26 February, 2009

Cinematic Award Ceremonies - Style & Conduct

23rd February 2009, is a red letter day for all fans of cinema in India. A. R. Rahman the Indian music prodigy performs at the Kodak Theatre, during the 81st Academy Awards ceremony popularly known as the Oscar’s. For the first time ever an Indian has won two Oscars and Indians across the world jubilantly yelled “Jai Ho”. Another Oscar came to an Indian  for Best Sound Mixing ( Resul Pookutty ) for the same film “Slumdog Millionaire”.

It endorses the fact that the Oscars is not just a mere award ceremony but a celebration of the best in cinema across the world.

This was amply proved yet again in the execution of the ceremony this year. The superb set uniquely lit by hundreds of thousands of crystals reminded one of the grand vision of K Asif, when he made the set for his magnum opus, Mughal-e-Azam.

Hugh Jackman was the master of ceremonies. From the moment he came on stage he captivated one and all with a performance reminiscent of the best Broadway Musicals. Superlative choreography, singing and execution was the hallmark of his act. As we moved into the award ceremonies, the introduction of the nominees of this year was done by the winners in the same category from past years. This was a masterly touch. The sheer nostalgia and gravity of the occasion was taken to some other level altogether as Eva Marie Saint introduced this year’s nominee Viola Davis. The emotions on the face of Anne Hathaway told a story of their own, when Shirley McLaine complimented her on her singing in the opening act with Hugh Jackman. She also urged her to continue at it. This was a terrific bridge across time as a senior artiste and winner acknowledged the potential of a relative newcomer. Nominees and winners all celebrated and reveled in the appreciation of the peers. There was a poignant moment as the name of the best actor in a supporting role was announced. The late Heath Ledger won it for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Heath's Joker was a manic, funny, droll & mischievously dangerous performance utterly captivating. A few in the audience had tears ruing the talent snuffed out before his time. Sean Penn won the best actor award for his portrayal of Harvey Milk. He displayed a touching generosity in acknowledging his peer nominee Mickey Rourke, who was back in the reckoning after a hiatus of a decade. Slumdog Millionaire and its team rejoiced their 8 wins out of 10 nominations.
A lot of images shall stay back from this ceremony and many that have happened in the past. Rahman winning two Oscars being the foremost.

Impressive Style and Impeccable Conduct

Several things stand out from the Oscars. Numero Uno is the superb preparation and the absolute drive towards perfection. Everything is arranged just so. No goof ups are seen on the stage and if any are smoothly handled. The Master of the Ceremonies or the Host has a pedigree of the highest order in performance ability.If she/he is a star its a bonus. This person would be entertaining and welcoming performers of a caliber, vintage and experience so vast that almost everyone present would be a master of her craft.

This audience has to not only be taken care of but treated with respect that becomes them. Every winner nominee presenter or performer gets his portion of stage space and time and just so much. The acceptance speeches can sometimes drag as even stars can be overwhelmed but till date never has a speech been interrupted by the host. The conduct is something remarkable and that gives the ceremony its dignity.

Personal differences may exist and be simmering under the surface but none shows up openly or acts without grace. The Academy has generated that respect after its 81 years of existence. The Academy is of the industry for the industry and by the industry. The Academy is made up of a board of Industry professionals and the selection for a category is done by professionals who excel in that category for e.g. For excellence in Cinematography It is a panel of members who are all Directors of Photography who would choose the nominations in that category. For the winner, all the academy members get to vote. All nominees from previous years get to be the academy members. This process is audited by a third party consultancy and has a secrecy that may rival Fort Knox. Rumors of leaks abound but it has not happened so far. There is no other award in the USA for cinematic excellence other than the Oscars and no one has the right to create one too.

Excellence is a game of constant strife and drive to improve oneself constantly and it has been so with the Oscars too. It is then that the honors awarded become meaningful.

The Indian Awards Scene

At once we are drawn to compare the execution and conduct of our awards. For a long time there was only the Filmfare from the Bennett Coleman & Company Group (Clares as it was known then after the film critic Clare Mendonca started out in 1954 with 5 categories. Later it changed the name to Filmfare awards). In the very same year also instituted were the National awards for excellence in Cinema. The principal difference was that the body awarding the National awards was a public body made up of jury members, while the Filmfare had a jury and popularity quotient added to make it less biased by having the Filmfare magazine readers indicating their popular choices through a form. In both the cases, the awarding organization was not from the industry. One being a publishing house and the other a public sector department. The categories increased and proportionately did the star egos. It became less and less easy for a lack of bias to prevail. It exploded when other awards began starting with rival Indian express group started the Screen Awards and then came the Zee Essel group and before you know it everyone and his sister was conducting a film awards ceremony. If your ego is bruised at one award ceremony you can decide to boycott or ban it forever and soon Stars only attended if they were to be awarded.

The conduct of the master of ceremonies and the choice was anybody who was willing. The choice would not only have a poor command over the language but also would be star struck themselves or crassly ill-mannered if they are stars. This hit its worst pitch with Sajid Khan in one of the Screen awards when he publicly offended a winner and was ticked off on stage. It just didn’t end there but was a study in bad behavior. Rather than apologizing, the puffed up presenter insulted the guest Ashutosh Gowariker. There is a lot of learning from our Award ceremonies. The stars of yesteryears are far more cultured, controlled and articulate. They appreciated art and the craft and were in it for the love of the medium. Money came in much later. Today why should our stars insist on speaking in a language which they cannot speak well beats me. Hindi Cinema stars insist on speaking in English (or at least that’s what they think they speak). Our star performances on stage are just not coordinated and how would they be. The performer would think he is above practice. The execution would be by event organizers who are held responsible for anything out of gear tantrums shown by both attending and performing stars. With so many awards floating around every one has one at home. So the generic bar of performance has just not been raised. Popularity is no measure for performance. Someplace we are erring and in this spiral of descent have touched the absolute bottom. On record I S Johar was the first one to have tried to manipulate the award results by purchasing several thousands of copies of Filmfare to promote his discovery and turn her into a winner. The movie was Aaaj Ki Taaza Khabar (ironical title too..eh?) where wanted to promote Sonia Sahni.

Hence when an Individual like A R Rahman chooses to remain and work in his own set up, it is because he drives himself to perfection. The only reason why we get to see him performing amongst the very best in the world in the Kodak Theatre. The others we wouldn’t even want to have them perform on our Home Theatres.


Anonymous said...

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Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

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