Guneet Monga has come on board as an executive producer on Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu—India’s official entry to the 2021 Oscars under the Best International Feature Film category. Monga has a wide array of experience as a producer and knows well how to run successful Oscar campaigns. She was an executive producer on Period. End of Sentence, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 2019 Oscars. The 37-year-old producer of Lunchbox also drove the campaign for the Tamil film Visaaranai at the 2016 Oscars but the film failed to make the shortlist.
Jallikattu, which had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, is set in a remote village where a buffalo escapes slaughter and triggers an orgy of violence involving the beast and the villagers. With the man vs animal conflict as its central theme, Jallikattu serves as a powerful reminder of man’s insatiable lust for power and supremacy over everyone else. The film also explores themes of envy, jealousy, machismo, and chaos and mob behaviour. The film is based on a short story written by S. Hareesh. Like most films of Pellissery, Jallikattu also employs overlapping dialogue, razor-sharp kinetic editing and breathtakingly fluid camera movements.
Making the shortlist and getting nominated for an Oscar in the Best International Feature Film category isn’t just a matter of quality. It also demands a disciplined and effective campaign. So far only three Indian films viz. Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Lagaan (2001) have been nominated for the award. In order to understand this better the best case study on offer is that of Aamir Khan’s persistent campaign for Lagaan. Khan took the initiative and arrived in Hollywood in December 2001, more than a month before the nominees for the 74th Academy Awards were announced. With a few contacts, he started holding screenings for his film. He made a West Hollywood hotel his base and started inviting Indian friends living in Los Angeles who ended up inviting their American friends and acquaintances. And slowly but steadily Lagaan started generating the much-needed buzz which helped it get the coveted nomination. The film eventually lost out to No Man’s Land but Khan’s campaign was nothing less than a dream run that can serve as a handy case study for Jallikattu.
Another good example is the campaign for Parasite. Publicist Mara Buxbaum first got hold of Bong Joon-ho at the Cannes Film Festival right after the screening, several months before the Academy Award nominations were even announced. A few months after Cannes, where the film won the Palme d’Or, Buxbaum got on a Skype call with Bong in Korea to finalize the deal to represent him and his movie, starting in Telluride. And the rest is history. Of course, it all begins with conviction and self-belief. One must back it up with a potent campaign and hope that it manages to gain weight as it progresses.
Guneet Monga is just the right person to drive the campaign for a film like Jallikattu. It’s a kind of cinema that not many in Hollywood would be accustomed to watching and so initially it would require some efforts to create the much-needed buzz for the film. Remember, according to reports, very few people showed up at the first and second screenings of Lagaan but the numbers starting picking up from the third screening onwards as the word of mouth began to spread. And the numbers continued to grow. Monga will have to marshal her resources really well. But with her track record and clout she can certainly ensure that Jallikattu grabs the eyeballs that it needs, first to secure a nomination and subsequently to win.