The campaign in favour of Akshay Kumar being given a National Award for best actor is gaining strength. Right now, the two main campaigners are his wife, Twinkle Khanna, and his mother-in-law, Dimple Kapadia, but we’re sure that more people will embrace the cause if the 30 April release Housefull lives up to its title at the box office.
Kumar’s chief achievement has been securing the nest eggs of several Bollywood film-makers in recent years (he was recently named the highest taxpayer in Hindi cinema). If Kumar deserves the honour for anything at all, it is for enduring the slaps of a monkey for over 2 minutes in Housefull. Few leading stars can continue to look dignified after being at the receiving end of a bad-tempered simian.
Money-spinner: Kumar is Bollywood’s highest taxpayer.
On the face of it, there isn’t anything outlandish about the “Kumar for Best Actor” movement. There was a time when the National Awards were dominated by the country’s regional cinemas, and Hindi film-makers had to be content with Filmfare statuettes. That was before Hindi cinema came to be branded as Bollywood. These days, Bollywood is the most powerful index of popular taste in the country. Bollywood stands for virginal romance, unguarded emotions, and moral uprightness. But most of the time, Bollywood is about the Indian success story, which is the country’s magnificent obsession at the moment.
The larger-than-life and happily-ever-after quality of popular cinema is everywhere, from the stock market to the cricketing pitches on which the Indian Premier League (IPL) is being played. Academics devote reams of paper to analysing the layers of meaning that lie buried beneath the surface of the popular Hindi film. Television channels and newspapers headline the often insignificant movements of the stars, secure in the belief that however flimsy the story, it will grab the attention of viewers and readers. Advertisers ensure a steady income pipeline for stars when they’re not acting in films.
Bollywood has become such a significant juggernaut in recent years that it has crushed most forms of critique. A few years ago, it was cool to laugh your socks off at the average Hindi movie. Now it is supremely uncool to turn your back on Hindi films, especially when the profits from a hit movie match that of a decent-sized business venture. If you think Bollywood lacks maturity or sophistication, you’re probably a Westernized Indian out of touch with your roots. Worse still, you’re an intellectual.
The greatest stick with which to beat dissenters is the revenue that Hindi films make. Bollywood isn’t alone in this respect. Almost everything in the national discourse is about achievement. The IPL makes so much money that you’d have to be a fool, or a hockey fan, to criticize its lack of sporting value. Industrial houses are making headlines in the foreign press, and only anti-nationals and Naxalites think that there is anything flawed in the way they operate.
So it is with Bollywood. Everybody in the world seems to recognize this peculiarly Indian phenomenon, even if they can’t quite comprehend it. The individual who pays the most income tax from the Hindi film industry isn’t a producer, but an actor with a toothy smile and a superfit body. He deserves every honour that comes his way.
Housefull releases on 30 April.
Nandini Ramnath is a film critic with Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org