09 February, 2009

Awards Deserved - Timing Way Off

A. R. Rahman wins a BAFTA for his score for the “Slumdog Millionaire”. These awards are said to be a pre-cursor to the Oscars. He is nominated there in 3 categories and may in all likelihood win one too. There is something quite funny going on here.Rahman is an accomplished musician composer singer and an absolutely deserving candidate for an Oscar for Music. But is “Slumdog Millionaire” that milestone in his career and work? The score is not just ordinary but the “Jai Ho” number is a rather forced patched up addition to a zippy movie. Rahman's body of work is phenomenal right from the time Mani Rathnam launched him with Roja. Each and every composition has been unique and popular.His career is strewn with gems but look at the irony that he is nominated for the highest honour for a piece of work which not only is not his best but also can barely be called good.

Like a Whodunit mystery novel we need to identify the motive..is there a motive at all? Or is this just a case of fortuitous timing ? Or has somebody decided that India's time has come now. Rather skeptical one would say? Actually no, there have been instances which give rise to a suspicion like this. Ang Lee made his “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and got rave reviews, the movie grossed millions and Oscars too. It was a good movie, a sweeping epic and Lee is a deserving candidate. But the curious case was in the timing of Lee’s winning. Lee represented China. As a market it was opening to the world just then and the USA like any hungry predator was eyeing it ; the billion plus consumers in that markets & its low cost manufacturing strength. Call this a co-incidence but it was judicious timing. Even the Miss World or Universe was a Chinese a few years from then.

Can we in India forget the years when we were winning all the titles at the beauty pageants? In fact in 1994 India won both the Ms Universe and Ms World, Sushmita Sen & Aishwarya Rai. This feat was again repeated by Lara Dutta and Priyanca Chopra in 2000. Looking at Indias tryst with beauty pageants, systemically after Madhu Sapre our first real winning probable (who like P T Usha our Olympic Hope) lost out by a hairs whisker we became smarter definitely in terms of grooming and training. But did our roll call of beauties dry up between then & now? What was so significant about the years 1994 and 2000 ?

The year 1994 was when the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao gave the mandate to his finance minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to chart out a new financial course for the country. Rao and Singh opened India to the world. The world wanted an in, into the huge middle class market that is India.What better way to give that sense of having arrived and being connected than with a few international awards. The year 2000 was the year of the Y2K and the world was scared of coming to its digital end. The only country who seemingly had a skilled army to combat this was India. Now Lara and Priyanca are quite lovely ladies but here too the timing was rather fortunate.

Corporate India's timing is no better. This writer used to work for an engineering company and it was a great place to be. Some wise heads had instituted "a person of the month" and "person of the quarter" award to encourage team members to perform better. The whole office once a month would gather in the conference room and the chief would declare the nominees and the winner. All nominees & winners were deserving candidates on account of the work put in. It was on the occasion when this author got a "person of the quarter award" that things became clearer. He was surprised as in that quarter he had nothing spectacular to his name. His achievements were from a few quarters earlier. Did he then on principle return the award? Nope. It carried a cash prize with it and salaries being pretty ordinary anyways, every supplement to it was welcome. But it disillusioned him on being rewarded for a good work from time that had gone by. It made him look at most awards now with a jaundiced eye. And truly so the eye is not misplaced; As he shared this with a few friends of his on this take he found concurrence.

Look at the Filmfare awards (Indias Oscars), they were an institution once but today are in a pretty sad state. Everybody who is somebody has to have an award or else he or she shall not perform at their charity function. The amount of lobbying that happens behind the scenes is terrible. The winner has to be deserving you say? Dont worry at all, if u are not getting the popular awards, we shall institute a new category. Shahrukh has to get some award every year, so what if it’s an award for being the first Hindi movie star to buy a cricket team? He can still look heavenwards and thank his mom. Aamir came under flak for withdrawing his name from these awards and immediately was shunned for a while, till he started churning out mega hits. Then despite his non presence he was winning awards. He is so powerful now kuch to dena hi padega na? If he doesn’t accept one its ok, that's his call…We did our bit and awarded you.

This is the anomaly I feel of Rahman with his Slumdog nomination, a deserving candidate, who may be awarded well after his time for a work that just doesn’t even approach public acceptable levels ( Have u seen any one croon Jai Ho? Isnt that the only measure for the success of a song or music ? ) let alone his own very high standards. We may have a debate on the veracity and some would say "Why bother, now look here, isnt the right guy getting it ? He is ours too so so why make a fuss. The issue here that it is the person being awarded and not his work.The person was around yesterday and will be around tomorrow too. Something is skewed here or the entire award winning and giving equation stinks. The larger answer to this seems to be the greed motive - Hollywood wants a slice of the worlds largest movie making industry now - and is incentivising it with awards. Napolean said it best " Give me a few medals to give and I shall win any war for France"


Soul Images said...

Excellent! Well-written. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and find myself nodding in affirmative to both the questions and the answers. Having been a party to the corporate structure of keeping peace and rewarding one and all, I agree that it stinks! And this also brings to foreground a thought that is lingering in the back of my mind, almost always. The lament that I carry many a times, there is no quest for collective excellence. Its all carefully thought out and well orchestrated! Its important to be seen doing or being not to do or to be...

Srini Kesavan said...

It's a well thought out article. I will neither agree nor disagree with your thoughts, its your opinion and I respect that.
I will however tell you that I have come across white people here in Toronto who have genuinely loved the movie and its music. Even the radio talk shows here are full of praise for the movie and its music and I don't think there is any motive behind that.
I have noticed that my Indian friends here hate the movie for some reason.
As for me, I liked the movie, its a good movie with a decent music. Is it ARR's best? no way. But I am proud of him and am hoping he gets Oscar nod.

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

The movie is a fast paced superbly crafted and edited film, performances are credible too.

Its not an opinion Srini, its a question that is raised because of opportune timing. Do u know how many major Hollywood studios have directly entered India by themselves or thru subsidiaries? Just have a look at those numbers..

Despite a average/good( debatable) score we find Rahman being present at the right time with his work.What are we comparing that music with Milk/The Reader/Benjy Button or Mickey Rourkes Wrestler..come on of course Rahman is better than the music in these movies.

He is India's best, without a doubt. But with Slumdog's timing,I would still say he got lucky.

Anant said...

I think timing is everything. Its just his time to rise in the eyes of the west (Hollywood) and shine. Do remember however that most of the masala movies made in Bollywood don't get any rave reviews (or even respect many a times) from the Western audience. The common themes are "too long" or "too much song and dance" etc. Since Slumdog was a cut over of sorts and made for the western audience primarily, thats why it succeded. And as a result of it, our "Isai Gnyani" ARR.

Is it not ironic that many (not all) of the movies made about India or some key items in India that got western recognition were NOT made by Indians?!? Heck, they even got Ben Kingsley to play Gandhi (admitted he is kinda Indian, but born a raised a Brit).

So I think the key is if we want to win western awards and get the "nod", the movies and themes and the content should also match that level of acceptability. Make no mistakes, there are some REALLY good movies made in Bollywood, which are not "masala" movies. But the marketing to the western world takes a hit.

Bottom line - Slumdog or any other movie, glad that ARR got the attention of the western world in a big way. Does that mean more opportunities for him in Hollywood...? Maybe...time will tell. But certainly puts him and India on the musical (and movie) map for Hollywood to take some serious notice.

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Nicely said and agreed to whole heartedly.

The recipe to suit a universal palate is a market driven logic which is acceptable. The objection is to the whole world and its sister calling it an Indian film which it certainly is not.Its a watchable film with a lot of flaws unexplained..like a hindi potboiler
but not Indian.

e.g The police questioning him and not demanding money first is impossible to concieve unless one is an Indian. Then one puts in a Taj Mahal for the world.The rest of the film is in Dharavi - Mumbai as no one knows this particular underbelly across the world. But the Taj is uniquely Indian and its symbolistic connection needs to be established..hey this in India look there is the Taj

Some of these are obvious..why does the quizmaster get irked at the contestant in the first place..almost Manmohan Desai isque in co-incidences..but who cares, its entertainment right?