India Oscar entry faces legal challenge


NEW DELHI -- The selection process of India's Oscar entry "Eklavya - The Royal Guard," is being questioned by the makers of "Dharm" (Religion), one of the five films short-listed by the Film Federation of India. "Dharm" director Bhavna Talwar and her Mumbai-based banner WSG Pictures filed a case Friday in the Mumbai High Court alleging that the FFI's selection process which selected "Eklavya" was "biased."

The choice of "Eklavya" as India's Oscar entry was announced Sept. 24.

In a judgment Saturday, the court said that "there was prima facie bias in the selection process of this year's Oscar entry."

The court also asked the FFI to respond to these allegations in the next hearing scheduled for Oct. 10.

In an interview Sunday, Talwar said, "Our main purpose to file the case was to address the wider issue of how the FFI jury is constituted to select a film. The 11 jury members this year included three members who were already partial in their judgement favoring "Eklavya" director Vidhu Vinod Chopra."

Talwar's lawyer Vineet Nair added, "One of these three jury members included film editor Ranjit Bahadur who worked on a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of "Eklavya" featured as an extra on the DVD. Hence, in our petition we have asked that the selection process be conducted again."

Naik also pointed that the FFI's jury "does not seem to have national representation from regional film industries such as in South India. For the Oscars, the FFI usually ends up selecting mainstream Bollywood Hindi language films while ignoring regional films which deserve an equal chance in the selection process."

"Dharm," which revolves around an orthodox Hindu priest who ends up adopting a Muslim baby, lost by one vote against "Eklavya" in the FFI jury voting process.

While the situation will be clearer by the next hearing, Naik said the case could be prolonged, "If the court's judgement is not in our favor, then we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court."

At press time the FFI had not made any statement on the issue.

The Indian government's 2005 National Film Awards faced a legal challenge (HR 8/8) when a jury member filed a case challenging the selection of "Black," whose lead actor Amitabh Bachchan (who is also the lead in "Eklavya") was honored with a best actor win. However, that case was dismissed by the Delhi High Court which led to the awards being announced after almost a year's delay.