Prize unwise: Bollywood award shows

Entertainment shows masquerading as award ceremonies

Cinema

March 4, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Prize unwise: Bollywood award shows

Filmfare, by a film publication of the same name, was the first and, for a long time, the only popular Hindi film award (Photo Credit: Filmfare)

With a surfeit of Bollywood awards, the quality and credibility associated with many awards ceremonies is questionable. Even members of the film fraternity agree that away from true appreciation, award shows have just turned into a snoozefest.

After a gap of over a year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Bollywood award season has begun again.  Dadasaheb Phalke Awards, considered one of the most prestigious awards in Indian cinema, concluded on February 26 and Bollywood actors Deepika Padukone and Akshay Kumar bagged the Best Actor award for their performances in movies Chhapaak (2020) and Laxmii (2020), respectively.

Laxmii has only received an average business but a rather poor response for the lead actor’s portrayal of a transgender character. Critics and also members of the LGBTQ in India had questioned the rather caricaturist performance by Kumar. Thus, a Dadasaheb Phalke award for Kumar’s portrayal was met with surprise.

“Though as an Indian, one has been told that a Dadasaheb Phalke award, named after Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema and presented annually by the Directorate of Film Festivals, an organisation set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, is the most prestigious and genuine of awards and the Indian equivalent of the Oscars, the claim sounds hollow at best,” says Abhijat Swaroop, a Mumbai-based independent film director.

Song and dance sequences are the main draws of award shows these days (Photo Credit: Filmfare)

“Earlier all the nominees would attend the show, and you could really see the tension on their faces before the names were announced. Unlike today, when most of the nominees don’t even turn up, because they know who would be the winner. Not to mention, the innumerable award shows copying the same format,” adds Vijaya Ranjan, a final year student at the Film and Television Institute of Pune, one of the most renowned film institutes in the country.

Ranjan goes on to say that the protracted, glitzy song and dance sequences are the main draws of award shows these days; the actual award nominations and awards are squeezed in almost by the way. These are actually a variety of entertainment shows masquerading as award ceremonies, he adds.

Not just Swaroop and Ranjan, even the biggest Bollywood names feel the same way. Actors like Aamir Khan, Nasiruddin Shah, and directors like Anurag Kashyap, Prakash Jha and Ram Gopal Varma are but a few who stopped going to the Bollywood award shows years ago and have also been vocal about the scripted and biased nature of these award shows in several interviews and on social media.

The downward spiral

A combination of factors has caused the rot. Filmfare, by a film publication of the same name, was the first and, for a long time, the only popular Hindi film award. It began as a stage show in 1954, with a limited number of guests and sponsorship in the form of some standees and posters at the venue. Photographs were carried in magazines and newspapers, where these advertisements would appear in the background. Then came the Dadasaheb Phalke award, in 1969.

As celebrity performances were added to the mix, the scale and entertainment factor rose. Screen, another film magazine, launched its awards in 1995 and several others followed. From 2000 onwards, TV channels started buying rights regularly and a battery of sponsors and partners joined the bandwagon, turning awards into mammoth events attended by a few hundred and watched by millions at home.

The opaque selection process and criteria

In an interview, Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar had admitted that he was asked to perform at an award ceremony and then asked to reduce his fee because he was to receive an award.

Director Swaroop goes on to say that the award shows are tailor-made for people with the right connections and perhaps the stars with the most popular appeal are typically seen to win the most awards. “How else would one explain the fact that just a few years ago, excellent performances such as Richa Chadda in Masaan (2015), Kalki Koechlin in Margarita with a Straw (2014) were side-lined in favour of Sonam Kapoor who received a nomination for her role Dolly ki Doli (2015),” he asks.

Looking at the west for quality

Komal Sharma, another independent film director from Mumbai feels that Indian actors that yearn for an Oscar are berated for their perceived hankering for approval and recognition from the West. “After all, why should it matter what award one receives from an agency that has little understanding and less informed about the Indian style of cinema? That is certainly a valid argument, but what Indian film award has the gravitas and the legitimacy of something like the Oscar or the Golden Globe awards,” she asks.

She also points out that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, which organises the Oscars, too faces the pressure to get viewers and entertain but deals with it through a varied choice of emcees. While it is essential for such a property to be commercially viable, sustenance should not come at the cost of credibility. A good sense of humour, honest opinions and actual artists will also generate money as they do in the West but it is going to be a constant battle for everyone in Bollywood.

“If you are aiming for Oscars, do remember one thing -they won’t even nominate Vin Diesel in the Best Actor category just because Furious 7 (2015) was the fourth highest grosser of that year. And neither will Transformers series (2007-present) make it to the Best Films list, just because it has been the biggest grosser in every year the films have been released. To achieve some level of excellence, you have to look at cinema as art before business”, she adds.

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