After the National Awards were announced earlier this week, film-maker Arun Khopkar posted on Facebook, “BREAKING NEWS: Indian Cinema met with an unfortunate and serious accident near Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi. As it was crossing the road, a humongous statue of Bahubali fell on it, almost crushing it to death. Fortunately, the victim has survived the accident, but is in deep trauma. It is said in knowledgeable circles that the accident was caused by a person or persons unknown, connected with the venue. Well-wishers are requested to refrain from calling the patient or visiting him, as the shock has been very severe. They are further requested to express their sympathy in any nationalist way befitting the seriousness of the occasion.”
This biting piece of satirical writing expresses the shock that most film lovers must have felt when Baahubali was picked as the best film of 2015. Not the most popular, but the best! The citation states, “An imaginative film and monumental by its production values and cinematic brilliance in creating a fantasy world on screen.” This is very debatable. The VFX Award for Baahubali is acceptable, but best film--for a silly, badly written, comic book fantasy?
The Directorate of Film Festivals that manages the National Awards received 308 entries (the complete list can be found on the DFF website), several of them from Bollywood, including optimistic hopefuls like Phantom, Tamasha and Shaandaar! Which is fine, everyone thinks they have made a great film, and everyone aspires to a National Award (or any award for that matter!) But what’s a jury for, if not to separate the wheat from the chaff?
For the last couple of years, the National Awards were fair and mostly non-controversial. This year Bollywood attacked again! And the self-congratulatory patting on the back that is going on makes one feel sorry for the film-makers who struggle and slog to make films not to show off big budgets and production values, but to tell stories about the human condition, stories that matter, or should have, if audiences were not hit on the head with promotions that cost more than the budget of a small, meaningful film.
Bollywood stars feel proud to win National Awards, because of the perception that they are unbiased. But insiders know the push-pull that goes on to get the awards to go to mainstream films and stars. This is not to say that commercial films cannot or do not have merit, but in an ideal world, most
Bollywood hits would not win any awards given for artistic excellence. And popularity is not the same thing as quality.