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Actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the award for Best Actor for ‘The Revenant’ on stage at the 88th Oscars on Sunday in Hollywood, California. Photo: AFP
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the award for Best Actor for ‘The Revenant’ on stage at the 88th Oscars on Sunday in Hollywood, California. Photo: AFP

As always, Oscars elude the blockbusters

Whether it's biographical crime-drama 'Spotlight' or survival saga 'The Revenant', Oscar awardees or even nominees often do not comprise big commercial hits

New Delhi: The Oscars, the most prestigious film prize in the world, more often than not, usually doesn’t award the big blockbusters of the year.

A cursory look at the 2016 Academy Awards winners’ list and even last year’s list indicates that.

Whether it’s biographical crime-drama Spotlight, which won the best picture award, or survival saga The Revenant, which got actor Leonardo DiCaprio and director Alejandro González Iñárritu the coveted trophy, Oscar awardees or even nominees often do not comprise the big commercial hits.

Spotlight made around $39 million and was released in 1,089 theatres, according to movie website Box Office Mojo, while The Revenant earned $170 million with 3,711 cinemas. Other Oscar favourites like Room, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Danish Girl, The Martian, Bridge of Spies and The Big Short grossed $23 million, $153 million, $53 million, $228 million, $72 million and $68 million, respectively.

In contrast, the three biggest Hollywood hits of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron earned $926 million, $652 million and $459 million, respectively. To be fair, Star Wars did manage five Oscar nominations but won nothing.

Top awardees last year, black comedy Birdman and musical drama Whiplash, made $103 million and $48 million, respectively.

“It’s definitely a structured mentality at the Oscars to go against too successful films," said film critic Raja Sen. “Over the years, it has come to be recognized as a prestige award and is quite unfairly disposed to certain genres like drama or biopics. A Nazi holocaust film where the lead actress has to undergo some sort of physical transformation would be the perfect Oscar cliché."

This, perhaps, stems from the need to promote a cross-section of movies, including smaller and foreign cinema, for which the Oscars’ contribution cannot be contested, Sen added.

Indian award shows, on the other hand, embrace things slightly differently. Abandoning their rich and credible history, most of them have come to be relegated to being one of the hundreds of glitzy evenings in a year where nobody knows the jury and no actor even pretends to be excited.

“It’s like the public is being veered into thinking that they must watch only what they’re told to," Sen said.

To be sure, the top three contenders at the umpteen felicitation ceremonies this year have all been huge hits. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s war epic Bajirao Mastani notched up collections of more than 184 crore in India alone, according to movie website Bollywood Hungama. Piku, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Irrfan Khan and Deepika Padukone, didn’t do too badly either, with close to 80 crore under its belt. But surpassing them all was Salman Khan’s golden-heart act in Bajrangi Bhaijaan that helped the film earn more than 320 crore.

“The idea here is so much more about creating a television spectacle based on who performs and makes appearances, all designed to reach out to as many people as possible," said Sen. On a lighter note, he added that had DiCaprio, who won his first Oscar this year, promoted his films with similar zeal in India, the actor would have had a trophy cabinet by now.

However, not everyone agrees that it’s only about bringing in the big faces at Indian award shows.

“Yes, these are films that are popular with the masses but they are equally deserving of critical appreciation," said trade analyst Taran Adarsh. “For example, this year Bajirao Mastani won most awards not because it was commercially successful but because it was a fabulous film and Ranveer Singh as lead actor was absolutely outstanding."

Critics like Sen cannot help lamenting the absence of names like Irrfan Khan in the best actor nominations this year, despite releases like Piku and Talvar.

But as Adarsh argues, “You can’t award everyone. Somebody will miss out. My personal favourite films of last year were Bajirao Mastani, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Baahubali and Baby. But you can’t have four best films, can you?"

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