The National Awards used to be the only awards that recognized cinematic excellence in India. It also took cognizance of the fact that Indian movies are not all Bollywood and that the most successful movie of the year is not necessarily the best (usually almost never the best). That it was jury-based also made it more creditable than any of the other “popular award” tamashas like “Filmfare Awards” and all its myriad wannabes where votes could be bought by buying enough magazines or by linking your appearance at the award show with an “award” .
(Gossip goes that Anil Kapoor once bought a huge number of copies of Filmfare and sent in all the coupons with the most hirsute man in Bollywood (ie himself) as the people’s choice for Best Actor!)
I am not saying that the National Awards was perfect or very consistent in all its choices. Sure there have been backroom machinations, political parties have thrown their weight behind certain committee members, many of their past decisions have been motivated by politics/regionalism——-but then again nothing is perfect. And judging art is always a subjective exercise, eternally open to criticism. However the National Awards committee has more often than not got things right.
In recent memory, when Amitabh Bachchan got his National Award for “Agneepath” I raised an eyebrow (like many others). Now I am a big fan of Big B and his acting in “Agneepath” had an undeniable front bencher appeal
Baap ka naam Dinanth Chauhan….
Maut Ke Saath Meri Appantment Hain… Han….Appantment….Yeh Dekho…Inglis Bhi Bolta Hain….Aiyeee
Yahan Pe Telephone Ki Ghanti Bahoot Bajhta Hain. Bahoot Galat Cheej Banaya Yeh Telefone. Aadmi sochta kuch hain, bolta kuch hain, sunta kuch hain aur karta kuch hain.
(Not the exact dialogues—relying on memory here)
But best actor? Aww come on……let’s accept it….his acting was loud and hammy in a pathetic formulaic movie. Amitabh himself had done much better in other roles.
Then Sunny Deol won for Damini for what was basically a glorified special appearance. Again fire belching Sunny and his volcanic, menacing repartees to hair-jhatkaing Inderjeet Chadda passed off as award-worthy acting.
And then in 2005. It is Saif Khan for “Hum Tum”. I think the Chote Nawab is a far better actor than all his “Khantemporaries”, does not take himself as seriously as other “superstars” and lets the character he plays come to the fore (unlike say Shahrukh Khan who is always Shahrukh Khan regardless of the role he is playing).
Having said that, his performance in “Hum Tum” is humdrum and strictly by-the-numbers—-for the life of me I cannot see why it is so unique as to warrant an award. “Hum Tum” is a light, frothy brainless comedy and Saif sleepwalks through a role which could not be considered to be demanding for any half-decent actor.
For those not too into Hindi movies, Saif getting the award for “Hum Tum” is somewhat like how insane it would be if Jason Biggs got the Oscar for Best Acting for “American Pie”.
Coming back to Saif, his performance in “Ek Haseena Thi” was much more nuanced and a far more award-worthy effort than that of the reformed MCP he plays in “Hum Tum”.
To be fair to Saif, I have not seen the other performances from non-Hindi movies this year and so it could very well be that the other performances were so mediocre that there was no other option but to give it to the Chote Nawab. However I find it tough to believe that this would be the case considering the sheer number of movies coming out of India each year and also becomes “Hum Tum” is such a low bar to gauge histronic ability.
Maybe Saif won was because his mother Sharmila Tagore was the chairperson of the Censor Board of India and the committee members were very eager to get on her good books.
Whatever the reason is and we can only speculate, it was real fun to hear Preeti Sagar “justify” the decision.
She (Preeti Sagar) said Saif had done a wonderful job in the film and it was not necessary to give an award to a ‘heavy’ performance all the time. “We tried to be different this time,” she said.
Whoa ! Can someone please tell me what a supposed film critic means when she calls a performance ‘heavy’ ? What kind of film talk is that? And is Preeti Sagar organizing the Diwali party for a local club (let’s do something different this time—-how about a skit on the battle of the sexes?) or is she judging celluloid excellence ? Why did she feel the need to be “different” (or as Hindi filmwallahs would say “hatke”) this year———-on the contrary when someone is on a jury judging something, he/she is expected to be consistent with expected standards of evaluation………not be “different” merely for the sake of being so.
Now imagine the juror on the Michael Jackson trial being asked why he supported MJ’s acquittal and he winks at you and says ” We wanted to do something different”.
On the controversial decision to give a joint award to Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaara and Cheran’s Tamil film Autograph, Sagar said both the films were wonderful, and that filmmakers outside Hindi cinema also needed to be encouraged.
I don’t know about you but whenever someone says that “Veer Zara” is a good movie I not only question their sense of aesthetics but also their sanity.
And to top it all off, note the patronizing “filmmakers outside Hindi cinema also needed to be encouraged”.
Now here’s the official spiel as to why Saif won.
“Saif won for his sheer ease, subtlety and spontaneity in portraying a complex and demanding role.”
I shall conclude with some lines from Preeti Sagar’s one-hit-wonder “My heart is beating” from the movie “Julie” that also justifies the title of this post.
Spring is the season,
That rolls the reason of lovers who are truly true,
Young birds are mating,
while I am waiting for you (hoo-hoo)
Darling you haunt me,
Say do you want me?
And if it so, when are we meeting?
Can bet my bottom dollar that she sung this song at the end of every “meeting” of the committee…….