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The brouhaha over the recently announced National Awards prompts a sequel to the last piece about popular award shenanigans.
Almost every year, there seems to be some controversy or the other when the awards are announced. Last year, for instance, there was an uproar from Calcutta over Kiron Kher winning the Best Actress Award for Bariwali, in spite of her dialogues being dubbed by a Bengali actress -- a fact that was not mentioned in the entry form.
This year, it is the political meddling in the selection of the jury that has created a problem.
When Anil Kapoor (for Pukar) and Raveena Tandon (for Daman) won the acting awards, three members of the jury resigned and a couple of others voiced their protests.
While this year the string-pulling seems to have been more brazen -- weeks before the awards were announced, the Bollywood grapevine was buzzing about who was going to win and how certain insiders were picked to be on the juries -- every year, there is cribbing and whining from whichever region has been left out.
Every year, sore losers will say, "How did so-and-so get to be on the jury? What are his/her credentials?"
But to give the devil -- the Directorate of Film Festivals -- its due, selecting a perfect jury is next to impossible.
First of all, which active film person can take a month off to watch and judge films? Then, every region has to be adequately represented or the local film producers' organisations howl about bias.
To try to make the jury as impartial as possible, the DFF has to ensure that nobody associated with any of the films entered is on the jury, which rules out people related to, or associated with, any cast or crew member of the films entered.
Which leaves a few journalists and filmmakers who either haven't made a film in years (in which case they are quite out of it) or those who haven't been able to make a film in the last couple of years (in which case they resent those who managed to get a share of the meagre funding pie ahead of them).
There was actually a case of a filmmaker opposing the film of someone with whom he had a personal problem. The next year, the other fellow was on the jury when the first filmmaker's film had been entered and got a chance to get even.
It is difficult, but not impossible, for one vehement person to influence a majority of the jury to vote against a film, especially if some of the members' knowledge of cinema is shaky and they are afraid to show their ignorance.
Everyone brings in their own prejudices, likes and dislikes, personal and regional loyalties. So it is simply not possible to get a group of people who are both knowledgeable and completely unbiased -- and also strong enough to resist the lobbyists. As a result, the selection of National Award winners is a very subjective process, and there are doubts and disagreements raised every year.
The first big rumble one remembers is when Rekha won the best actress award for Umrao Jaan over Jennifer Kapoor's far superior performance in 36 Chowringhee Lane. Everyone was shocked again when Amitabh Bachchan got it for Agneepath, by no means his best performance.
So long as the National Awards were given to what the mainstream filmwallahs dismissed as 'arty' films, not even the media paid much attention to them. But when commercial cinema started muscling in, these Awards suddenly acquired importance for the Bombay industry.
A category for a "film providing wholesome entertainment" was introduced, which is absurd, since it implies that other entries are either not wholesome or not entertaining, thus deepening the art-mainstream divide, which the filmmakers themselves were trying to wipe away. (It's quite another matter that films like Ghayal and Darr won in the 'wholesome' category.)
When Sunny Deol, Aamir Khan, Dimple Kapadia got National Awards, others in Bombay woke up to the possibility of one more award to be won. And since this one has government stamp of approval, it is somehow more prestigious than the regular popular awards.
When Tabu and Karisma Kapoor bagged one each, everybody in Bombay felt it was something worth adding to their collection. It became a me-too thing to be hankered after, yet another bauble to garnish a star ego.
Commercial filmmakers who for years did not enter their films for the National Awards, now started diligently sending their entries. Shabana Azmi recalls how the producer of Arth had to be pushed into entering the film. And it was done most reluctantly, because a National Award win meant conclusive proof that a film was 'arty' and hence box office poison.
It is also true that in the Nineties, the production of offbeat films, at least in Bombay, slowed down to a crawl, and so the films being entered from here were mostly commercial films. The criterion of social relevance went out of the window anyway. (If Agnisakshi could enter and win an award for Nana Patekar, anything is possible!)
It's not as if popular films and actors don't deserve National Awards.
But they have several other awards open to them. While offbeat films have just the State and National Awards to recognise their merit. A tiny cash prize and an entertainment tax exemption means nothing to a big commercial film. But to a small film that the director struggled to make and release, it makes a big difference.
Whether Anil Kapoor and Raveena Tandon deserved the award or not is a different debate (depending on which other films and actors were in competition). What is more important that the current controversy forces a rethink on the issues that have come up.
The popular awards are no longer reliable yardsticks for excellence, at least the National Awards should be above charges of lobbying, political pressure, nepotism and favouritism.
The Directorate of Film Festivals doesn't have to look very far to start the reform process. Just read their own guidelines carefully. "Instituted in 1954, the National Awards for films provide special impetus to regional cinema and encourage the production of films of aesthetic excellence and social relevance," says the DFF note.
End of argument.
E-mail Deepa Gahlot
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