“The beginnings of all things is small”, said Cicero, the Roman philosopher. The first “Oscar Awards”, on May 16, 1929, was attended by just 270 people at a private dinner function at the Art Deco style Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, presided by the legendary Douglas Fairbanks. Since then, “The Oscars”, watched by over billion people now, have become the oldest and most popular film awards in the world.
Winning an Oscar is a hallmark of great achievment in films. But how are the winners chosen? The “Oscars”, officially called “Academy Awards of Merit”, are decided by the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Almost 6000 members, from 23 branches of filmmaking, actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, designers, editors, producers, composers etc, vote. Actors make up 22% of the Academy. I’ve been a proud member since 1982, nominated by Peter Ustinov and Roddy McDowell, with whom I’d starred in “The Thief of Baghdad”, for my work in Europe.
Membership of the Academy has many joys. First, we are sent individually
named and watermarked DVDs, to prevent piracy, of all films that are eligible
to be voted. From this year, we can also stream them online. Second, we get to
vote for the Oscars.
In the initial round, starting in December, members can only nominate
candidates from their specific branch, in my case, actors. But everyone can
nominate the “Best Film”.
After the nominations in all categories are decided, they are voted on by ALL the voting members in the third week of February. In other words, peers decide who is nominated, and all members collectively decide the winners. The Best film is voted on by all by rating the 10 nominated films in descending order of preference.
Another joy is being picked for the seats reserved for Academy members so we can attend the coveted Oscar Ceremony itself. A 1 in 4 chance.
I got my ticket to attend the Oscars in the early 1988. That year ceremony was held in downtown LA, at the big domed Shrine Auditorium , capped by red turrets reminding me of Mumbai’s iconic Taj Hotel at the Gateway of India. I walked down the Red Carpet waving to the cheering European Press, feeling top of the world. Inside the cavernous audtorium, I was seated a some rows behind some of the eventual winners: Michel Douglas (Best Actor, Wall Street), Cher (Best Actress, Moonstruck), Sean Connery (Best Supporting, Untouchables), Bernardo Bertolucci (Best Director, Last Emperor). It felt good to be close to the greats.
I was looking forward to a night of exciting action on stage. It turned out to be bit of a damp squib. Every time there was a commercial break -- -and there were many -- - the audience was left to chat among themselves. Many a musical or dance act had been pre-recorded so we saw only a few live acts. People whiled away their time, rubber-necking to see what other celebrities were around. But we all cheered loudly for the emotional winners of the
That coveted Oscar night lasted an eternity, well over 4 hours. Towards the end, nature called urgently. I hurried to a distant toilet where the urinals were crowded with other bursting bladders. As I dried my hands, a British Sound Recordist rushed in with an Oscar in his hands. “Here hold this, I’ve got to go” he yelled, thrusting the gold-plated statuette at me. As the Brit frantically fumbled to pee, I looked disbelievingly at the Oscar he’d put into my hands. “I’m holding an Oscar!” was all I could think. It was a gleaming gold knight holding a sword, Art Deco style, standing on a reel of film on a black base, heavier than I imagined. It was a strange and magical feeling. “Will I get ever my own?” I wondered. Well, that hasn’t happened yet. Years later, the Italians did make me a Knight, but the Oscars remain Hollywood’s Holy grail.
This article was first published by Hindustan Times - Nov 5th 2015
Kabir Bedi is one of India’s most famous international actors with a career spanning Bollywood, Hollywood and Europe. He’s a voting member of the “Oscars Academy”, and a Knighted “Cavaliere” of the Italian Republic.