Bollywood season of 50 awards, 10 contenders begins

By Priyanka Khanna, Indo-Asian News ServiceimageNew Delhi, Jan  (IANS) It’s that time of the year again when the Hindi film industry gets into the self-congratulatory mode by awarding itself and everybody is at their diplomatic best.

As the award season gets underway every weekend will be an awards night. Channel surf any time after 8 p.m., and there is a good chance of stumbling upon some Bollywood starlet pirouetting before an audience comprising a smattering of stars – bad props, unbearable anchors and canned applause being common features.

Bollywood award nights are more an exercise in making everyone happy with an ever-widening range of categories for roughly the same number of contenders. Each function features a sickening dose of bonhomie and mutual backslapping and some actors rightfully making their presence felt by their absence. Every year a new award is instituted and this season is no different.

As has been the tradition, most Bollywood film awards throw up roughly the same set of toppers. You cannot blame them. Even in a good year as 2006, the number of flops far exceeded the number of hits. Say, for example, if there were 10 praise-worthy films in 2006, then 50 award functions will felicitate the same 10 films.

As a courtesy, the nomination list will include all good films, whether they are commercial hits or not, but the ones that take home the trophy will be the ones who made the cash registers ring the loudest. Even the coveted National Film Awards have in the recent past begun to sing the same tune.

“Hindi film award functions are a very diplomatic affair to say the least. And raw talent is not enough. This time every year the high and mighty of the Indian entertainment industry engage in sweet nothings with media houses, hold behind-the-door parleys with trade pundits and do whatever else it takes to be in the reckoning for the honours,” says an industry watcher.

In the past, it was assorted film magazines that took on the onus of awarding the blazing talent our industry routinely displays in products. Then, corporates began stepping in, tagging their company names to the word ‘awards’. Now, it’s anybody’s guess. Telecom companies, TV channels, random groups comprising producers’ wives – everyone has an award show going. Worse, they all promise to be annual affairs.

Doubts about the credibility of Bollywood awards have often been raised from within the industry. Aamir Khan, among the most influential Bollywood actors, does not attend awards because he feels all of them are biased. And to top it all, we have maverick filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, who does not believe in the awards system at all. Seasoned actor Anupam Kher, who has been offered a role in Oscar award-winner director Ang Lee’s next film, is also among those who routinely give Bollywood award functions a miss.

Trade observer Taran Adarsh says: “In a poll to rate the credibility of awards, out of 1.2 million respondents, 45 percent felt that all the existing awards were arbitrary and unfair in some manner.

“The maximum that any award could manage was Filmfare, which was judged fair by as low as 40 percent of the respondents. For all the others, it was pathetic. National Awards are judged as fair by only 15 percent.”

The shower of awards has already begun with trade magazine Screen announcing its 2006 winners Saturday. And the list of winners suggests that this award season will not be too different from the ones before.

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Certain performances of 2006 are going completely unnoticed in the award season. Kher, Konkana Sen Sharma, Nana Pathekar, John Abraham, Ajay Devgan, Ranveer Shorey, Bomain Irani, Rahul Bose etc are not even finding a mention in the list of nominations for some awards.

Though much has been done to bridge the artificial divide between star and actor, a lot is needed. About time the industry started to appreciate the actors who are not necessarily glamorous stars. For instance, anywhere else in the world, actors like Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri would have been major stars.

In Hollywood, guys who look like Joe Pesci and Danny DeVito are stars. Here a Rajpal Yadav still runs the risk of ending up playing silly comic roles, and Raghuvir Yadav may get typecast as the village idiot.

So a non-actor like Fardeen Khan keeps getting films, and if actresses like Urmila Matondkar or Kareena Kapoor do one scene well in a film, they get best actress nominations.

Since top actresses like Aishwarya Rai and Kareena are now willing to experiment with roles (admittedly when their opportunities in commercial cinema have reduced due to the advent of newer faces), even parallel cinema makers do not want to cast less well-known but more talented actors like Nandita Das or Tabu.

The industry has no place for Seema Biswas except in mother roles, and Nirmal Pandey was forced to play caricature villains. Ashish Vidyarthi just gets to play very routine negative roles, and Manoj Bajpai failed when he insisted on playing the romantic lead.

Unconventional-looking talented actors are trying to break the mould but they are not even called upon to use a great range of emotions, use their intelligence, vary their appearance and voice or dig deep into experience or do detailed research. Here is hoping year 2007 will bring the change that is so badly needed.

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