Attention: There Is Only One 'Dadasaheb Phalke Award' That's Worth Anything

05/05/2016 4:48 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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The Dadasaheb Phalke Award is, as one would read on Wikipedia, India's highest cinematic honour, presented at the National Awards ceremony held annually in New Delhi. Named after the man known as the father of Indian cinema — he directed what is acknowledged as the country's full-length feature film, Raja Harishchandra, in 1913 — it has been in place since 1969.

The award is, by description, a lifetime achievement award, comprising a Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) medallion, a shawl, and a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh. Previous winners of this award have included the likes of Raj Kapoor, Satyajit Ray, Sivaji Ganesan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and Shyam Benegal.

This year's winner of this prestigious award is actor-director Manoj Kumar, nicknamed 'Bharat Kumar' for his chest-thumping brand of patriotic cinema in the '60s and '70s. On Tuesday, the 78-year-old, now in a wheelchair, travelled to Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan to receive this honour from President Pranab Mukherjee, presented during the ceremony for the 63rd National Film Awards.

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Manoj Kumar (right) presents President Pranab Mukherjee (left) with a Sai Baba idol as a token of appreciation for receiving this year's Dadasaheb Phalke Award

However, roughly a fortnight ago, a number of news articles and social media users congratulated actor Manoj Bajpayee for winning this year's Dadasaheb Phalke award, for his performance as Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras in Hansal Mehta's recently released Aligarh. A few days later, just a day before he turned 47, Bajpayee shared this Hindustan Times article in which he spoke about how honoured he felt to receive this award.

Congratulations poured in from all quarters.

Then, a few days later, news arrived that controversial Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh 'Insan' — he of the surreally craptastic MSG: The Messenger movies fame — had also received an award for "most popular actor, director and writer". This, apparently, was also a 'Dadasaheb Phalke Award'.

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Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh 'Insan' receiving his 'Dadasaheb Phalke Award'

Online news aggregators didn't know how to react to this piece of news. Indiatimes wondered if the "earth has stopped spinning". StoryPick couldn't get over why the controversial guru — whose films, widely regarded as vanity vehicles, were universally panned and ignored by audiences (despite the makers claiming astronomical box-office figures) — had received this honour.

However, what many industry people and news outlets forgot to check was the name of these awards. There is only one legit Dadasaheb Phalke Award i.e. the one presented to Kumar at Vigyan Bhawan.

Here's where things get confusing. The awards presented to Bajpayee and Singh were called the Dadasaheb Phalke Film Foundation Awards. An annual event that appears to have only been around for the past two years, going by the suspicious lack of Google results for 'dadasaheb phalke film foundation awards 2014', this year's ceremony took place on April 24, in an abandoned hotel in Mumbai's Juhu area that is usually booked for weddings and family functions.

The foundation itself has no website; a half-heartedly-maintained Facebook page presents a (dead) link to a website (presumably) showcasing its president Ashfaque Khopekar's photography.

Amongst the other awardees at this event, according to the Free Press Journal, were Shah Rukh Khan, who received a dubious award called 'King Of Bollywood' (what on earth does that mean?!); Madhur Bhandarkar, for "Contributions In The Field Of Women Centric Cinema In India" (LOL); and Aarya Babbar, who received Best Debut Artist Of The Year for his portrayal of Raavan in the mythological TV show Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanuman (no comment).

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Manoj Bajpayee and Madhur Bhandarkar at the Dadasaheb Phalke Film Foundation Awards 2016

Last year's winners included Shah Rukh Khan again ('Best Actor' for Happy New Year), Rajkummar Rao (for Citylights), and Huma Qureshi (for Dedh Ishqiya). All of them turned up to take their trophies and expressed their gratitude for receiving such a prestigious award.

Meanwhile, just to complicate matters, another event called the Dadasaheb Phalke Excellence Awards took place in Mumbai on April 25, the very next day. Industrialist Ratan Tata, the show's chief guest, presented awards to Shabana Azmi (Best Supporting Actress, for Neerja), Annu Kapoor (Best RJ), Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty (Best Pair Debut), and Sooraj Barjatya (Best Memorable Film). Again, going by Google search results, this event seems to have no official website and no Facebook page. It doesn't even seem to have existed before this year.

What's happening here? It appears that not only is rampant misreporting by media outlets throwing off readers and cinema-lovers into believing that a number of celebrities — many of whom seem obviously undeserving — are receiving what is known as India's highest cinema award; but also that these celebrities are getting their moment in the sun to boast about awards that most people don't realise are pretty much worthless. Meanwhile, an ever-expanding entertainment media under pressure to get clicks is only too ready to publish hastily written posts about stars winning awards, facts be damned. A number of articles continue to call them 'Dadasaheb Phalke Awards', leading to further confusion.

"The problem is that many actors are greedy for awards, whether it's coming from people with credentials or not," says veteran film journalist Bharti Dubey, in a phone conversation with HuffPost India. "The only authentic Dadasaheb Phalke award is the one given by the government. The rest are rubbish. Those trophies aren't worth anything."

A piece on ScoopWhoop notes: "The foundation award function merely bears the name of the legendary film thespian and has evidently no reason to be deemed a measure of anything. While it honours a powerhouse of talent like Manoj Bajpayee, it also keeps 'important people' (read politically important ones) like 'The Messenger Of God' in its good books."

Indeed, these fly-by-night ceremonies seem to have 'money-making scam' written all over them, with flashy functions attended by a mix of celebrities (most of whom are there to collect their trophy) and industrialists. In pictures of these events, a number of sponsor logos are visible, indicating that these shows probably aren't non-profit ventures. "The original Phalke family has nothing to do with these awards," adds Dubey.

Well, then, why should we even bother?

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