​From Ray to Rajamouli: a look at Indian movies & makers that made waves internationally

Jan 25, 2023

By: Srishti Magan

India’s Oscar nominations for 2023

Indians have been winning Oscars since the 1980s, with Bhanu Athaiya winning the first award for costumes of Gandhi. Fourteen years ago, three Indians bagged Academy Awards for Slumdog Millionaire. But neither of them was ‘Made in India’. This time around, three Indian movies — RRR, All That Breathes and The Elephant Whisperers bagged Oscar nominations with make, makers – all Indian.

Credit: BCCL

Nominees studded with accolades

This year’s nominees have all been big winners on the international front. Shaunak Sen’s documentary All That Breathes won 10 international awards – including Sundance and Cannes. RRR has over 30 international awards in its kitty, including a Golden Globe for the Oscar-nominated song Naatu Naatu.

Credit: All-That-Breathes

International Oscar winners with Indian connect

Slumdog Millionaire remains one of the most popular international films with an Indian connection i.e. featuring Indian artists in an Indian setting. Gulzar, AR Rahman, and Resul Pookutty won Academy Awards for the film. 2019 Best Short Documentary winner ‘Period. End of Sentence’ was also set in India and co-produced by Guneet Monga.

Credit: BCCL

India’s first nominations at the Oscars

Only three Indian movies have been nominated as of now in the Best Foreign Film category — Mother India, Salaam Bombay!, and Lagaan. But since, many new categories are seeing nominations. Naatu Naatu is the first song from an Indian film to be nominated for an Oscar. Indian films like Writing With Fire bagged Best Documentary nomination in 2021 and Little Terrorist was nominated in the Best Live Action Short Film category in 2004.

Credit: BCCL

Indian documentaries (short) at the Oscars

2023 Oscar nominee The Elephant Whisperers, by Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga, joins Fali Bilimoria’s The House That Ananda Built (1969) and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s An Encounter With Faces (1979) to become the third Indian film to be nominated in the category.

Credit: Netflix

Global recognition of Indian movies

Legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray, easily one of the most revered artists internationally, is the only Indian to be awarded an Honorary Oscar (in 1992). Over the years, Indian movies have made a mark at many international film festivals, including the ‘original 3’ aka Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, along with Toronto and Sundance.

Credit: BCCL

India at Cannes Film Festival

The 1946 social-realistic film Neecha Nagar by Chetan Anand was the first (and only) Indian film to win the Palme d'Or. Since then, Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay!, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, and Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan are among the 15 Indian films that have won different awards at Cannes over the years.

Credit: BCCL

​India at Berlin Film Festival

​Ashani Sanket by Satyajit Ray was the first Indian film to win the Golden Bear (best film) at the 23rd Berlin Film Festival in 1973. Ray also won the Silver Bear, twice, for Best Directing. Other notable Indian winners include Shantaram’s Do Ankhen Barah Haath, Mrinal Sen’s Akaler Shandhaney, and Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se. Last year, Alia Bhatt-starred Gangubai Kathiawadi also had its world premiere at the festival.​

Credit: BCCL

India at Venice Film Festival

Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito was the first Indian film to win the Golden Lion in 1957. Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding bagged the award next, in 2001. In 2010, Mani Ratnam joined the likes of Al Pacino, Spike Lee, Kitano Takeshi, and others, by winning the Glory to the Filmmaker Award for significant contribution to contemporary cinema. Both of Chaitanya Tamhane’s films – Court (2014) and The Disciple (2020) have also won two awards, each, at the festival.

Credit: IMDb

India at Toronto Film Festival

Digvijay Singh’s Maya was the first Indian movie to land as the runner-up in the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival in 2001. Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding was also one of the nominees in the category that year. Vasan Bala’s 2018 action-comedy Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota also won the People's Choice Award: Midnight Madness at TIFF. Two years later, Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple won the Amplify Voices Award.

Credit: BCCL

India at Sundance Film Festival

This year’s Oscar nominee, Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes, was the first Indian film to win the Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema Documentary Competition in 2022. In the same category, Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s documentary Writing with Fire also won two awards in 2021 — the Special Jury award and the Audience Award.

Credit: Sundance

Other notable global achievements of Indian films

Baahubali: The Beginning was the first Indian film to be nominated for the Saturn Awards in 2016, while Gangs of Wasseypur won the Jury Grand Prize at the 2012 Asia-Pacific Film Festival. Geetu Mohandas’ The Liar’s Dice also won a special jury award at Sofia International Film Festival, while Bhansali’s Devdas won a BAFTA nomination.

Credit: BCCL

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