The Grand Finale

Published in SouthAsia (November 2010) – Original Link

By Ayesha Hoda

“And the award goes to….”

A moment of silence, pregnant with expectations of victory or gloom for a favorite star or film – it gives you goosebumps. You hold your breath. And then the moment passes, with the silence broken by a thundering applause as the winner’s name is announced.

Any film buff can easily identify with these magical moments. With so many film award shows to watch today and their countless reruns on television, these moments have lost some of their thrill. But not all of it and definitely not in shows like Filmfare, also known as the “Indian Oscars”.

The Filmfare Awards were introduced in 1953 by Filmfare magazine, beginning with just one category and five awards. Over the years they have grown in scope to cover many more aspects of filmmaking and become a much-awaited annual event, glittering with stars. Looking at their success, more award shows have been designed along similar lines, not only in India, but also in other South Asian nations, like Lux Style Awards (LSA) in Pakistan, Nepali Film Awards in Nepal, National Film Awards in Bangladesh and so on.

The awards industry in the region, primarily the Indian industry, is growing in terms of popularity as well as business. Each show has multiple sponsors and impressive advertising support from a large number of brands. And why not? Most of them are star-studded events that involve many months of planning; offering gigantic backdrops, technical wizardry, fireworks, many song-and-dance numbers, light banter by A-list celebrity hosts and post-award parties.

Film awards honor those who push cinematic boundaries, appeal to the audiences’ aesthetics and do well at the box office. However, they have a much wider impact due to the film world’s close ties with fashion, music and other industries.

Today, an award show is not merely about the showcasing of a country’s cinematic vision. A Hollywood-style red carpet bonanza is quite in vogue at these ceremonies, with stars and their spouses adorning designer labels. In addition, costumes have to be supplied to the performers. Stylists and make-up artists need to be present. Those involved with the designing and construction of huge sets, setting up of the floodlights, the sound systems, security etc. are all employed by the booming awards industry.

Quite predictably, Bollywood shows are the ones most widely watched, not only within South Asia or Asia but across the world. Starting in January or February, they generally continue up till June, being broadcast around the world for the entertainment of the South Asian diasporas and now even western audiences.

For tapping international markets, some shows are being held abroad, benefitting the organizers, the film industry as well as the host country. For instance, the Indian International Film Awards (IIFA) was first held in 2008 in Thailand, which significantly added to the country’s popularity amongst Indian travelers. Similarly, Film Awards Bangla – a language based awards ceremony that seeks to promote Bengali cinema through an international platform – took the same route this year. Both India and Bangladesh are emerging markets for Thailand – a popular choice for their cinematic industries due to its scenic beauty and skilled personnel, as a film location for both pre- and post-production work and a destination for holding award ceremonies.

Recent news reports also suggest that the next hot destination for shows will be Singapore, with Zee Cine Awards scheduled to be held at Marina Bay Sands in January 2011. Pakistan’s Lux Style Awards have also been held outside the country twice, once in UAE (2005) and once in Malaysia (2007).

Beyond doubt, the South Asian region has much to offer the world in terms of different film styles, genres, languages and socio-cultural representations. With subtitles, several movies available online and international entries in film festivals around the world, people are getting a chance to watch independent and mainstream movies from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and even Afghanistan.

However, with the film industry in shambles in Pakistan, the chances of growth of the awards industry here seem to be minimal, at least in the near future. Even LSA is said to be in need of raising its glamour quotient and may not be held this year due to the flood crisis in Pakistan.

Despite the obvious economic and artistic benefits of these annual award ceremonies, they are not always held without controversy. With Bollywood’s links to Mumbai Underworld lurking in the shadows, the funding of these projects comes under speculation. These links are sometimes denied by filmmakers or lost amongst the glitterati. On the other hand, some film stars are openly seen in the company of their mafia connections. The mafia is here to stay, a fact more evident with the introduction of a new genre of filmmaking some years back, Mumbai Noir, dealing with realistic depictions of underworld dons.

There are also other controversies surrounding award shows. Stars, film critics and audiences often accuse them of bias towards commercial success rather than merit, except perhaps some government sponsored awards. In India, stars like Aamir Khan refrain from attending the award ceremonies because of the way they are conducted. To counter such criticism, some Indian shows have introduced a critics’ awards category that often honors the works of parallel cinema. But this sometimes leads to further criticism as the ever-widening range of categories is seen as “designed to please everyone”.

However, the award shows represent an enormous opportunity which advertisers and allied industries cannot ignore. The cult like following of film celebrities is not expected to go away any time soon. Even the relatively smaller film industries in other parts of India or in the rest of South Asia do have some faces that are loved by the masses. Moreover, the award shows offer several hours of entertainment – the chance of seeing the enigmatic persona of stars outside the silver screen and dancing to popular beats. Target Rating Points (TRPs) are high as ever and so are profits. Notwithstanding some criticism, further growth of this industry will mainly benefit South Asian cinema: all those working for it and all those bedazzled by it.

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