Growing up, most of us would remember the ‘Good’, ‘Very Good’, ‘Excellent’ and ‘Stars’ that the teacher would scribble alongside her signature while checking the landscape in our drawing file. It sure encouraged us to fetch more ‘goods’ and ‘stars’, paint better.
The sad part, however, is it was only the pretty and eye-pleasing paintings or sketches that earned good remarks. Say you drew a path-breaking sketch, an abstract, and the stars would change the shape to turn into a big fat zero. Abstracts are for serious and senior artists, afterall. In a strange way, it is starkly similar to the cinema world, where the heart-warming and crowd-pleasing films deserve the ‘stars’ (read awards).
Almost two decades ago, when Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore starrer Ghost won two Oscars, it earned some flak from the critic community. Not so long ago Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars, and this year Martin Scorsese’s Hugo won five in the technical categories. Awards to both the latter films kept the critics busy, column after column, blog after blog. From 1990 to present day, the times and films have changed. But braving the change one thing has remained constant, the controversies surrounding the awards, and the question — Did that film deserve it?
And that brings us to the question —- Are awards relevant?
Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra puts it as, “Who remembers the awards the next year?” The Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi director elaborates, “This year Martin Scorsese got Oscars for one of his worst films. His reputation as a fine filmmaker was secured without an award. Ask any film lover which is the greatest films of all times and he’ll say Citizen Kane, yet he got an award for Hugo.” Mishra, who won a National Award for Dharavi, points out the purpose of awards, “What awards should do is acknowledge and applaud films which take risks, which push the boundaries, films which showcase new ways of looking at things.”
Speaking like a zealot he says, “Instead of saying that this is the best, and this is the second best they should select a set of films. ‘These are the five films that took risks’. Otherwise, how can you compare different films, for the intentions of each director is different from the other.”
While they were instituted to encourage fine filmmaking, awards have evolved into the most fashionable, grand and looked forward to event in the cinema diaries. And then it went viral and started duplicating itself. “There used to be a great relevance (of awards) once upon a time, but with the surge in the number of awards, awards have become an industry of their own,” feels Sachin Krishn, cinematographer of films like The Blue Umbrella, Khoya Khoya Chand, and Rajneeti. “Personally, I find the commerce part of the award ceremonies very off-putting. Yet, at the end of the day they’re here to stay, one may say whatever one likes to about it,” he adds.
But it isn’t anything one doesn’t know, feels veteran and award-winning filmmaker Shyam Benegal. “There’s a distinction between the awards which genuinely support great filmmaking, and then there are those which are plain showbiz. One can take his pick,” says Benegal, who has won National Awards for films like Ankur, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, Zubeida, and more.
So there’s a chikni chameli act by Katrina, while Ranbir Kapoor tries to burn the stage in his Rockstar avatar at another ceremony, or Shahrukh and Priyanka changing costume after costume in a bid to entertain the audience. And they keep at the act till the ‘best’ actor, actress, and director are announced. Amidst all this what is sidelined is the technical aspect of filmmaking, which in more ways than one, makes good cinema possible. “Obviously, the world will not turn out in thousands or lakhs to see a cinematographer or a sound recordist being awarded. They come to watch the stars,” says a candid Sachin.
Apart from battling reports of being available (read saleable), the awards have of late been plagued with controversies —- favouring one camp, one nation, or ignoring the technical categories. Yet, in a strange way they do have an influence on the public and the market. Post his Jai Ho success, AR Rahman has become one of the most recognised Indian face internationally. The Oscar paved way for his world tours, and also collaboration with music biggies like Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, Damian Marley, in an outfit called SuperHeavy.
Actor, filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar says that the awards definitely create a stir among the audience, but don’t really dictate the film’s success. “In most cases the awards ceremonies are held much after the film has released. So it doesn’t affect the box office, unless, you haven’t released your film, and it won an award at a film festival.”
So what’s the purpose of awards? Sachin sums it up matter-of-factly, “Everyone knows alcohol is bad, yet people drink. Similarly, awards are like necessary evils. They add spice to cinema. If one’s one a dismissal spree one can say films too are unnecessary. You’ll not die if you don’t watch a film… One shouldn’t take awards too seriously.”