India At The Oscars
My memories of India at the Oscars can be divided into three vignettes, all seen on TV. The first is that of the Lagaan crew gamely clapping when No Man's Land won the Best Foreign Film award in 2002. The second is the director of Little Terrorist, Ashvin Kumar, bowing his head in prayer, moments before the 2005 winner for Best Live Action short was announced. And no, Little Terrorist didn't win either. The third, and the most poignant, is that of Satyajit Ray receiving the Lifetime Achievement award. A pyrrhic victory since it was handed to him when he, literally, was on his deathbed.
The Chronicle describes it through the eyes of UC Santa Cruz history professor, Dilip Basu, who was charged with delivering the award to Ray in Kolkata:
Though a proud day, the journey was also bittersweet: Ray, his body ravaged by heart attacks, lay on his deathbed in a Calcutta hospital.
"When I saw his condition, I couldn't say a word," Basu said recently in his deep, patient voice and lilting accent. "He looked like a skeleton of himself. I had tears in my eyes."
With Basu's hands supporting Ray's, too weak to hold the Oscar, the trembling filmmaker delivered his acceptance into the video camera. Ray talked of his long love affair with American cinema and the opus-length fan letters written to stars and directors like Billy Wilder, Deanna Durbin and Ginger Rogers.
I've tried to find the full text of Ray's acceptance speech but was unable to locate it online. Regardless, it was a very moving moment to say the least. Here was a colossus slowly reducing to rubble right in front of us. Within months he had passed on. The only consolation out of all of this is at least he lived long enough to receive the award in person, a fitting testimony to an extraordinary life and career.
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