For a while, it seemed as though the underdogs had snatched the year from the fat cats. It looked as though Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack for Dev.D would be a shoo-in for every major and minor award; Pankaj Advani and directorial duo Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. would get noticed for their small-budget, large-hearted films; Ranbir Kapoor would have very little competition in the best actor race. But Bollywood struck back, and how.
The Screen Awards in January sent out the first strong signal that of all the films released in 2009, 3 Idiots and Paa were the most award-friendly. Will the Filmfare Awards, to be held on 27 February, be any different? Rajkumar Hirani has probably already memorized his acceptance speech for the best director award, while the Bachchans must be getting ready to jointly receive the best actor prize for Amitabh Bachchan in Paa.
No surprises: Big-budget films such as 3 Idiots are bound to win.
The organizers and juries of film awards are usually keener on mirroring popular taste than rewarding formal achievements or experimentation. Sometimes, they simply defy logic. There was no reason why Aamir Khan should have lost the Filmfare Award for best actor in 1995 to Shah Rukh Khan. The only explanation is that Rangeela didn’t make as much as money as Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge. Juries change over the years, but Mammon never leaves the room.
Aamir Khan will probably get the best actor award this year for 3 Idiots, for which he is competing with Bachchan Sr’s progeria-affected adolescent in Paa. Ranbir Kapoor, who shone in Wake Up Sid, Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani and Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, may have to be satisfied with the “critics’ choice” award, which is usually given to any film or performer that earned more stars than box-office revenue. Prominent consolation prize winners include Ram Gopal Varma for his magnificent Satya in 1999 and Rani Mukherjee for Saathiya in 2003. Satya lost out to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, while Mukherjee was trumped by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Devdas. Vishal Bhardwaj didn’t even get nominated in the best soundtrack category for Omkara in 2006, despite it being one of his best scores.
The Filmfare Awards are as risk-averse as the Oscars, and reward superhits, spectacles and comebacks just as fondly as Hollywood. 3 Idiots has raked in so much money that the film which ostensibly celebrates non-conformism is compelling everybody to fall in line. Is there any awards ceremony in the country that dares to evaluate 3 Idiots purely on its aesthetic merits and decide that its contrived screenplay and broad acting don’t deserve to be covered in awards glory? Which is a more nuanced performance: Amitabh Bachchan under acres of make-up in Paa, or Ranbir Kapoor in Wake Up Sid?
The answers can be found in the balance sheets of the production houses that control the industry. The year 2009 was one of hubris and humiliation for several banners. Audiences proved to be crueller than the monsoon. They punished several big-budget films and showered their blessings on a select few. A movie’s box-office fate proved to be less predictable than an Indian Premier League match. The gargantuan success of 3 Idiots indicated that audiences haven’t stopped being suckers for old-fashioned, manipulative storytelling. The fact that 3 Idiots is still going great guns in a cinema hall near you makes the envelope-pushing of Dev.D and Kaminey a distant memory.
My own prediction for the Filmfare Awards is that the big lollies will be handed to 3 Idiots and Paa. The rest of the awards will be distributed evenly among the less fortunate. Everybody will go home with at least one golden piece of metal. Film-makers who lose out at Filmfare, or feel that they’re a statuette or two short, can take heart in the fact that there’s always the National Awards to look forward to. Our increasingly glamour-struck government can be counted upon to give Bollywood yet another pat on the back.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org