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On This Day (May 16) - The First Academy Awards Took Place In 1929; Tracing India's Triumphs At The Oscars

The ceremony took place in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles, US. 

"... I found that the best way to handle filmmakers was to hang medals all over them," remarked Louis B. Mayer about his idea to create the Academy Awards. 

For most filmmakers, actors, musicians, and technicians associated with the world of cinema, winning an Oscar is the ultimate recognition of their craft. Certainly, you can’t measure excellence in any field by the awards; but the prestige of the Oscars is such that almost everyone in the industry looks forward to winning at least one Oscar in their career. Because, well, it's widely considered to be the most prestigious award in the film industry today. 

But you ever wondered how it all began? Well, it was on May 16, 1929, that the first Academy Awards took place. The ceremony was held at a private dinner function at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles, and was attended by about 270 people. The major recipients were Emil Jannings, the inaugural first award recipient for Best Actor (The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command); Janet Gaynor for Best Actress (7th Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans); Frank Borzage for Best Director, Drama (7th Heaven); Lewis Milestone for Best Director, Comedy (Two Arabian Knights); and Wings for Outstanding Picture (now known as Best Picture).

Although the Oscars primarily focus on American cinema, India has had a significant presence there throughout its history. And we have been able to bring the coveted statuette home a number of times as well. So, today, let's explore India's triumphs at the Oscars over the years. 

Bhanu Athaiya - Best Costume Design (1983) 

Back in 1983, the legendary costume designer Bhanu Athaiya became the first Indian to win an Oscar. She bagged the "Best Costume Designer" award for her brilliant work in Richard Attenborough's 'Gandhi', sharing it with her British collaborator John Mollo.

Satyajit Ray - Lifetime Achievement (1992) 

Satyajit Ray was the first Indian filmmaker to receive widespread acclaim in the West. In 1992, he was honored at the 64th Academy Awards with the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award. His work was described as a “rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and his profound humanism which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.”

Notably, Ray couldn't fly to Los Angeles as he was hospitalized in Kolkata at the time. A video of him lying in a hospital bed with his Oscar statuette in his hand was shown at the ceremony. 

​A.R. Rahman - Best Original Song & Best Original Score (2009) 

A.R. Rahman - the Mozart of Madras - won not one but two awards in two different categories at the Academy Awards 2009. He bagged the "Best Original Song" ("Jai Ho") and "Best Original Score" awards, both for 'Slumdog Millionaire'. Upon winning the awards, he said, "I am excited and terrified. The last time I felt like this was during my marriage."

Gulzar - Best Original Song (2009) 

Gulzar, one of India's most celebrated poets and lyricists, won the Academy Award for "Best Original Song" along with A. R. Rahman for the song "Jai Ho" from 'Slumdog Millionaire'. 

It's worth noting that a decade after winning the prestigious award, Gulzar credited Rahman for it. In his words, "It was because of A R Rahman the song won the award. Although Sukhwinder Singh also contributed to making the song a hit by putting a lot of energy into it."

Resul Pookutty - Best Sound Mixing (2009) 

In 2009, for 'Slumdog Millionaire', Resul Pookutty won the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing along with Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke. 

Notably, years later, Pookutty called it the "Oscar curse", adding, "I just want to forget it. I just don’t want to see it. If my children want to see it, I show them. My banker one day said, ‘Sir can I take a picture with it? I said, ‘Yes sure.'”

M. Keeravani & Chandrabose - Best Original Song (2023) 

At the 2023 Academy Awards, veteran composer M. M. Keeravani along with lyricist Chandrabose made history by winning the "Best Original Song" award for "Naatu Naatu" from 'RRR'. And they defeated heavyweights like Rihanna for “Lift Me Up” (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever); Son Lux with Mitski and David Byrne for “This Is a Life” (Everything Everywhere All at Once); Sofia Carson for “Applause” (Tell It Like a Woman); and Lady Gaga for “Hold My Hand” (Top Gun: Maverick) to win the Oscar.

(Credit: Oscars) 

Guneet Monga & Kartiki Gonsalves - Best Documentary Short (2023) 

It was another historic moment for India at the 2023 Academy Awards. Guneet Monga and Kartiki Gonsalves bagged the "Best Documentary Short" award there for their 41-minute documentary short titled 'The Elephant Whisperers'. The film beat out 'Haulout', 'How Do You Measure a Year?', 'The Martha Mitchell Effect', and 'Stranger At The Gate'. 

(Credit: guneetmonga) 

Well, here's to hoping for more Oscars along the way!