On Tuesday evening at Mumbai's MMRDA grounds — the mosquito-infested open-air venue for the Zee Cine Awards — there was a glorious moment that played out between real-life couple, Boney Kapoor and Sridevi.
Boney was called on stage by hosts Rohit Shetty and Karan Johar to hand out the Best Actor (Female) award – the second one in the same category for the night. The award went to Sridevi for Mom. While on stage, Boney had a disastrous slip, one that engulfed the venue with the kind of silence usually associated with funerals, or outer space.
He said, "I haven't manipulated this award for my wife," before laughing sheepishly. "Some people would remember, how in the old days..." he trailed off, sensing the audience's collective awkwardness.
Sridevi was visibly angry as one could see her internalize her anguish. Her moment of organic glory had been disrupted by her husband. The couple left the stage awkwardly, with Sridevi refusing to take Boney's hand.
The credibility of Indian award ceremonies have always been questionable. As award shows, in a bid to attract top dollar through sponsors, become media-driven events, the barter of award-for-celebrity-presence is an open secret within industry members and those who move in and around it.
No award means a no-show by the celeb.
And organizers depend heavily on celeb turnout as that's how they attract sponsors.
A former magazine editor, who HuffPost spoke to, recalled, "This one year, our entire list of winners changed as a good chunk of the industry had flown off for the wedding of a Bollywood personality." The magazine then carefully picked winners based on the celebrities who were in town that weekend.
Another person, part of the organizing team, said that an actor (a renowned superstar) was given a 'Supporting Role' award, despite hardly being in the movie (he is bumped off in the first few scenes), because of his proximity with the magazine's top bosses.
A team of editors, attached to a well-known magazine, realized they couldn't probably give this top star an award without brutally embarassing themselves (the top star had acted in one of the biggest critical/commercial duds of that year), so they arbitrarily christened, a 'Style Icon of the Year' category, to get the star to attend the ceremony.
In fact, in February last year, Rishi Kapoor bragged about buying a Filmfare Award for Best Actor. He told The Quint, "I have no hesitation in admitting that I was impetuous once. I had to buy the Filmfare Award for my performance in Bobby (1973)." He later told India Today that he coughed up Rs. 30,000 for the trophy.
But last night's show, the Zee Cine Awards 2017, was something else.
Last night, Zee didn't even try to keep up the pretense of taking itself seriously as trophies were doled out with reckless abandon. The tone of the farce that was about to unfurl was set early on in the ceremony, when the Best Cinematography Award went to, wait for it, Golmaal Again, in a year that saw exquisitely-shot films such as Jagga Jasoos, Rangoon, A Death in the Gunj, and Newton.
Manish Mundra, producer of Newton, had a cheeky response to this:
After a point, it seemed everybody who showed up went home with an award, those who didn't win were there because they were performing a dance number (which means they took home a fat pay-cheque and if you are Priyanka Chopra, that'd be 1 crore per minute, thank you very much).
There's nothing particularly novel, or wildly innovative about award ceremonies inventing categories, just to please a certain star, or have him/her attend the show. Almost all of the main ones are guilty of having that dubious distinction.
But Impactful Female of the Year/Girl Power Award? Seriously?
If you're going to come up with an award title with the hope that it can be passed off convincingly, at least spare the poor intern from doing the honors.
Zee gave Impactful Female of the Year Award to Taapsee Pannu, a gifted actress, but also someone whose cinematic contributions from last year (the very effective and relevant Pink) were offset this year by the unforgivably bad and deeply misogynistic Judwaa 2, a film where a man is seen spanking a woman's posterior, because he can't help it, consent be damned.
But a truly spectacular moment arrived when the Impactful Male of the Year trophy was being given.
Rajkummar Rao won the award, presumably because the organizers didn't feel his contribution to the larger discourse of cinema this year warranted a nomination in the 'Best Actor' category.
Instead, the Best Actor category had Hrithik Roshan as a contender for his role in Kaabil, Varun Dhawan for Judwaa 2/Badrinath, two nominations for Akshay Kumar (Jolly LLB 2, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha), and Ayushmann Khurrana for Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.
So when Rao, looking dapper in a white tuxedo, emerged on stage to collect the award, he was visibly puzzled and confused about what he was taking the award for. And he made that known, part of which I believe was his way of subtly calling out the seemingly pre-meditated ceremony.
"So this award is for?" he questioned, throwing hosts Rohit Shetty and Bhumi Pednekar, off-guard. He self-answered his query. "New...ton, I guess? Or for Trapped, Bareily ki Barfi? It's for everything I've done this year," he said, before strutting off, having held a mirror to the night's collective absurdity.
Impactful Male/Female weren't only the newest categories freshly conceived this year. An extraordinary Impact award (?) was handed out to Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, an Extraordinary Legend Award (why?) was bestowed to Amitabh Bachchan (of course), and Shah Rukh Khan too, took home a trophy for completing 25 years in Hindi cinema. Don't be surprised if next year, some other ceremony gives him an award for completing 26 years.
But if categories sprang up for no rhyme or reason, categories mysteriously disappeared too.
For instance, in 2016, Zee gave an award to Rishi Kapoor for Best Actor in a Comic Role, a vertical that went missing this year.
To offer you some perspective, the Oscars have only 24 categories, which have remained constant (the last time a new category was introduced was 16 years ago, for Best Animated Feature.)
The whole point of having award ceremonies, one would like to believe, is to honor and recognize works of art that may have eclipsed the attention of the mass, and put a spotlight on them and give them a new lease of life.
The box-office anyway rewards mainstream films with success. Catering to populism is simply a commercial call, a decision which is indicative of the marginal premium organizers put on content and the high value bestowed upon TRPs and star-pandering.
If that is the state of the National Awards, what hope to other ceremonies inspire?
Whatever credibility the National Awards enjoyed was eroded this year, when Akshay Kumar won Best Actor for Rustom/Airlift. The jury chairperson was his frequent collaborator, Priyadarshan, who, in an interview with Mumbai Mirror, didn't make any bones about why he'd won it.
"When Ramesh Sippy was jury head Amitabh Bachchan won. When Prakash Jha was head of jury, Ajay Devgn won," he said, basically saying that jury president's have previously given awards to the actors they've been closest to.
If that is the state of the National Awards, what hope to other ceremonies inspire?
For instance, in a recent interview, Kangana Ranaut, who, like Aamir Khan, doesn't attend award ceremonies, revealed how an award promised to her was given to someone else after she got stuck in traffic. "I got dressed up for some award, I don't remember the award but I was supposed to receive the award for supporting cast for Life In A Metro. I got stuck in traffic. I started getting calls asking 'where are you'. The hysteria and panic that I experienced, I didn't make it and Soha (Ali Khan) got it for Rang De Basanti."
She also said that Filmfare, one of the more prestigious ceremonies, is rigged, alleging that an award she was to receive for Krirsh 3, went to Supriya Pathak (Ram Leela), as she was out of the country, pursuing a screenwriting course at that time.
Jitesh Pillai, editor of the magazine, refuted her claims.
As for the Zee Cine Awards, the evening drew to a close, with performances from Katrina Kaif, Priyanka Chopra, Shahid Kapoor, it was time for the big awards -- Actor/Actress/Film/Director.
Alia Bhatt and Akshay Kumar won Best Actor (Viewer's Choice) while Varun Dhawan and Sridevi won Best Actor in what was perhaps the 'Jury's Choice'. Meher Vij (Best Supporting Actress) and Raj Arjun (Best Actor in a Negative Role) won for their roles in Secret Superstar and Advait Chandan got Best Debut Director for the same film, awards that felt uncharacteristically genuine and well-deserved. But again, these were for categories that are very hard to mess up -- I mean -- could they've possible given the Best Actor in Negative Role to Neil Nitin Mukesh (he was nominated) and still survived the night? I think not.
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, a government-pamphlet masquerading as a movie, won another award for Best Picture, while the 'Best Picture Best Picture Award' (*wink wink*) went to...
Not Lipstick Under My Burkha. Not Hindi Medium. Not Newton. Not Jagga Jasoos. Not Gurgaon. Not Secret Superstar. Not Tumhari Sulu. Not A Death in the Gunj.
But... Rohit Shetty's Golmaal Again.
Shetty who was on-stage already (remember, he was hosting the show) took the award without damaging any SUVs. He also expressed shock ("This is so unexpected...").
Then, with a loud thud, fireworks erupted on stage and Ranveer Singh sashayed up there with signature bravura. Amidst an explosion of confetti, a gigantic installation wishing everyone Happy New Year was plonked on stage, which now resembled a kaleidoscopic mess.
In this world of startling self-deceptions, everybody was happy, everybody had a trophy.
Also see on HuffPost: