61 Years, 50 Submissions, 3 Nominees, No Winners: A Brief History Of India At The Oscars

Posted by Sahil M Beg in Art, Culture-Vulture
March 5, 2018

61 years of Oscar nominations. 50 submissions. 3 nominees. No winner.

The quest of the Indian cinema fraternity to lay their hands on the golden man has been rather woeful over the years. India started submitting films to the Academy for the Best Foreign Language Film category since 1957, a year after the amalgamation of the category. The award is presented annually by the United States Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to feature-length films produced outside the United States, mainly containing non-English dialogues.

The Film Federation of India (FFI) holds the responsibility for appointing a committee to choose one film among many released that year to be submitted as India’s official entry for the category of “Best Foreign Language Film” the following year. The selected film is then sent to the Academy along with English subtitles, where they are screened for the jury appointed.

India, over the years, has sent over 50 films to the competition. Most of the films submitted were primarily in the Hindi language, followed by Telugu (nine times) and Marathi, Bengali and Malayalam (twice each).

Only on one instance in 2003, the FFI, in a controversial decision, chose not to send an official entry as they felt no film produced that year was in a position to compete with films from other countries. In 2011, the jury of the 58th National Film Awards recommended that the best film at the film awards be made India’s official entry for the Oscars. This recommendation failed to have any impact, and for the next three years different movies were sent until “Court” (2014), the winner of the National Film Award, was chosen as the official entry for the Oscars from India.

Amit Masurkar’s “Newton” was India’s official entry for this year, from 26 submissions. The movie failed to make the cut and was eliminated before the voting round.

Here are the films that managed to make it to the final round:

Mother India

India’s journey at the Oscars started with Mehboob Khan’s epic drama, “Mother India” (1957), starring Nargis, Sunil Dutt and Raj Kumar. It became the very first Indian movie to make the final five in the best foreign film category but lost to “The Nights of Cabiria”, an Italian drama.

Salaam Bombay

Based on the life of street urchins in Bombay, Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay” (1988) made it to the final nominations at the 61st Oscar awards. It lost to Denmark’s “Pelle the Conqueror”.


“Lagaan” (2001), a period film set before Independence and directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, starring Aamir Khan as the lead, was India’s great hope at the 74th Oscar Awards. But it lost to the Danis Tanovic directed war drama film “No Man’s Land”.

Here are some Indians who have won Oscars:

Bhanu Athaiya

In 1983, at the 55th Academy Awards, Indian costume designer Bhanu Athaiya became the first Indian to take home an Oscar trophy. She shared the award for the Best Costume Design with John Mollo for their work in Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”.

Satyajit Ray

An inspiration to filmmakers across the world, Satyajit Ray, in 1992, was bestowed with an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy “in recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and for his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.” Though the legendary filmmaker could not attend the event personally due to sickness, he articulated his acceptance speech via live video feed from the hospital bed.

AR Rahman

In 2009, at the 81st Academy Awards, one of the greatest music composers of the country, AR Rahman, along with the master lyricist Gulzar, was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Song (“Jai Ho”) for the Danny Boyle directed “Slumdog Millionaire”. The legendary musician bagged another Oscar for Best Original Score for the same movie.


A noted poet and a prodigy in lyrics writing, Gulzar was bestowed with the honour of an Oscar for Best Original Song for Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” at the 81st Academy Awards.

Resul Pookutty

In 2009, the Indian sound designer, editor, and mixer, Resul Pookutty, bagged the Best Sound Mixing award at the Oscars for his work for “Slumdog Millionaire” at the 81st Academy Awards. He won the award along with Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke.