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Film awards and rewards (Column: B-Town)

Film Awards

Films and awards are integral to each other. But they were never known to boost a film’s box-office performance. The awards come much after a film has had its run at the cinemas. The most popular awards for many years, Filmfare Awards, were launched in 1954, the same year as the National Awards. Both began with a handful of nominations and went on to add more categories to their list.

The National Awards remained predictable as in going more by critical acclaim a film earned, as well as the personality behind a film. When you call them National Awards, they should have had a broader outlook. But, how can you justify as many as 22 National Awards to just one regional language, Bengali! That makes it a third of the total best film awards given out. And, that only one filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, has bagged as many as 32 awards spread over various categories.

It would seem that, while the juries were formed by bureaucrats and, seemingly, dictated by them. Yet, when Ray passed away, the Government-controlled Doordarshan did not even have material for a decent homage to him. Finding an easy way out, DD screened seven Ray films over seven days! This was the occasion to enlighten the people of India about Ray’s films, achievements and so on by making a special feature on him. Alas! It would seem that Ray was more acknowledged and appreciated more in countries other than India. The example lies in an article a film critic penned in the prestigious “Illustrated Weekly Of India” in the 1980s after a visit to France and attending a retrospect of Ray films. The columnist confessed to realizing how great a personality Ray was! This, coming from a film critic, what to say of a layman?

No wonder then that the National Awards never got endorsed by mainstream cinema. Hindi and other commercial movies aimed at the box-office but most of them also met with the aesthetic values.

In fact, of the 12 National Awards given to Hindi films, one may say that only a couple or three meet with both the criteria: mass approval as well as merit to justify a Best Film award. The most noticeable of them is, V Shantaram’s “Do Ankhen Barah Haath” (1957) and, to an extent, “Page 3” and “Paan Singh Tomar”. The Filmfare Awards too widened its scope and included many more categories over time.

Then came the television, and along with that the awards telecasting rights. Awards became commodities to be sold or bartered. The very concept of recognizing the merits of a film and things related to it were ready to be compromised. The awards went commercial. There was money to be made. The smell of lucre attracted more publications to organize their own awards. So much so, there was this small-time publisher of a Hindi magazine with uncertain frequency. This gentleman solicited cash in the name of advertisements. But, his main catch was an icon of Saibaba as the award statuette. Grossly superstitious film folk could never say no to this “Award”.

The more popular award givers had to make sure they had all those who mattered in the industry attended. So, while the big stars were asked to perform an act or dance, the mid-range ones were called to announce the recipients. A total and hefty quid pro quo.

Seeing through these award-giving enterprises, some film folk detached themselves from all such events. Public acceptance and adulation were rewarding enough. What was the use of winning an award which had no basis on which it worked? Even a media house, which had ceased its publication, continued to distribute awards!

Talking of the National Awards, they never seemed to matter to the majority of filmmakers. They went to abstract films in the name of promoting good Indian cinema, no matter if only a section of the cinema lovers or none at all watched them.

National Awards are now distributed individually for 17 languages, too, like it is for Hindi films, which is a good way to recognize regional films since they can’t always compete with costlier mainstream films with stars commanding a draw. The good thing about the movie is that, when it comes to the award for the Best Film, the budget or language does not count, now that all recognized language films have their own awards besides being eligible for the main award, the Best Film.

Last year, the 66th National Award sprang a surprise because, for the first time in the history of these annual awards, the jury found a Gujarati film worthy of being Best Film of the Year. The film “Hellaro” deals with an age-old tradition of Kutch in Gujarat. The film deals with how a lot of women are shackled in a small hamlet in the backward, tradition-bound Kutch and the women finally decide to break the shackles. It has a lot of undercurrents.

The best thing was that “Hellaro” was yet to find a distributor, and were it not for the National Award this film would have been lost into oblivion, taking along its investment of five to six crore.

“Hellaro” is a film that reaped the benefits of the National Award. It found a distributor and has gone on to collect about Rs 15 crore at the box office. This is besides what it earned as prize money from both the Central as well as the Gujarat Governments. For once, the award turned rewarding. (IANS)

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