The award scene says it all

Hindi cinema has secured very little recognition in the recently announced National awards. GIRIJA RAJENDRAN surveys Bollywood's present state and says that it is time for introspection.

HINDI CINEMA never had so few! Just a couple of years ago, mainstream Hindi films struck silver on the National awards scene. Now the rewards are meagre - just about recognising Bollywood's presence as a commercial force to reckon with still, in the broader National canvas. Among the Hindi efforts to gain such National notice this year is new director John Mathew Matthan's ``Sarfarosh'' - as the ``best popular film providing wholesome entertainment''. One would have thought that the description suits Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'' better, the Salman Khan- Aishwarya Rai-Ajay Devgan visual stunner that had viewers going gaga, all over the country, given its folksy music in tune with the ethnic tone of the theme.

The National award for Best Music Direction, here, to fresher Ismail Darbar is but one of four such prizes cornered by ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam''. The other three citations are for Best Cinematography (Anil Mehta), Best Art Direction (Nitin Desai) and Best Choreography (Sameer Tanna and Arsh Tanna). A tribute to the picture-postcard look Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'' presented - even while managing to tug at the heart- strings!

The Aamir Khan-dominated ``Sarfarosh'', for its part, touched upon the till recently commercially taboo subject of infiltrators from across the border. And it did so with rare insights into the problem - without beating about the wire-mesh or shying away from identifying the enemy by name. In the process, thematically, award director John Mathew Matthan has also encapsulated the predicament of Inspector Salim, (Mukesh Rishi), who had to carry the burden of being an eternal suspect in the eyes of those dealing with the police force. In fact, the Muslim inspector's character (a cameo role by Mukesh Rishi) has been so strongly etched that the viewer is impelled to look the problem in the eye. Moreover, director John Matthew Matthan and hero Aamir Khan have seen to it that the main thrust of the theme does not get diluted or diverted at any stage of its unfolding. Getting an actor of Naseeruddin Shah's histrionic stature to play the infiltrator (in the captive guise of a ghazal singer from across the border) makes for a script in which the two major contrasting characters remain well balanced. Thus ``Sarfarosh'' emerges as worthy of the National recognition it has won as the ``best popular film providing wholesome entertainment''.

In this light, one had expected Kamal Hasan's ``Hey! Ram'' to be fleshed out by the jury for mention more prominently than for just the Best Supporting Actor prize to Atul Kulkarni, who played the would-be assassin with such empathy. Cineaste Gautam Ghose, as the Feature Film Jury Chairman, is on record as noting that he felt Kamal Hasan's path-breaking movie deserved better for the freshly comprehending way this actor-director had treated the delicate Mahatma Gandhi assassination theme. The Best Costume Designer award to Sarika Kamal Hasan for ``Hey! Ram'' certainly sounds a sop. Nor does the prize for Special Effects to M/s Mantra, in the case of ``Hey! Ram'', soften the blow for Kamal. Either Kamal Hasan himself or Shah Rukh Khan deserved, a major award for ``Hey! Ram'', seeing how both these actors had done so well in highly testing roles.

On to E. Nivas' ``Shool'', which bagged the ``Best Feature Film in Hindi'' award. This is a ``small'' film, modestly budgeted and shot on an unpretentious footing. Yet the narrative grips you with its raw emotions, open violence being this offbeat movie's theme. The saga of an honest police officer (played with rare feeling by Manoj Bajpai) fighting corruption in high places, heedless of ruthlessly powerful political forces, ``Shool'' has, for its gut strength, E. Nivas' cinematic honesty - his commitment to the integrity of the theme. At no point is Nivas seen to deviate from the hard-hitting punchline he had drawn for himself in ``Shool''. Alongside Manoj Bajpai (in a portrayal that makes for compulsive viewing) is Marathi stage stalwart Sayaji Shinde (playing the main ``Shool'' villain with matching skill). The usually glamorous Raveena Tandon comes up, here, with a neat and impressive performance - as the police officer's harassed wife supportive (against overwhelming odds) of her husband in his crusade for justice and truth.

The Best Music Direction citation has gone to Ismail Darbar for ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'', Ismail Darbar's foot-tapping numbers, capturing the spirit of youth even while displaying a commendable fidelity to Hindustani musical ethos, pre-sold ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'', as a star-studded film, to the audience. Add to it the absolutely captivating award- winning cinematography by Anil Mehta and you have two major plus points of this ``eternally triangular theme with a twist'', as enacted by Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Ajay Devgan.

You could perhaps argue about the originality of the ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'' score. For each number here, is a hark back to Rajasthani folklore, Ismail Darbar having adapted standing songs to the needs of the theme. But, then, true cinematic artistry is all about suitability (vis-a- vis the subject). And each song sequence, in ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'', is so well presented and picturised by Sanjay Leela Bhansali that it remains in the audio- visual memory long after the viewer has left the auditorium. Nitin Desai's art direction is interwoven beautifully into the actual locations. In a film which is a festival of music and dance, it is not surprising that the choreography of ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'', by Sameer Tanna and Arsh Tanna, should also have bagged a National award, given the fact that the infectious number, ``Dol Baaje'', epitomises the theme. It could be contended that A.R. Rahman's score in Subhash Ghai's ``Taal'' is more original than Ismail Darbar's in ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam''. But then originality, lies in the ears and eyes of the beholder!

All in all, the awards have gone to those who are not heavyweights in the Mumbai film scene, but to those who have been trying to make a breakaway in a commercial setting. To this extent, you feel fulfilled that both John Mathew Matthan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali have been recognised, at the National level, for their work.

Yet the year's National awards should, logically, have Bollywood introspecting. How come there no longer is a Bimal Roy to show a Hrishikesh Mukherjee the way; a Hrishikesh Mukherjee to set a Gulzar on course? Maybe making films cost much more today - ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'' itself being an example - that the risk factor rules out thinking about the more artistic path of commercial cinema.

Not being in the National reckoning, for the Best Film or Best Director, Best Actor or Best Actress award this year, should have Hindi cinema barons thinking - and thinking furiously. Money power Bollywood has. But at the cost of its emotional moorings.