Katrina Kaif is scheduled to receive the Smita Patil Memorial Award on September 19, apparently for her outstanding contribution to the Hindi film industry.
You may ask what she has contributed in her 30-film-old career to deserve the honour, other than being Chameli and Sheila? And why, of all the other, infinitely more deserving actors (Kalki Koechlin, Radhika Apte, Konkana Sen Sharma, to name a few), she has been handpicked by the Priyadarshni Academy.
Kaif’s selection is not just a grave insult to Patil, who captured the imagination of an entire generation with her poignant portrayal of the socio-political issues of her time, it also mocks all the previous recipients — brilliant actors notable for their powerful performances and choice of films — Vidya Balan, Tabu, Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi among others.
We are not new to undeserving people being felicitated for reasons best known to organisers. However, what makes this one instance stand out is the vast dissimilarity between the two actors it links, where any association, however remote, is impossible. Patil was all that Kaif can never be.
The work and legacy of Smita Patil is the stuff that films are made on. She was the first on-screen working woman of the Indian cinema – she played a movie star in Arth, a prostitute in Mandi, a spice-maker in Mirch Masala, a milk-woman in Manthan – making her way in a man’s world, fighting for what’s denied to her, and making you root for her all through the way.
Take an example of Patil’s acting prowess: she played an actor both in Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (1982) and Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika (1977), but the portrayal of the two roles could not have been more diverse. While she played the psychotic other woman in Arth with an ease rarely seen on celluloid, she as effortlessly became Hansa Wadkar, on whose life Bumika’s based — a woman trying to come to terms with her existential crisis. The tension and the finer nuances in the two films could have easily been lost at the hands of any other actor, but Patil enlivened them through her emphatic portrayal.
What do I say about Kaif? That despite acting in Bollywood movies for over 13 years now, she still speaks Hindi with an accent that needs to be justified with a British father or mother in almost all her films? That the only thing she seems to have learnt in all this time is a few dance moves? As for her calibre as an actor, we better not go there.
Patil died untimely at 31. We wish we could bring her back because god knows we can do with some good movies. But since that is not possible, the least we can do is not mock her memory. Sadly, that won’t happen on September 19.
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The writer tweets at @sneha_bengani