Ranbir Kapoor won the Best Actor award for his role in the action drama film ‘Animal’ at the 69th Filmfare Awards ceremony in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on January 28. This sparked online debate over whether the awards appropriately recognized talent and performance, or even focused on ethics.
‘Animal’, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, has earned more than Rs 900 crore worldwide. But since its release on December 1 last year, it has been mired in controversy due to its glorification of toxic masculinity, rampant sexism and Islamophobia. While Vanga hit back at critics for criticizing her film, Kapoor recently created more controversy by claiming in an interview given at the time of the film’s Netflix release that ‘Animal’ was an ode to toxic masculinity. Started a very healthy conversation.
Ranbir winning that award has led many commentators to wonder what signal it sends to audiences and producers. Some have pointed out that the jury’s decision is particularly puzzling because many other actors had better artistic or box office performances the previous year.
Take Shah Rukh Khan, for example, who made a remarkable comeback in 2023 with three hit films like ‘Pathan’, ‘Jawaan’ and ‘Donkey’. Or Ranveer Singh, who gave a layered performance in ‘Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani’, a film that has been praised for its nuanced portrayal of modern love and gender politics. Or, for that matter, Vikrant Massey, who won the Best Actor (Critics) award for ’12th Fail’, a far more poignant story of a poor, rural man’s struggle as a civil services aspirant, than ‘Animal ‘ is much more than a gratuitously violent revenge drama. ,
But this is nothing new in Filmfare. As editor and film lover Shantanu Ray Chowdhury points out in his wonderful Trivial article, the Filmfare Awards have often fallen short when rewarding performances. For example, RD Burman won his first Filmfare Award for Best Music Director of the Year in 1982 for the easily forgotten film ‘Saman Teri Kasam’, while his brilliant albums ‘Hare Ram Hare Krishna’ (1971), ‘Amar Live for love. (1972), ‘Yaadon Ki Baaraat’ (1973), ‘Aandhi’ (1975), and many others were ignored.
Choudhary also writes about how Aamir Khan, one of the most successful and accomplished actors of his generation, repeatedly missed out on the Best Actor award due to underperformance, and eventually won it for ‘Raja Hindustani’ (1996). Jeet Liye, which was one of his least liked films on the silver screen. , After losing to Shahrukh Khan in 1995, Aamir Khan stopped attending award ceremonies because he felt the jury was biased. This year, Shah Rukh Khan faced the humiliation of an indifferent jury, which deprived him of his ninth Filmfare Best Actor trophy.
Of course, Bollywood does not have a monopoly on controversies. Even in Hollywood, Academy Awards nominations have sparked controversy. But those who have taken social media and entertainment journalism by storm are Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, director and lead actor of the billion-dollar ‘Barbie’ respectively, who have not been nominated in their categories.
Ryan Goslin, who played Ken in the film and was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category, has said he was disappointed by his co-workers’ snub: “But there’s no Ken without Barbie, and there’s no Ken without Greta. There’s no Barbie movie without it.” Gerwig and Margot Robbie. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also tweeted in favor of Gerwig and Robbie.
In recent years, the Academy Awards have been criticized for not adequately recognizing female talent. In the 94 years since the Oscars were first awarded in 1929, only seven women have been nominated in the Best Director category, only three of whom have won – for ‘The Power of Dog’ (2021) Jane Campion, Chloé Zhao for ‘Nomadland’ (2020), and Kathryn Bigelow for ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2008).
In 2018, Natalie Portman stood on the stage at the Golden Globes and announced, “Here are all the male nominees” while presenting the Best Director award. And in 2020, while announcing the all-male Best Director nominations for the Oscars, actor Issa Rae declared: “Congratulations to those men.”
Oscar organizers this year are unlikely to extend an invitation to any of them to present an award in the same category, where four male directors have been nominated – Christopher Nolan (“Oppenheimer”), Martin Scorsese (“Killers”). “Of the Flower Moon”), Jonathan Glazer (“The Zone of Interest”), and Yorgos Lanthimos (“Poor Things”).
The only female nominee in the category this year is Justine Tritt for “Anatomy of a Fall,” a courtroom thriller for which she has already won the Palme d’Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival.
But not everyone agrees that Gerwig and Robbie missing out on nominations is such a big loss. Commentators from the Global South have described the film as an example of “white feminism”, consistent with the market liberal principles of its corporate sponsors. Others have also called out its supporters, like Clinton, who has found time to express outrage over the film’s missing nominations but has remained silent on the suffering of Palestinian women in Gaza since the current conflict began in October last year.
Apart from gender discrimination, the Academy Awards have also been accused of racism. In 2016, an online campaign #OscarsSoWhite began calling for the awards to disproportionately reward white actors, after a study by the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication revealed that 92 percent of top film directors at that time were men and 86 percent were top film directors. There were white actors in the films. Shortly after the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the hashtag created by lawyer April Rain took Hollywood by storm and, in the opinion of The New York Times, changed the Oscars.
Do awards like Filmfare and Oscar still matter? Barry Gunter, Emeritus Professor of Media at the University of Leicester, UK, has demonstrated through analysis of films’ box office performance that “winning one of the big awards (Best Actor/Actress in a Leading or Supporting Role, Best Director, and Best Picture) )” certainly has a positive impact on their earnings. Another 2007 academic study showed that being nominated at the Oscars also resulted in “substantial financial benefits.” If Hollywood and the Academy Awards are indeed a bastion of white, male privilege are willing to remove the tag of being, they should actively try to nominate more people of color and of different genders.
I haven’t found any studies on the financial rewards of winning awards in India. But in recent years, even the once revered National Awards have been criticized for becoming a political tool for the ruling party. When ‘The Kashmir Files’, which has been criticized for blatant Islamophobia, was given the National Award for Best Film for National Integration last year, many criticized the decision as not aesthetic but pro-government. There is a reward for publicity.
This leaves a viewer wondering: What is the value of an award – at the box office or for posterity?
Uttaran Das Gupta is a New Delhi-based writer and journalist. He teaches Journalism at OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat
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