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And the award goes to…

July 11, 2012

One of the best signs of any film’s greatness is the number of awards it never got. If awards were a criterion then Sholay (1975) wouldn’t be one of the greatest films ever made and Sochenge Tumhe Pyaar Karein Ya Nahin from Deewana (1992) would be a better song than the seminal Phela Nasha from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). Awards lose their charm and value for almost every artist at some point in their careers but India would be the only cinema in the world where even the audiences don’t care a damn for many of these awards.

For years now every Indian film award right from the prestigious National Awards to the Filmfare and the hundreds of others that follow have been marred by some controversy or the other. Sometimes a family member is found to be on the jury (who knew Mac ‘Sambha’ Mohan was Raveena Tandon’s Uncle when she won the National Award for the Best Actress, Daman (2001), sometimes it’s just politically correct (Amitabh Bachchan’s Best Actor nod for Paa (2010) and sometimes it’s simply business like Bollywood sweeping a major National Award on an yearly basis. If that’s not all sometimes it’s bizarre retaliation of sorts – Rumor has it that Rongita Nandy insulted Gauri Khan and Karan Johar at a screening of one of her films so Shahrukh Khan refused to perform at the Sansui Awards that were produced by Rongita’s father Pritish Nandy’s company even though he was a brand ambassador of the sponsor hence Pritish Nandy ensured that Sudhir Mishra, his film was produced by Nandy, in his capacity as the head of jury voted against Shahrukh Khan for the National Award for the Best Actor for his performance in Swades (2004) in favor of Saif Ali Khan’s Hum Tum (2004). This would have sounded crazy and even untrue but one look at what is being passed off in the name of awarding talent and you know that the crazier the tale, higher the chances of it being true.

Barring acting everything else is a criterion for many of these awards. Every television channel, newspaper, and magazine has its own award tied up with major corporate houses and the whole exercise is like an annual event where every major star gets something to take home. But Indian film awards weren’t always like this. There was a time when they were respected. So, when and how did these awards end up becoming a big joke?

Till the 1980s Filmfare was the only award besides the National Awards when it came to honoring popular Hindi cinema. The readers would fill out their nominations and a jury would finalise the awards based on the posted votes. It worked brilliantly and the fact that Amol Palekar, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri won Best Actor awards is testimony enough. Somewhere the line between art and commercial cinema became too prominent and the magazine started a Critic’s Award segment in an effort to placate the genuine winners. Soon rumors were rife that some actors started buying these awards and in 1992 when Dimple Kapadia didn’t even bother opening the envelope before announcing Anil Kapoor’s name as the Best Actor it only added fuel to the fire. A few years later Deewana (1992) won all the music awards over Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992) and Filmfare ceased to be the hallowed award it once was.

Irrespective of their backgrounds or their parent companies, almost all film awards in India are the same. Most of them are nothing more than a gala event where everyone’s expected to dress their best and do the same thing every year till they are invited. Even the television telecast is as predictable as brushing your teeth – every time you see the Bachchans it will be followed by an insert of Rekha! If Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan put on a show one year the next would see Imran Khan and Rabir Kapoor recycle the same thing. Depending on the budget and the particular actor’s affinity with the award you could see, like at IIFA this year, Farhan Akhtar and Shahid Kapur do the same number. The only thing international in IIFA or International Indian Film Academy Award is the venue it chooses every year. The award claims to honor Indian cinema but since when did a segment of Bollywood become Indian cinema? IIFA is a paid vacation where stars land up in exotic locations with their families and maids, shake a leg, pose for some pictures and think they have done Hindi cinema a great service before picking up their statuette. This is one award where a star’s presence is enough to get them an award.

Bollywood’s love for film awards is beyond any logic. Rather than saluting the year’s best awards it simply hands out an award to everyone present. Sometimes it ends up creating a category like ‘Most Powerful Scene’ just to ensure that the bigwigs don’t go home empty handed. A leading actress almost cried her way to an award organized by one of India’s most respected newspapers; she insisted that her rival who had three flops was being given one so how could she not cry foul! A platform for surrogate advertising for tobacco companies, an evening where mommies and daddies come back with return gifts and loads of in-house humor that seems to be scripted … film awards just aren’t what they used to be.


Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here and follow him @gchintamani


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