India's entry to Oscars caught in a legal tangle

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India’s official entry to the Oscars in the best foreign film category has run into a legal tangle with the director of a film which came a close second during selection alleging a bias in a court complaint.

Bhavna Talwar, the director of “Dharm”, or religion, said in her complaint in the Bombay High Court her film was dumped by the selectors in favor of superstar Amitabh Bachchan-starrer “Eklavya: The Royal Guard” because some members of the jury were known to the film’s director and producer.

“We felt that since certain members of the jury were personally known to Eklavya’s producer, this direct nexus could have led to a bias,” Talwar’s lawyer Vineet Naik said on Saturday.

The chairman of the selection committee which nominates India’s entry to the Oscars said the Film Federation of India (FFI), which appointed the committee, will reply to the court by the next date of hearing.

The court has set October 10 as the date to decide whether Talwar’s petition can be admitted or not and has asked the other parties to make their statements.

“As per the information I have, the FFI is going to reply to the court by October 10th. The decision to select ‘Eklavya’ was a collective one but it was not unanimous,” Vinod Pande said.

Critically acclaimed “Dharm”, which has been screened at the Cannes Film Festival, is the story of a staunch Hindu priest who adopts an abandoned child but later discovers the baby had Muslim parents. “Eklavya: The Royal Guard” is the tale of an old palace guard who carries a secret.

Both films did not do well on the box office.

In a statement released late on Friday, the producer and director of “Eklavya”, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, said the controversy would dent the reputation of India’s film industry in the world.