Shoddy films for National Awards
What do Hum Pyaar Tumhi Se Kar Baithe, Love at Times Square and Encounter - The Killing have in common? Apart from the fact that all of them have been written off as commercial duds, the three films are among the 20-odd Hindi entries for this year's National Awards. Hum Pyaar Tumhi Se Kar Baithe was a Rajshri-backed project, Love at Times Square another Dev Anand monstrosity and Encounter - The Killing the umpteenth Satya clone minus the soul. Is it any wonder that nobody, absolutely nobody, remembers these films?
Can films dismissed summarily by the audience ever hope to woo a hard-nosed awards jury? More aptly, should such films be allowed to enter a race where merit is expected to be the sole criterion? While a good film may not necessarily turn out to be a commercial success story - in fact, according to an old Bollywood saying, the better a film is, the less likely it is to achieve blockbuster status - a rank bad film can never get past a judging process.
Admittedly, in a democratic country like India every filmmaker has the inalienable right to enter his work for the National Awards. Moreover, it is true that the judgment of a film's merit is an entirely subjective exercise. But can there be a better judge than the masses who make or mar a film's fortunes?
Releases like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas and Abbas-Mustan's Humraaz, which have tasted box office success, and Rajkumar Santoshi's The Legend of Bhagat Singh, the rather well scripted re-enactment of an eventful chapter from India's freedom struggle, may stand a chance of picking up a few National Awards, especially in the technical categories, but proven non-starters like the washouts mentioned above can only make up the numbers. And this game, at least purportedly, is not about numbers at all; it is about quality.
We are not talking here of films that are blocked out of the marketplace by a kind of commercial censorship that prejudges questions of box-office viability. Nor are we talking of films that have been wrapped up too close to the eve of the National Awards to be released in cinema halls. What we are concerned about are films that sink without a trace at the box office and yet resurface before the jury year in and year out.There is certainly a strong case for the introduction of a pre-jury screening process in order to weed out shoddy pieces of cinema right at the outset. What earthly reason could films like , and have to be in the same competition as the works of some of India's best directors?
One Hindi film that is inexplicably missing from this year's line-up of National Award hopefuls is Shaad Ali's Saathiya, which boasts some fine lyrics, consistently good music and a brace of competent performances. But it failed to meet the entry deadline owing to an inadvertent oversight on the part of producer Bobby Bedi. That surely is a huge loss as much for all those associated with the film, which garnered considerable commercial gains and critical plaudits late last year, as for the National Awards race itself.