Ang Lee ended his brief acceptance speech with a Namaste at the 85th annual awards ceremony of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angles. He won the Oscar for the Best Director for Life of Pi. Shobha De, the Indian celebrity writer and socialite, was, perhaps, among the few watching the live telecast of the Oscar presentation ceremony, who grasped the significance of Ang Lee's gesture. She tweeted that "Ang Lee's 'Namastey' during his Oscar's acceptance speech (was) worth more than the Golden Statuette in his hands". Indeed it was.
This year's Oscars ceremony was unique in many respects. Ang Lee's Namaste only highlighted this uniqueness. Although the function itself was very much American in its outer trappings, the spirit reflected the effect of globalising on one of the most prestigious film awards.
Life of Pi is about the triumph of spiritual power over brute force. While Pi, an Indian, represents spiritual power there could not have been a more ferocious symbol of sheer brute force than the tiger on the boat sharing cramped space. There was no escape for either. Ang Lee's Namaste was a humble tribute to this power in his moment of glory.
For years the Academy has had to live with the complaint that the movies that won awards were not necessarily popular at the box office. This year's nominations bucked the trend. Life of Pi had already grossed over $600 million before the presentation of the awards. Lincoln had crossed $100 million. Django Unchained too had made an impression at the box office. Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook too were close to touching the $100 million mark before the awards ceremony.
Katherine Bigelow would, nevertheless, be disappointed that her much talked about film on the operation that killed Osama bin Laden sank without a trace at the Red Carpet moment. Hurt Locker won her international acclaim. Zero Dark Thirty simply hurt. It must have hurt real badly.
However, pundits are still reluctant to give credit to the Academy for picking commercially successful films for the 85th awards ceremony. They attribute the success of the movies nominated for the Oscars to introduction of improved marketing and distribution strategies by studios and producers. In any case this debate is futile because the primary objective of film awards is to recognise and encourage various aspects of movie-making. The Academy is not a stock market for movie makers.
The other unique feature of this year's Oscars ceremony was the pre-dominance of black and other non-white shades in the nominated films. Lincoln was not just about the most significant President of the United States. It was about a white man's determination to ensure a place of equality and dignity for the coloured people on god's earth. Django Unchained is set in the South two years before the civil war. Although Django is a slave, the story is anything but the black people's fight for a place of dignity under the sun. It is an interesting coincidence that Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino chose to make movies, almost at the same time, and on the same wronged people. Argo is about the rescue of American hostages from Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which overthrew the puppet regime of Reza Shah Pahlavi. Zero Dark Thirty deals with the operation that eliminated Osama bin Laden.
One could write a short book on the nomination of the youngest and the oldest in the Best Actress category. Emmanuelle Riva had already won the BAFTA, Britain's version of the Oscars, for playing a music teacher in Amour. The teacher is stricken by a series of strokes. Reva was born in the year when the Academy was formed in 1929. At the other end of the age chart was 9-year-old Quvenzhane, nominated for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild. She actually played the part of Hushpuppy when she was 6. Amour won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film, but Beasts of the Southern Wild, like Zero Dark Thirty, will have the dubious consolation having been nominated in four categories. It would have been a fitting tribute to youth and age had this year's Best Actress Award been shared by Riva and Quvenzhane. That was not to be. As expected Jennifer Lawrence picked up her first Oscar for playing an endearing young widow in Silver Linings Playbook.
The awards for Best Film and Best Actor made the pundits purr. However, they had before them the awards list of this year's BAFTA, Golden Globes and the Screen Actors' Guild awards to help them spot the winners at the Oscars. Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Oscar in the Best Actor category at Sunday evening's ceremony. He had already won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and the Screen Actors' Guild trophies for playing Lincoln under Steven Spielberg's direction. Four different trophies for the same role would look good on any actor's resume.
That Ben Affleck walked away with the Best Film trophy was not the big surprise of the evening. The film had already been recognized as the best film by BAFTA, Golden Globes and the Screen Actors' Guild. The big surprise was the presentation of the trophy by Michelle Obama. The organizers, of course, owed her presence at the function to the wonder called modern technology. She made her appearance at the ceremony from the White House itself. Had she made it to the function she would have made some of the most beautiful faces from Hollywood look very ordinary.