While (however rightly or wrongly) largely perceived as the authoritative barometer on the quality of any year in film, there remains one oft-overlooked fact about the Academy Awards: to even be considered for a nomination, the film has to officially be entered to the Academy. While this is a no-brainer move for all high-profile studio film and indie awards bait, a lot of more lower-profile theatrical releases end up not being submitted at all--and more often than not, the distributors of Indian cinema in North America do not bother with the paperwork. While understandable, for 2011 it's a bit of a crying shame, for this past year saw Hollywood studios make further inroads into the Indian film industry as a whole (not just Hindi-language Bollywood, but regional language cinema as well, as I will note below). Most of all, though, it's an even bigger waste considering only a paltry two songs were nominated for the Best Original Song category this year--a category that, if even a fraction of the many Indian films that get a typical 60-100 screen theatrical release in America in any given year (and the biggest of which routinely open in the box office top 20), India would rightly dominate. Given the love showered on the music of the India-set British film Slumdog Millionaire back in 2008, this isn't such a far-fetched prospect. But since only one fairly obscure Indian film (so obscure it wasn't even on my radar) bothered to submit for 2011 Oscar consideration, some of the best songs written expressly for film will continue to go unrecognized. The following are three 2011 Indian film songs that I feel should've been in the consideration pool, especially when going by the Academy nominating standard of rewarding contextual use within the film.
"Prema Lekha" from Anaganaga O Dheerudu (Once Upon a Warrior)
2011 began with a surprising expansion of Hollywood's interest in Indian cinema as Disney, already having dipped their toe into traditional Bollywood (read: Hindi-language film) in 2008 with the animated feature Roadside Romeo, forayed into regional Telugu language cinema in spectacular fashion last January with what is pretty much a traditional Disney animated musical adventure--that happens to be live action. And in Telugu. The central love duet composed by the duo Salim-Sulaiman, "Prema Lekha" ("Your Love"), is in the tradition of Disney romantic songs that have won trophies in the past, not to mention is paired with some truly beautiful visuals and vibrant fantasy costuming; one can easily see these characters appear as regulars in a hypothetical Indian Disneyland.
"Saadda Haq" from Rockstar
On the whole, Imtiaz Ali's drama about a simple musician's transformation, for better or worse, into the title celebrity is an uneven, underachieving film, but what met and exceeded expectations was the song score by established Academy favorite A.R. Rahman. "Saadda Haq" ("Our Right") is a great example of what a film song should be: narratively, it is an important touchstone for the story and character, as it marks both when he reaches the height of fame and perhaps loses his soul; musically and lyrically (Irshad Kamil penned the words), it's a wildly rousing rock anthem of rebellion bolstered by searing lead guitar work by Orianthi, best known as Michael Jackson's guitarist on This Is It. (Make sure the English subtitles are enabled in the clip below by clicking on the "CC" for captions.)
If there's any song non-submission that disappoints, frustrates, and even slightly angers me the most, it's this infectious dance number, composed by the team of Vishal & Shekhar with lyrics by Niranjan Iyengar. What makes Eros Entertainment's non-entry into the fray all the more baffling is that not only did they actually have a big premiere event for this big-budget science fiction adventure in Los Angeles this past October, but at no less than the Academy's own lavish Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at their Beverly Hills headquarters. Alas, what a great missed opportunity for an Oscar performance for the ages--multi-Grammy-nominated R&B/hip-hop artist/songwriter/producer Akon singing in Hindi as global superstar Shahrukh Khan leads a troupe of dancers? Oh, what could've been...