ZIYA US SALAM
Do the National Awards represent Pan-Indian cinema or is the focus on mainstream films? A look at the reactions to this year’s Awards.
Four awards for “Lage Raho Munnabhai”. One for “Khosla ka Ghosla”. Awards too for “Yatra”, “Poddokkhep”, “Paruthiveeran”, “Traffic Signal”. Is there a trend? Or is the jury, as usual trying to keep everybody happy? As seasoned filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt puts it in his inimitable manner, “National awards are like a party. Everybody is invited. Everybody has to be made to feel happy.”
Bhatt, whose films have twice won awards in the past, says, “You need popular mainstream cinema representation as Bollywood is a major power centre. You cannot ignore mainstream filmmakers because you need to make national awards a TV event. Yet, since they are national awards, regional satraps have to be represented too.”
Jury member Rahul Dholakia contests the views. “If the awards were to be given on the supposed ability of an individual to generate TRPS, then Sanjay Dutt or Saif Ali Khan would have won the best actor award; not Soumitro Chatterjee. By the same yardstick, Dilip Prabhavalkar would not have got the best supporting actor award. Arshad Warsi would have got it. And a film like ‘Pulijanmam’ would not have got the best film award considering it has not been released at many places.”
Soumitro Chatterjee, this year’s Best Actor, puts things differently. “The National Awards don’t have any credibility. Often they have been given to wrong persons for not-so-right films. In the 50 years of my career, I was not given a single award. Not even for Satyajit Ray’s internationally acclaimed films.”
Whims, prejudices, political convenience all accompany any National Awards’ announcement. Dholakia’s spin: “People have lost interest in National Awards because of controversies in recent times and also the delay in announcement. For instance, we have announced the 2006 awards now! If these awards had been won earlier, they could have impacted many films’ box office prospects.”
Agrees Ghose, best cinematographer for “Yatra”, a film that suffered due to poor marketing, “I had almost forgotten ‘Yatra’ but the award is a good boost for my technicians. I did not have great experience making the film but still the National Award has come like a collective joy to my team.”
Bhatt feels, in the past, the so-called serious filmmakers won national awards because they could cloak their mediocrity in the garb of intellectualism. “They were box office disasters but had a snob value. Self-proclaimed thinkers with mediocre works were considered trailblazers.” So, in that light, acknowledgement for films like “Lage Raho”, “Omkara” and others is welcome. Adds lyricist Swanand Kirkire, “The success of films like ‘Munnabhai’, ‘Omkara’ and ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, is a great sign. All these films make a social comment without being preachy.” He seconds Bhatt in saying that the industry was so far divided into two: the so-called intellectual cinema where the filmmaker made films for his own satisfaction and the formulaic hero-heroine-villain exercise.
Madhur Bhandarkar, who got Best Director Award for “Traffic Signal” that did not do too well at the box office, has a different perspective. “Most of my films got a similar reaction. Some found ‘Chandni Bar’ depressing. Some found ‘Page 3’ too superficial.”
Bhatt, however, feels it is an unequal competition between David and Goliath. “We don’t have an even society. If I represent Marathi or Chhattisgarh film industry, I make a film that represents my society. But due to budgetary constraints the films don’t have great aesthetic value. Why should I be competing for an award with Hindi, Tamil or Telugu films whose publicity budgets are bigger than the cost of an entire Marathi or some other regional films?” Again Dholakia counters, “There are films made on a budget of Rs.20,00,000. And others on Rs. 20 crores. We go by content, not production values.”
Sums up Ghose, “Talent-wise, it is not an unfair competition. I can draw people on a more limited budget. Not just the National Awards, every competition is complicated. In our country there are so many expressions of cultures from different regions. It is a challenge to judge films. The National Awards despite the delay and controversy have their sheen and dignity. There are a hundred private awards that are just an alibi, a show.”
However, Bhatt wants the State to stay out of the cinema business. “Post-1992, we embraced the market mantra. Today, Rakhi Sawant generates TRPs, and represents a sensibility that was mocked at earlier. Why should the State endorse any kind of taste?" Not quite, says Ghose. “The State has to have some responsibility for the nation’s culture. Without National Awards smaller filmmakers’ works will be lost. And artistes from smaller States like Manipur or Assam won’t ever make an impression beyond their own region.”