The process of judging the National Film Awards has gone through a drastic revamp, orchestrated by Information & Broadcasting Minister, Ambika Soni. A five-member jury at the regional level will judge a film first, with two of its members from outside that region to filter out bias.
They will then pass on select films to a national jury, chaired by veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal. Other members include Sharmila Tagore, Nagesh Kukunoor, Vishal Bhardwaj, Waheeda Rehman and Jahnu Barua. The two-tier system is to make the awards more fair and ensure that regional movies get proper representation on the national platform.
Quiz Kukunoor on the subject and he reasons that he’s always believed that when you add the world National before these Awards, they cease to be just another award and thereby need to be untainted. But unfortunately, in the last few years, the National Awards have been shrouded in controversy. “That’s the reason for these logical changes. So not just popular Bollywood, but every corner of the country is represented and never-fêted talent is recognised,” he argues. “It’s not as if we’re going to ignore mainstream cinema, but at the same time, it’s important to understand that this kind of cinema is not necessarily good cinema and you don’t have to award a star-actor just to grab more eyeballs in the media.”
So will this year’s National Awards be free of controversy? “Definitely not, no awards are perfect but we’re trying to make the process more fair,” retorts Kukunoor, adding that at least now, the national jury will not have to sit through a flood of films that are good, bad and indifferent. “Besides, individual groups would be in a better position to represent their region well. ”
Controversy is not new to Kukunoor. Both his “commercial” ventures, Bombay To Bangkok and 8x 10, had reportedly over-shot their budgets and put him in the firing line of their producers, Subhash Ghai and Shailendra Singh. Even his soon-to release Aashayein has been on hold for almost two years.
Kukunoor attributes the delay to differences between Percept and Reliance and insists that the lukewarm Ramzan period is the best time to release this John Abraham starrer. “It’s a heartfelt, small budget drama that caters to both the A and B centres. And John’s present box-office standing is a bonus that I’m hoping will draw people to the theatres,” he asserts.
On a prayer
Point out that his own box-office standing is suspect, following a couple of duds and Kukunoor laughs, “That’s why I’m quivering with nerves. But it would be the same even if I had 10 hits behind me. I make a film, then pray like hell that it works.”
Inform him that just last week, Abraham jumped off a 40-feet hoarding as a promotional stunt for Abbas Tyrewala’s forthcoming film, Jhootha Hi Sahi, and Kukunoor retorts, “I don’t need such attention-grabbing gimmicks for my film. John’s performance will speak for itself.”
While his off-beat films, like Hyderabad Blues, Iqbal and Dor, have all been critically acclaimed, his attempts at ‘masala’ Bollywood have fallen flat. “I don’t know what ‘masala’ Bollywood is,” he argues.
“I make films I believe in. For me, a star is just an actor. It’s people who perceive things differently, and I’m notoriously unsmart at managing people’s perceptions. I console myself with the fact that I don’t have to play safe since the unsafe route got me here.”
Is he planning a Hyderabad Blues part 3 now? “I hadn’t even planned on making the sequel but now that you mention it, why not a part 3 with a different woman? Never say never, but at the moment, it’s just a thought,” he chuckles.
Over the last six to eight months, while planning Aashayein’s unveiling, Kukunoor has been writing like crazy and has several scripts ready. “Shailendra (Singh) and I are still good friends. We have been talking about another film. You never know what comes up,” he says. “Like my lead character, I too live on aashayein (hope).