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Romancing the stars

The viewers are the jury, the stars are self-deprecating, the politics is totally absent. This is what award ceremonies should be like, says Anupama Chopra.

hollywood Updated: Apr 01, 2012 01:39 IST
Anupama Chopra

On a crisp Sunday afternoon, the posh Grosvenor House Hotel in London was soused in whiskey - Jameson, to be precise. Every variation of the Irish brand, including a ginger ale cocktail, was being consumed by several hundred people - a mix of boldface film names, celebrities, journalists and corporate mavens who gathered last week for the 18th Jameson Empire Awards.

Empire is the biggest-selling film magazine in the world, with editions in Australia, Turkey, Russia and Portugal. It is widely considered the fanboy Bible - Empire's 20th anniversary issue was edited by Steven Spielberg, who described himself as 'an ardent admirer and avid reader'. When filmmakers like Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan open up their sets, it's usually to an Empire journalist.

What makes the Jameson Empire Awards special is that the winners, in all 16 categories, are decided by votes from the magazine's readers. A fact remarked upon by at least a few of the winners, including Gary Oldman, who picked up the Jameson Best Actor award for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

"It's a real treat to get this from people who love movies," he said, "because it isn't political. There is no agenda."

This year, the awards had an India angle. One of Empire's most popular categories is Done in 60 Seconds, an amateur filmmaking contest that requires entrants to submit a 60-second version of an iconic film. The contest attracted 590 entries from 19 countries, including - for the first time - India.

Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, who cheerfully describes himself as 'the ultimate fanboy', shortlisted the Indian entries and attended the awards. So did I.

What struck me most was the informality in the room. The guests were A-list - heavyweights such as Oldman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Ron Howard, Danny DeVito, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. The clothes were red-carpet stylish - the actresses, who included Tron: Legacy leading lady Olivia Wilde and new Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe, all teetered on five-inch heels. The seating was ceremonial, with round tables and place cards, but the attitude was sheer irreverence.

The evening was hosted by radio and TV host Lauren Laverne and Empire's news editor, Chris Hewitt, who started by saying, 'I'm here only because, quite frankly, I'm cheaper than anyone else.'

Hewitt wasn't the only one willing to mock himself. The ceremony, which lasted less than two hours, was filled with impromptu one-liners.

When action-man Dolph Lundgren was called on stage to present the best film award, he gave a lengthy introduction to the nominees and then said: 'That was more dialogue than my last five movies'. Lundgren pulled up the microphone to suit his towering height, which became somewhat problematic for the next presenter, the diminutive Danny DeVito. Looking up at the microphone, which loomed a foot over his head, DeVito remarked: This is cruel.

Since the event isn't televised, four letter words and bawdy jokes made a frequent appearance.

Incredibly, the big-ticket names didn't abandon ship as soon as the ceremony was over. Neither was there a velvet rope separating the talent from the rest of us. Many of them stayed to eat dinner and chat. At which point Anurag duly went around the room and took pictures with Oldman, Burton and DeVito. His pitch: 'I'm a filmmaker from India and you wouldn't have seen any of my films. Can I take a picture with you?'

"This is what film awards should be like," Anurag said later. "People vote and there is an incredible transparency to it. It's all very normal. It's not a televised show that goes on and on."

An entry from Kazakhstan, which cleverly spoofed Black Swan, won the Done in 60 Seconds contest. The two Indian entries, on Fight Club and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, didn't make it, but Empire editor Mark Dinning remarked that just getting shortlisted in the first year was itself 'a huge achievement'. Hopefully the initiative won't end with the Empire awards night.

Earlier this year, Anurag hosted the first Jameson Cult Film Club in Mumbai, a gathering for movie lovers, filmmakers, bloggers and journalists. He has ambitions for the club and wants to eventually establish a platform for cinephiles that will, in his words, 'create a cultural connect with cinema and the new generation'.

And from there perhaps, some winners will emerge.