dent was made by Richard Attenborough’s biographical film Gandhi. Sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar was nominated for Best Original Score, while designer extraordinaire Bhanu Athaiya brought home the trophy for Best Costume Design. We have made multiple appearances related to music nominations, but till date, Athaiya is our only design connection to the Academy.

Feature films aside, India has a better history of documentaries that have been nominated. Guneet Monga was no stranger to the Oscars stage as she walk to collect her award for The Elephant Whisperer. In 2019, Period. End of Sentence, won her Best Documentary (Short Subject).  In the aughts, nominations were earned by Ashvin Kumar for Little Terrorist, and Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh for Writing with Fire. This year Shaunak Sen and Aman Mann’s All That Breathes also held potential as a winner.





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