Southern sensibilities score over Sarson da Sagas….
There is reason to rejoice, after several years of stupefying selections at the 55th National Film Awards, finally the latest list provides some measure of optimism. There was a time when lovers of good cinema would pin their hopes on these prestigious awards, believing they were the only ones that cared for quality cinema and shunned the crass commercialization of Bollywood films. Fans also believed these awards were fair and reflected the honest opinions of jury members, without prejudice. At some point, even these awards collapsed in the face of populist pressures and were reduced to being seen as just one more meaningless recognition - another trophy to add to the collection.This year, the awards have gotten back at least a little of the lost glory and sheen. More importantly, they have regained credibility and redeemed the tainted reputation. Jai ho!!
I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears as I watched the news announcing this year’s winners. What??? No big, fat Bollywood blockbuster? No superegos? No scandal or controversy?? I listened as third time winner Prakash Raj, (best actor award), made a modest and sincere sounding speech, without strutting around smirking and crowing, “ I am the best!” I can’t wait to watch ‘Kanchivaram’, Priyadarshan’s award winning movie which he admitted candidly he’d made for himself, after a string of commercial films.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, that brilliant director from Kerala, whose work I have long admired ( so has the discerning world, the one that exists outside Bollywood’s spell), won for ‘Nellu Pennungal’. This is his 9th National Award. And yet, ask around and check how many film- goers have heard of this genius or watched any of his movies. I am not aware of Umashree or her work, I am ashamed to admit, but would love to catch, ‘Gulabi Talkies’ to see her award- winning performance in it.
Even the ‘new, improved’ National Awards couldn’t afford to snub Bollywood or ignore it totally. A terrific compromise formula has obviously been arrived at so that nobody feels left out. This includes the creation of fresh (comical, according to me) categories, such as ‘Best Family Welfare’ award ( pray, what exactly does that mean?) for ‘Taarey Zameen Par’. While Yashraj was given the ‘consolation prize’ curiously titled “Best Film in Overall Entertainment’ ( if you please!), for ‘Chak de, India.”
Now that the biggies are behind us, here’s hoping equally good sense prevails when India selects a movie to send to the Oscar’s ( first round of the screening process). Films that reflect the true social ethos of our lives and not some completely bizarre, OTT representation that passes for ‘entertainment’ are the ones we should be short listing in the first place. Sure Bollywood produces hugely entertaining masala movies, and I adore the original formula. But if we want to compete in the international arena, it is important to focus on films that are relevant, powerful and cinematically excellent – content-wise and otherwise. This year’s national award- winning movies meet all critical criteria. I hope and pray, we have the good sense, judgement and courage to send a ‘Nallu Pennungal’ or a ‘Kanchivaram’ or a ‘ Gulabi Talkies’ as our choice. India stands a far better chance with any well-crafted regional film than with the slick, glossy, superficial junk that has been sent for the past few years, accompanied by the usual big noise even before the actual selection process has begun. Though frankly, why we obsess over the Oscars remains a mystery to me.
I have mixed feelings about Rani Mukherjee’s latest avatar. Rani is a terrific actress – I’d put her in the Kaajol category. Does she really need to reinvent herself in order to stay in the race and compete against the Kareenas and Katrinas?? Khair, if her new ‘fit and toned’ self makes her feel better, why not? But Rani in a bikini top makes no sense. It is a lousy brand fit that goes completely against her USP. However, it’s the market that rules. My gut feeling tells me the Shahid-Rani combo is going to work big time. Both are talented, ‘wholesome’ actors capable of delivering high voltage performances, if the project and positioning are right. We shall know soon enough.