After being nominated for the best director award five times, Martin Scorcese finally won an Oscar in 2007, for The Departed. Several Bollywood old-timers, actors, directors and musicians have never won an award in their lives. The newer crop of Bollywood professionals, however, is more fortunate: given the profusion of awards, it’s fairly easy to win one these days.
At last count, there were nine popular film awards in the country: National Films Awards, conferred by the Union government; Filmfare, organized by Worldwide Media, a 50:50 joint venture between Bennett, Coleman & Co. and BBC Worldwide; Indian International Film Awards (IIFA), organized by Wizcraft International Entertainment; Apsara Awards, instituted by Indian Film Producers Guild; Zee Cine Award by Essel Group; Stardust awards from Magna Publications, Sansui Viewers’ Choice Awards from Pritish Nandy Communications; Global International Film Awards (GIFA), organized by film actor Suniel Shetty’s Popcorn Entertainment and Screen Film Awards from the Indian Express Group. And that’s not counting the awards targeted at the vernacular film industry.
According to industry insiders, all that the film artists need to do to get these awards is sing or dance. It is, in fact, as simple as that. While in the West, film awards are meant to recognize the good work done by cine artists, in India, film awards have become an entertainment proposition that can be sold to marketers and broadcasters.
Says Ronnie Screwvala, chairman, UTV: “Any event that attracts a mass audience will have commercial potential. Given the Indian consumers’ penchant for films and film stars, film awards could be no exception to this.” He maintains that there is nothing wrong in monetizing such opportunities, provided they fulfill their basic objective. So what could be the objective behind having nine similar events with almost the same concept and proposition?
Indeed, having a slew of awards is not typical to the Indian film industry; even Hollywood has a handful of events, such as the Oscars, The Screen Actor’s Guild, The Writers’ Guild, The Director’s Guild, and the Golden Globe. But then, each of these awards has a distinct purpose and positioning. The Oscars, for instance, are the crème de la crème for Hollywood films; Razzies are for the worst of everything in the industry, and various guild awards are about a particular community’s opinion on their peers’ work. But in India, everyone seems to be doing the same thing many times over, though they may make claims to the contrary. “Filmfare awards are like Hollywood’s Oscars. They are not only the oldest (launched in 1953, a year before the National Film Awards were instituted) but also the most reputable,” says A.P. Parigi, director, Times Innovative Media. Parigi is a member of the board of Worldwide Media, which organizes Filmfare awards.
Filmfare’s only claim to fame now remains that these are the oldest film awards in the country. As for the other attributes, like the induction of viewers’ votes to decide winners, getting big stars to perform during the shows, putting up impressive sets and airing them on television, these are common to all awards.
It happens only in India
Interestingly, television has become an integral part of film awards. In fact, some industry insiders point out that it is television that has prompted the proliferation of these events. Says Pritish Nandy, chairman, Pritish Nandy Communications: “Film awards in India are nothing more than a purpose and a vehicle for holding interesting variety entertainment programming for television.”
It is quite interesting to note that all film award events, except the National Film and Filmfare awards, have come up during the past one decade, the period during which cable and satellite television was taking root in the country. “Private broadcasters needed differentiated and compelling content to gather eyeballs,” says Sanjay Bhutiani, business director, B.R. Chopra Film Productions. He adds: “Cinema and cricket were the only two passions of Indians that united them. Then, Filmfare was a very popular event at that time drawing huge eyeballs. And that’s where the broadcast and entertainment industry got the inspiration to turn these into commercial properties. Meanwhile, some film-oriented publications also got the idea of using the popularity of film awards to market themselves among their target group, and the business of film awards started blooming.
Today, film awards represent a full-fledged industry with distinct streams of revenue, the biggest of these being telecast rights. “Once the property gets to ride a television channel, the reach to consumers at large is assured and then, getting sponsors, on-air and on-ground alike, is no challenge,” says Neeraj Roy, CEO and managing director, Hungama, the company that was associated with Apsara film awards till recently. No wonder, then,that most awards today are affiliated with some television network or the other.
Filmfare, Stardust and GIFA, for instance, are telecast by Sony Entertainment Television, the IIFA and Sansui Awards are aired by Star India and Zee’s network telecasts its own awards ceremony. Apsara had initially tied up with NDTV, but is now renegotiating with other broadcasters. The sponsors include brands such as Hero Honda, Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, Videocon, Idea Cellular, Hindustan Unilever, ITC Foods, Elder Pharma, Manikchand and Provogue.
As for the on-air advertisers, the list is even bigger. Some more enterprising organizers, such as Popcorn Entertainment, have taken these properties to overseas markets, which open two other revenue options: telecast rights to foreign channels catering to the Asian community that loves Indian cinema, and ticketing.
Broadcasters’ and sponsors’ interests have ensured that awards today have become an annual business of around Rs90-100 crore, with almost 50% coming in only from telecast rights.
The reality show
Exploiting the commercial potential of properties that interest consumers may not be an entirely wrong proposition to work on, but rigging the property to make it commercially viable, for sure, is not desirable. Unfortunately, in a bid to beat the competition from peers and to engage consumers, that’s what film awards are increasingly resorting to. “To pull in viewership and thus, sponsors, events need to have a certain profile,” says Ravi Chopra, managing director, B.R. Chopra Productions. Attendance and onstage performances of leading Bollywood stars, the prevailing logic goes, is one way of doing it.
“There are so many such awards around these days that most leading actors tend to skip these events. To lure them, organizers have to either give them awards or an opportunity to perform on stage,” says Chopra. Sometimes, even the performers, who command hefty price tags—Shahrukh Khan reportedly charges around Rs1-1.5 crore for each performance; Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan, Rs1 crore; and A-list actresses such as Rani Mukherjee and Bipasha Basu anywhere between Rs70 lakh and Rs80 lakh—get awards because organizers cannot cough up big sums. Most industry insiders admitted to this rampant practice though, unlike Chopra, they requested not to be identified.
“We have heard such allegations in the industry. While one doesn’t know if these are true, it is a fact that film awards are increasingly losing their credibility,” says Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Dharma Productions, owned by popular Hindi film director Karan Johar.
While organizers, broadcasters and marketers seem to have a good thing going with multiple awards functions, some players are now flashing warning signals. “Film awards have lost their momentum of late. There seem to be just too many of them on air now and too much supply is causing viewership fatigue to set in, which is getting reflected in slipping TRPs (television rating points), ” says Sunder Raman, managing director, Mindshare. “They need to take a commercial break,” he quips.
Organizers could do themselves some good by paying heed to his advice, lest they end up killing the goose that lays golden eggs.
(Priyanka Mehra contributed to this story)