Every year while watching the Golden Globes and the Oscars, I find myself thinking about our own Bollywood award shows and how they can be improved from the tedious, over-long affairs that they have become. How they can be turned into a credible event that the film community actually wants to attend, and doesn’t just have to attend because they’re getting paid to.
Right off the bat let’s acknowledge the fact that it’s hard, given that there are so many Bollywood awards, and not one definitive one: Filmfare, Screen, Stardust, Guild, IIFA, Big Star Entertainment, at least a few more that don’t immediately come to mind, and then the newer ones that mushroom every year.
But hey, Hollywood has a bunch of awards too: the Oscars, the Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards, the SAG Awards, the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, plus every other Guild awards.
The difference, however, is that aside from the Oscars and the Globes whose agendas somewhat overlap, the rest of the awards are for specific disciplines. So the Directors Guild Awards will honour achievement in direction for feature film, documentary film, animation film and television. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) hands out trophies specifically for acting. Similarly all the Guild Awards.
Bollywood awards by comparison overlap all over each other. Every one of them hands out trophies in the same categories to who they believe deserves to win…or to be honest, to who agrees to show up. Think about it – do you even remember who won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor last year? Or the Screen Award for Best Actress? Probably not. Because there are so many of them, it’s hard to keep track. And because, frankly, at the end of the awards season between all the different awards events, practically every actor who had a movie out in the calendar year has at least one award to show for it.
Let’s face it, if there’s one thing that all our Bollywood awards seem to have in common, it’s that nobody takes them seriously. They’re a bit like the Golden Globes then. Even Ricky Gervais, fourth time host of the show, couldn’t resist taking a few well-aimed swipes at them. From insinuating that they can be bought, to describing them as “worthless”, he skewered the long maligned awards while – wait for it – getting paid to do it!
But let’s not digress. Bollywood needs at least one credible film awards. And here’s a nine-step plan on how to do it.
1. Telecast the event live
That’s how Filmfare used to do it back in the day, before greedy TV channels decided they could garner way more advertising and viewer interest if they teased moments from the show for weeks leading up to the telecast."
Of course if one of the awards shows did decide to go live, they’d have to get their act together. No tardy arrivals, no fake reaction shots inserted into acceptance speeches, no teleprompter glitches. You’d have to get the best guys in the business to put the thing together. At one of the awards events recently, a heavy sandbag from a ramp several feet above the stage fell to the ground, narrowly missing Sneha Rajani, co-producer of Piku, bang in the middle of her acceptance speech. She was rattled to say the least. That cannot happen.
2. Scrap the dance performances
It’s an awards ceremony (at least it’s meant to be!) not a variety entertainment show.
We’ll tune in to any one of the dozen odd dance/reality show appearances that movie stars make while promoting their films if we want to see them dance. Nobody wants to see those performances at an awards show – not the guys in the room attending the event, and not the guys watching it at home on TV – not if it means that the whole event gets stretched over five hours.
I understand that TV channels need those performances, because that’s what they promote through hoardings and TV spots. They need movie stars up there on stage because it’s the stars that bring the advertising. But you’ve got to reinvent the wheel. Bring the stars up as presenters for all the awards, not just the major ones. Stop calling sponsors and TV channel heads to the stage to present awards. Find new and interesting ways to bring more stars to the stage – get them to introduce the nominated films like the Oscars and the Globes do. Just don’t make them dance.
3. Make it a shorter event
Chances are that the show will become roughly an hour and a half shorter if you do away with the live performances. But that’s not enough. Stick to a script. Encourage presenters to do so too. Ask winners to keep their acceptance speeches short or risk being drowned out by cue music.
Bollywood awards shows currently run into anything between three-and-a-half and five hours. Think of everyone in that room: Tired, hungry, sleepy, pissed off.
At a recent awards show, Ranveer Singh received his Best Actor trophy at 3.30 am. He gave his acceptance speech to a room full of empty chairs because most guests had left.
4. Don’t try to please everyone
I get it that you need movie stars to attend, but you can’t give multiple recipients what is basically the same award! At the Screen Awards recently, Ranveer Singh and Amitabh Bachchan were tied for Best Actor. They gave Best Actor in Popular Choice [sic] to Shah Rukh Khan, and Best Actor Jury Award to Irrfan Khan. That’s four actors winning various versions of one award!
Stop this charade of Popular, Jury, and Critics’ Awards. Give only one award for each achievement, and make the nominees aspire to win your award because it’s a credible honour. Don’t inform the winners in advance so they all have to show up. There’s a good chance it’ll take a few years to convince the industry that you want to do things differently and fairly, but it’ll pay off. Everyone wants to win an award that they feel like they earned. Right now they’re probably using your trophy as a doorstop.
5. Clean up the voting process
Nobody knows how the winners are determined. Who votes? For some of these awards, we’re told juries are assembled to make their picks. At others, “the public votes”. Perhaps deliberately, there is very little clarity and zero transparency in the voting process. How else do the organisers get away with some of the embarrassing decisions they make? Just blame it on a complicated process that happens to be “top secret”.
Irrfan Khan was terrific in both Piku and Talvar last year. Yet Filmfare doesn’t think he’s worthy of even one nomination. Ditto Richa Chadda (Masaan), Kalki Koechlin (Margarita with a Straw) and Bhumi Pednekar (Dum Laga Ke Haisha) who’ve all been shut out. Or perhaps that’s what Critics’ Awards are intended as – consolation prizes.
A good thing to do is to get the industry itself to vote for the awards – like the Oscars. You can be sure actors and actresses and directors and writers will be a lot more respectful and a lot less disdainful of these honours if they’re being decided by their own ilk. There’s even a good chance Aamir Khan, Kangana Ranaut, Ajay Devgan and others who’ve boycotted Bollywood awards because they have no credibility might reconsider their decision.
6. Stop paying movie stars to show up
If you don’t respect your own awards, how can you expect them to?
Akshay Kumar revealed on CNN-IBN’s Actors Roundtable recently that he often gets requests from organisers to perform at an awards show at a reduced fee because they’re going to give him an award that night. His response to these discount-seekers tells you a lot about what the stars think of these ‘honours’: “Keep your award to yourself. Pay me my full fee.”
If you do away with the dance performances, there’s no real legit reason to pay them anyway. Sure a bunch of them that aren’t nominated may not show up the first year, but as credibility builds, they will come.
7. Push the envelope a little. Don’t play too safe
Hire a host who’s not afraid to be edgy. God knows our movie stars do and say the stupidest things through the year. Treat this as a time to remind them of their gaffes, crack a few jokes on them. Doesn’t have to be mean spirited, but it’s okay to make them squirm for a few minutes. If the infamous AIB Roast showed us anything, it’s that movie stars are willing to laugh at themselves.
You need a host who won’t just target sitting ducks like Sunny Leone and Rakhi Sawant, but someone who’ll go for the big kill. Someone who won’t shy away from asking Shah Rukh Khan how much he spent on VFX to make Kajol and him look considerably younger and considerably fairer in Dilwale.
8. Involve the viewers
In this age of social media connectivity, an awards show can’t afford to be an insider’s event.
Involve the viewers watching on television – encourage them to hashtag and live-tweet, to rate the stars’ fashion choices, to predict the winners before the presenters announce them. Make sure the host reads out some of the interesting tweets during the show, ask the stars to take selfies during breaks and live-tweet. There’s a reason Ellen’s Oscar selfie from 2014 is valued at $1 billion and became the most retweeted entertainment tweet of that year.
9. Be patient
Nothing changes overnight. Earning back credibility takes time. All the stars may not show up at the awards the year that you decide to get rid of the performances and to stop paying them. But when it becomes clear that that’s the way forward, more than likely they’ll want to be seen at a place when real talent wins fair and square.
The author is film critic and entertainment editor at CNN-IBN