One of the commentators (I would call you out by name, but you posted anonymously) challenged me to come up with something to say about the National Awards that were just announced. I never really know what to say about National Awards, but I can say why I don’t have anything to say, at least. And what my small, barely understanding it, reaction is.
So, FilmFare, that’s an award show that measures popularity and importance of Stars to the readers of FilmFare magazine. I am a reader of FilmFare, and I think I’m fairly typical in my tastes. And I also know a lot of other readers of FilmFare, and I know their tastes, and I know in the big cosmic way how films did at the box office and what that might mean in a big way as to the trends of the audience and so on and so forth. FilmFare, that’s my jam! I can (and did and did and did) write thousands of words about it. The National Awards, however, that’s a whole different story.
The National Awards are part of the Indian government, which means they are part of Indian politics, which means I am completely at sea! I have very strong opinions on Indian politics (I have strong opinions on everything in the world that enters my zone of awareness), but I don’t really know anything about them. I certainly don’t know enough to justify writing an analysis of the National Award committee and their choices.
I guess, if someone reading this is completely new to the whole Indian Awards scene, the information I just gave up there might be helpful! That the two biggest awards are a complete popularity, image, and TV ratings based one run by India’s biggest fan magazine. And a complete political, social message, and bureaucracy based one run by the Indian government. And they almost never overlap, because what the fans like is usually really different from what the government wants them to like. Or thinks they should like.
This year is a little different, because the best film was actually a popular film. Like, a super super record breaking popular film, Bahubaali. And it was Telugu, and so far as I can tell the first Telugu film to ever win Best Film. Oh! That’s another thing that I know and probably everyone else does also but I should mention just in case! The National Film Awards break it down by language. So each language industry is represented and has a chance to win, which is nice. So it’s not like Telugu films have been completely ignored up until now. They just haven’t gotten the big big prize.
As for why Bahubaali won, I got nothing. The government wanted to make a statement about being in touch with the common man? They wanted to support all the blatant Mahabharata references? It was a recognition of the massive success on a business level, with huge overseas box office figures? Some kind of “India Made” related thing?
There were also, apparently, more Hindi films than usual that got the big “best of the best” prizes. Apparently Hindi films have only won Best Film 13 times in the since the founding of the awards (while Bengali films have won 22 times), so they usually aren’t very well-regarded. They didn’t win that this year, but they got a lot of “best song” “best director” “best script”, stuff like that.
Only, the thing is, they won for really odd films. Well, not odd, but films that were all kind of a piece. Bajirao Mastani, Talwar, Dum Laiga ke Haasha, Piku, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, stuff like that. Okay, on paper, those films all sound completely different from each other. A historic epic, a true crime mystery, a nostalgic romance, a family drama road trip, and a rom-com.
But, what they have in common, is a focus on the overseas/non-traditional audience. Except for Bajirao, they all avoided song sequences and epic emotions. Not that they weren’t plenty emotional, it just wasn’t the kind of “over-acting” emotions that Indian films usually have. And even Bajirao was very unIndian in a lot of ways (10 ways, to be specific. I wrote a post about it!). And, more importantly, it didn’t do that great in India. I mean, it did wonderfully in certain regions. But it wasn’t an all-India hit, and it didn’t do well in the hinterlands.
(Not that they were song-less, I actually really liked Piku‘s soundtrack)
I think, maybe, the big wins for Hindi films this year doesn’t say as much about the National Awards committee changing focus to try to relate more to the common man, as it does to the Hindi industry trying to relate less. I was just talking about this with Kapoor and Sons being beat worldwide by regional films. The Hindi industry is making more and more movies for the “multiplex” crowd. Which is fine, that’s a large part of the audience, and they are good films. But it means that those at home and abroad who want something a little more “mass-y” are ending up checking out regional options instead. And it means the snooty National Awards committee is finding a few more things they can relate to in the Hindi industry. Or maybe it means something completely different. I really don’t know how these government things work!