A trophy to savour

Apsara Awards are hailed as Bollywood's authentic prizes, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2006 12:17 IST

They are only in their second year, but the Apsara Awards, given away by the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, appear well on their way to becoming the Mumbai movie industry’s only authentic prizes for professional excellence. Pitfalls, however, dot the path.

When the trophies are handed out to the winners on Saturday evening, the recipients will go home secure in the belief that recognition has been bestowed on them by their own fraternity, not just by another commercial television-driven media house. In that sense, the Apsara Awards are the closest that Bollywood has ever got to something akin to the Oscars.

Indeed, the nominations, by and large, say it all. In most categories, films and performances have made the Apsara Awards shortlist strictly on merit, not just on the volume of box office collections and star power. Therefore, films like Page 3, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Iqbal will vie for an Apsara on an equal footing with blockbusters like Black and Parineeta.

Similarly, Chitrangada Singh (for Hazaaron…) and Urmila Matondkar (for Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara) have been nominated in the best actress category. Name one other private film awards ceremony that would have off-mainstream films of this nature in the running for an award in the top categories. A Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi would have to be content with a 'consolation' Special Jury Prize.

A still from Sanjay Leela Bhansali- directed Black. The film highlights the agony of a deaf and dumb girl played by Rani Mukherjee. The film will compete with Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Iqbal, Page 3 and Parineeta for the prestigious award.

But although there aren’t any boo-boos like clubbing veteran filmmaker Jahnu Barua with rank newcomers in the ‘best debut’ category, one wonders what Kunal Kohli (maker of the fluffy Hum Tum) is doing in the best director nominations list alongside the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Madhur Bhandarkar.

Or, are Akshay Kumar’s performance in Waqt – Race Against Time and Anil Kapoor’s star turn in No Entry really deserving of a nomination especially when a quality role fleshed out by Anupam Kher in Barua’s offbeat Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara or Shreyas Talpade’s deeply empathetic interpretation of a deaf mute aspiring cricketer in Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal have been summarily ignored. Has the fact that they aren’t as starry as Akshay Kumar and Anil Kapoor worked against them?

One would hope not. The Apsara Awards aren’t decided by the public but by members of the film industry itself. So the only thing that should count here is excellence, not mass popularity. Of course, there is no way one can discount the possibility of personal prejudices creeping into the selection process, but the system adopted by the Guild seems pretty foolproof on paper.

Four juries are set up to decide on the nominations – one each for the film, television, technical and special awards. Once the nominations are frozen, all the members of the Guild vote for their favourites. The ballots are then tabulated and the entire process audited by Price Waterhouse Coopers exactly in the way in which the company does with the Academy Awards.

Akshay Kumar is also in the race for an award in the best supporting actor category for his performance in Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. He is pitted against the likes of Naseeruddin Shah (Iqbal), Kay Kay Menon (Hazaaron…), Nana Patekar (Apaharan) and Abhishek Bachchan (Yuva). Akshay is a talented actor all right, but neither of the two films for which he has been nominated gave him the sort of role that could be described as out of the ordinary.

The one role – and the resultant performance – that was truly extraordinary in 2005 was Amitabh Bachchan’s stunningly well-modulated characterisation in Ram Gopal Varma’s underworld drama Sarkar. The fact that it wasn’t found worthy of even a nomination in the best actor category will surely be the biggest disappointment of this year’s Apsaras.

It was a performance that demonstrated for the first time since Bachchan’s Hrishikesh Mukherjee years really how remarkably adroit he is in the restrained use of body language and facial expressions, and not merely voice, to convey emotions.

In the long run, the dance of the Apsaras will count for little if the credibility of the awards is undermined. The trophies should never, therefore, be allowed to end up on the wrong mantelpieces.

First Published: Jan 21, 2006 17:18 IST