'2018' to Oscars: What history tells the filmmakers

2018 is the fourth Malayalam film, after Rajeev’s ‘Guru,’ Saleem Ahamed's 'Adaminte Makan Abu,' and Lijo Jose Pellissery's 'Jallikattu,' to receive this rare honor. Photos: Imdb

'And the Oscar Goes to,' a Malayalam film directed by Saleem Ahamed, perfectly captured the hard work and resilience of those who dream to make it big at the Academy Awards. ‘Guru’ opened new possibilities for Malayalam filmmakers when it became the first film to be selected from the state as the country's official entry for the Oscars. History is being repeated, with '2018' being selected for the 2024 edition of the Academy Awards.

The Jude Anthany Joseph directorial is the fourth Malayalam film, after Rajeev’s ‘Guru,’ Saleem Ahamed's 'Adaminte Makan Abu,' and Lijo Jose Pellissery's 'Jallikattu,' to receive this rare honor. However, will it be the first to bring the Oscars to God's Own Country? The debate and discussions have gained momentum since the announcement of the selection. Saleem Ahamed, who won the national award for 'Adaminte...,' said word of mouth and excessive marketing are key for films getting a chance to win at the Academy Awards.

“The Film Federation of India (FFI) has chosen wisely this year. There is a certain nature to the kind of films that are selected for the Oscars everywhere. And '2018' fits the bill. The FFI has sent films that are purely commercial and purely art house in the past, and '2018' is a blend of the two formats. Also, the film is technically perfect, which is why it has the potential to compete with films selected from other countries. Also, films that showcase local culture have a higher chance to win in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars,” he said.

However, everything said and done, the film will only be considered if it catches the attention of the Oscars jury. “And that is where the challenge lies. It is important to market the film among a large section of the Academy Awards jury members who have voting rights. It becomes a huge challenge when we have very little time in front of us,” added Saleem.

Saleem felt that the Federation should declare movies much in advance if Indian films needed a chance to win at the Oscars. “In India, the FFI considers movies that are released till September 10 for the Oscars entry. By the time the official entry is declared, it will be September end. That leaves very little time for preparation. This is what happened with ‘Adaminte Makan Abu.’ Even ‘2018’ has that disadvantage. The filmmakers hardly get two months to promote their film as the Oscar nominations are finalized by January,” he said.

“In most other countries, the official entry is declared well in advance, allowing filmmakers to formulate a proper marketing strategy. The reach and visibility are bigger, and these films get a chance to be invited to big festivals,” he said. “Being prepared in advance also helps them showcase their films at Cannes, which is a stepping stone for winning at the Oscars,” he said.

He added that the willingness of the producers to market the film also determines its success at the Oscars. “Not everyone would be willing to invest too much money on the marketing side since there are no returns. In my case, I was both the director and producer of ‘Adaminte Makan Abu,’ so I was determined that my film was marketed well. With 'RRR' too, it was S S Rajamouli and his team who marketed the film and not the producer,” Saleem said.

For the promotion of ‘Adaminte Makan Abu,’ Saleem and his team flew to Los Angeles in 2011 to market their film. “We send out DVD copies to every jury member of the Academy Awards. It is essential that everyone gets to know about our film. Giving interviews, getting stories published in major publications also will help the film in a big way,” he said.

Saleem felt that with the advent of the film distribution market after the OTT boom, films like ‘2018’ have an advantage that none of the previous films that went for the Oscars had. There is no more hassle of sending DVDs to the jury and media. If the movie is on any major OTT platform, there is a high chance that they would also push the marketing.


Playing the cards right

While agreeing to the fact that there is very little time in front of them, Venu Kunnappilly, the producer of ‘2018,’ said he is willing to fight tooth and nail to put up a good fight. “People may assume it’s vanity to even think of winning an Oscar. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I will make the most of it. Since we were unsure of an official selection from India, we had been working parallelly to enter the Academy Awards independently. However, things are a little easier for us now ever since the official entry announcement,” he said.

According to him, they are expected to compete with 70-odd films from other countries in the Best International Feature Film category. “We would have had to compete with at least 1,000 films in the main category had we entered the Oscars race independently. This is a huge relief for us,” he said.

However, he added there is a huge challenge in front of them. “Most of these jury members are based in the US, UK, Italy, and other foreign countries. We need to do the maximum to ensure they see our film. Our current aim is to enter the list of 15 films that will be shortlisted for the Oscars,” he added.

So how do they plan to market the film? “The FFI selected our film because it had an important lesson on man-made disasters, which is universal. The floods that occurred in Kerala were due to the constant negligence of the warnings given by Mother Nature. This is something that can happen and is happening in the US, China, Vietnam, or any other part of the world. Our film also depicts how humans united together to fight this man-made disaster. We plan to promote the message of this film,” he added. Team '2018' is also considering entering the race for the Golden Globes.

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