Entertainment unlimited

THE BEST & WORST OF AWARDS

Entertainment unlimited

DH Photo illustration: Yathi Siddakatte

As the New Year arrives, so do various film awards for the years gone by. Till the ’90s, when satellite television changed the lives of people forever, there was only one popular Hindi film award - the Filmfare Award given by the publication of that name. There were individual state awards that were given, small local ones too (like Lion’s Clubs in Mumbai and New Delhi) and of course, the National Awards that were also instituted in 1954, which judged films with one award across all languages in each category.

The most famous awards were the Filmfare and the National, but from early times, awards, being a matter of prestige, were a two-sided coin: those who won said that they were genuine, while those who did not, made allegations of favouritism, nepotism and lobbying. Filmfare, a popular award where a jury chose from among the top three nominees voted in by the readers of the magazine in categories like film, director, actor, actress, music director, etc, was often mired in controversies and several people as well as the magazines would be accused of rigging the votes. In one unique case, living legend Pran refused his own award because the ‘Best Music’ trophy did not go to the deserving name but to the inferior music score of the film for which he himself had been awarded! At the National Awards level too, insinuations and more of lobbies happened, and still do.

In those days, award winners were announced much before the actual function, held then in auditoriums. Entertainment items then included Indian classical dances and music recitals, skits and a rare international artiste’s live performance, unlike today’s complete dependence on dancing to film songs and pop and fusion performances. With television spreading its net wide in the ’70s, such shows were also sometimes telecast for the general people who were not fortunate enough to be invited for the events.

The smaller awards were divided into two categories — the rare credible ones and the common local award functions where an artiste was given an award irrespective of merit because someone important in a set-up was close to or a fan of that celeb, or if a star was willing to reciprocate in some way, like donating to their cause or even a celebrity’s willingness to attend the event and even perform in it!

This writer was witness to an incident while doing an interview with Dadasaheb Phalke laureate Majrooh Sultanpuri. The poet-lyricist received a phone call where, after a brief heated exchange, he slammed down the receiver. “They actually had the nerve to congratulate me as they were giving me an award, but the function is this evening and they told me that they would give it only if I attended their show!” he thundered.

The few awards with high credibility included the Sur-Singar Samsad Awards, given every year to classical music-based songs in cinema, and according to most people, the Bengal Film Journalists’ Association Award too recognised a few Hindi film categories.

A balance of art with mart

By definition, an award is a reward for excellence in a field within a given timeframe, which in movies and most other fields, is usually a calendar year. However, in Hindi films, a balance had to be maintained between popularity and excellence. In the ’70s and ’80s, no one was interested in the National Awards that usually recognised only niche art-house cinema, then called “New Wave”.

From 1988, after a two-year break for reasons unknown to people, the Filmfare Award came back in a modern avatar: and now the winners, Oscar fashion, began to be announced only on stage, on the day of the function, with only the nominees being announced earlier. This gave a tangy element of surprise. The venue was also shifted outdoors to 5-star hotel pool-sides or lawns, but detractors again opined that these were only cosmetic changes, and that behind-the-scenes manipulations were as smart as ever.

In 1994, the oldest film publication in the country, Screen, stepped into the arena with a Jury-based award. Unlike Filmfare’s, the Screen jury was culled from within the film industry — no businessmen, page 3 celebs, sports, etc, professionals came in to judge the specialised art and craft of motion pictures.

The game gets more complex

As satellite television became bigger, Zee stepped in with Zee Cine Awards in the late ’90s, introducing even a separate and praiseworthy smaller event that petered off because of the lack of mass appeal and thus financial back-up, the Zee Cine Technical Awards. In the millennium, as global markets and distribution/ exhibition avenues opened up, the game became more complex. The India International Film Academy (IIFA) launched its first award function outside India, now an annual phenomenon. Many others came in, some even fizzled out, and each claimed to be more genuine than the others in the process of selection. Soon, USA and UK, countries with a major Indian presence, began to hold awards galas of their own!

Stardust, the film glossy known for gossip, paradoxically launched the Millennium Awards in 2000 to honour the greatest achievers across decades. From the following year, they decided to hold annual awards for the Best New Talents across all categories. This was something unique in Hindi cinema awards history. But, after a few years, they too needed the props of big stars and some additional awards to make a profitable show that generated good ratings when shown on television.

About half a decade earlier, the film industry itself launched its own awards — the Apsara awards. Though there were initial hiccups and the awards for two years were given very late, they are now a regular feature.

And last but not the least, Zee channel has launched a unique one, the “etc Bollywood Business Awards”, that claim to be non-manipulative because it is all about business figures that are subject only to facts and not views! For 2010, for example, the principal awards were ETC Top Grosser — Dabangg, Most Profitable Actor — Ajay Devgn (who gave three hits), and Most Profitable Actress — Katrina Kaif, Corporate House of The Year — Shree Asthavinayak Cine Vision Ltd., and so on.

Cynicism rules

However, due to a multitude of reasons that are unlikely to change, the genuine talents and the underrated artistes across all fields who do not believe in orchestrating self-hype and manipulating things have become cynical about the various awards — the biggest example being Aamir Khan, who neither attends nor accepts awards. Says veteran lyricist Sameer, “A big-name award played very dirty with both of us in the mid-’90s. It was after this that both of us independently took the decision of never going for such functions.”
The audiences are also equally cynical, sometimes unduly, about the credibility of various award functions. Where things balance out for them is that the telecast event is great entertainment, and such shows are nothing more than a masala mix of gags and gigs, so to speak. When stars come into your drawing rooms for three hours, does it really matter who gets or does not get — what award?

In short, most, if not all, awards today are all about the channel viewership for the show, that brings in moolah for them. It is an open secret that these channels, apart from other sponsors, also have a say in the winners after the jury (whether biased or otherwise) have made their choices. To gain some credibility and avoid flak, most awards now have Popular and Jury categories for the same discipline.

The please-all factor

But when crores of rupees are involved, it is also necessary to try and break the truism that you can’t please everybody, all the time. Pleasing a jury that has worked on the awards and simultaneously keeping happy all the sponsors as well as the channel that together bring in the moolah and yet balance equations in the power-list within the film industry is no laughing matter for the principal organisers, whether a publication or otherwise. Film stars and filmmakers with giant egos who can boycott the same or following functions always are a major issue. Film publications, especially, have to play safe because, apart from revenues at the time of the annual events, also need star-support throughout the year and ads flowing in. Within all this somewhere, merit has to be kept in mind, and you certainly cannot let exceptional work go unrewarded and insult audiences completely!

But that the number of awards ceremonies is spiralling by the year proves that, at the end of the day, all the heartaches and efforts are worth it in much more than the commercial sense. As for the audience, it’s entertainment unlimited. And for those who do not make it, did not someone say, “Good work is its own reward?”

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