Kareena Kapoor’s latest faux pas commenting that it would be "okay for Saif Ali to return the Padamshree (if need be)," makes no headlines since not much is expected of her anyway. But, for the nawab to be dismissive of such a decoration would certainly make many of us livid with rage.
With a few serious charges leveled against the Khan, including one of "an assault causing bodily harm," this Khan is certainly not someone to be called a national pride. The debate, thus, continues: Which one of them is deserving and which one is not? Who decides, and, more importantly, are these revered distinctions justified? Art cinema or commercial, national awards have always been mired in controversies, sometimes mindless, but mostly valid.
In the wake of this year’s announcement of National Film Awards, in which Kangana Ranaut’s name figures as the Best Actor (female) for the film Queen, an old controversy seems to have been rekindled - should national awards be restricted to serious films alone? After all, a national award is the most prominent and esteemed honor bestowed on the finest talent, and for some, it’s only serious cinema that produces the best.
Recognition of genuine talent has often raised eyebrows from a certain quarter of the film fraternity, and biases come to the fore. If on the one hand, it’s a certain section lobbying for its region, there is personal affinity at work on the other hand highlighting the immense volcano of talent their ‘favourites" seem to possess.
Shashi Kapoor for New Delhi Times in 1985
When Shashi Kapoor won the National Best Actor Award, a lot of people, both from within the film fraternity as well as other film buffs, were enraged. Their grouse? How can a typical Bambaiya hero be adjudged the Best Actor from among other giants who have always been associated with art house cinema? One doesn’t argue against any of the judgements that made some internationally acclaimed actors like Soumitra Chatterjee, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Irrfan Khan and others win the covetous award.
Shashi Kapoor in New Delhi Times.
Whether mainstream actors who have won the country’s prestigious Swarn Kamal on many occasions were pitted against other able contenders for the award is debatable, but what is clearly condemnable is the haughty hegemonic attitude on part of off-mainstream filmmakers and actors. How can actors and all those great talented men and women assume that what a commercial film actor does in a film is not ‘hard work’ or that it requires not much to portray larger- than- life characters on screen?
5 times National Best Actress Award winner Shabana
Azmi clearly indicates that there is "a line dividing an actor’s method and attitude to a serious subject in serious movies" as opposed to his or her approach to a mainstream film. Initially even Shashi Kapoor too, was rather uncomfortable playing a believable journalist of a daily in the New Delhi Times when he was asked to deliver his lines "slowly and with more emotion".
One of the national awards Shabana received was for Arth.
Kapoor had expressed his struggle after the first shooting stint. But it isn’t as if he couldn’t adapt to the demands of the situation that he was thrown into. The richly-deserved honour came for his honest portrayal of a complex role of a newspaper editor who uncovers a political assassination and gets embroiled in a fight against injustice.
In 1990, when Amitabh Bachchan won the award for Agneepath, his innumerable fans across the country were ecstatic, for here was someone the entire nation worshipped and how come his talent was never recognised by the government? As Dina Nath Chauhan, who witnesses killing of his father and whose quest for revenge leads him to become a gangster as an adult, Bachchan had immortalised the negative role, but had not made use of his rich baritone he is known for, and instead molded his tone to convey the high voltage drama as his character becomes more and more like his enemies to seek vengeance and redemption. The jury found his style of dialogue delivery unique and worthy of the award. But since his fans were unhappy about his ‘weak’ voice in the film, the producer Yash Johar got his voice re-dubbed in Bachchan’s original voice after a first few days of feedback.
Amitabh Bachchan in a still from Agneepath.
Which version did the Awards committee watch and based their decision on ? Will any of us know? In 2012, Hrithik Roshan couldn’t reprise the same role with equal impact in the film’s remake.
Saif Ali Khan
The industry pooh-poohed the national award that Saif Ali Khan bagged for Hum Tum as cartoonist Karan Kapoor. The 17- member jury headed by the experienced director Sudhir Mishra defended their choice saying, "Saif has improved a lot," which further offended many other film personalities, including some from Tamil and Bengali cinema, whose films were ignored and not found worthy of any award. The serious grievance against such a decision making body was that they were ‘influenced’ since Saif’s mother Sharmila Tagore was then the chairperson of the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
Saif Ali Khan in a still from Hum Tum.
That may have sounded a bit too far-fetched, but all of us who have seen the film know how average Saif Khan was in the film, although the jury felt he had come a long way from his long curls and accented Hindi days. Shouldn’t they then, have given him an ‘Effort prize’, which we all have been familiar with since our school days when dull students were given a prize if they put in a lot of effort and would improve their grades?
Hrishikesh Mukherjee always believed that Rekha, whom he was extremely fond of, was underutilized, and therefore, after working with her in Alaap and Namak Haraam, he wrote two scripts keeping her in mind – Khoobsurat and Jhoothi. It was Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan, in which she excelled as the courtesan and brought out the steeped in pain, irony of situation, separation and longing. The author- backed role had Rekha not only looking breathtakingly beautiful, but her majestic onscreen persona based on Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s novel of the same name, also transported viewers to the tender heart rending and at times agonizing of this 18th century courtesan.
Rekha in Umrao Jaan.
The award was not without its share of controversy. Jennifer Kapoor, whose portrayal as Miss Stone in Aparna Sen’s classic 36, Chowringhee Lane, was so real and impressive that she was every jury member’s favourite that year. Unfortunately, since Sen’s film was primarily in English, the committee decided to give it to the next contender- Rekha! To be fair to Rekha, years later, she herself acknowledged in an interview to a magazine that Jennifer was far more commendable and deserving to win the award.
When working with Shabana Azmi and Dimple Kapadia, when Kalpana Lajmi cast Raveena Tandon in the political drama Daman, many of us know what Tandon had been eyeing – the most desired national award for any actor in India, of course. All those who can jog their memory and recall the tremendous labored performance from this pretty actor, would instantly also remember that she was less than average in the role of a battered wife and victim of marital violence, although to be fair to her, she has given some convincing performances in a couple of films.
Raveena Tandon in a still from Daman.
The raging debate started by the media ended as the chairperson of that year’s jury director Pradeep Kishen along with two other jury members quit the Feature Film Jury stating that a "cynical political cartel in the jury bulldozed its way as it had pre-decided many of the awards". But a few days later, truce was evident as Kishen came on a private channel and clarified that Tandon was a "unanimous choice".
In 2008, Fashion was set against the glamour world of haute-couture in which a small town girl (Priyanka Chopra ) dreams of making it big but her journey’s rise and fall in the ruthless dog-eat-dog world of fierce competition leaves her emotionally drained.
Priyanka Chopra walks the ramp in Madhur Bhandarkar's Fashion.
The film was much awaited after Madhur Bhandarkar’s penetrating insight into the page three in Page 3 and the trauma and travails of bar dancers in Chandni Bar were critically acclaimed. The film helped many in small towns get a glimpse of what goes behind the glittering world of fashion but not just the film but even Priyanka's interpretation left a lot to be desired. The film’s fate was average at the box office and though there was no malice or negative propaganda about the choice of the Best Actress, critics, film aficionados and the film industry knew that there were far more deserving actresses who could have been honored.