Bollywood Baatein: Mean awards in a mean world

The level of political credibility and social conscientiousness Anubhav Sinha’s cinema has acquired after ‘Mulk’ is incredible. ‘Article 15’ goes even further in search of that truth

 Bollywood Baatein: Mean awards in a mean world
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Subhash K Jha

Many in the film industry feel Anubhav Sinha has paid the price for being a vocal opponent of Government policies. His brilliant political drama Article 15 from 2019, hands-down the finest film of that year, has been overlooked in the National Awards in favour of Nitesh Tiwari’s Chhichhore, a relatively tame look at student life.

While sympathy for Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic demise must undoubtedly have played an important part in tilting the scales in favour of Chhichhore, the qualitative difference between the two films is so high that it couldn’t have been a close shave between the two films. Not by a long shot.

I tried getting in touch with jury head N Chandra (who hasn’t made a film in 12 years) but he chose not to respond. Anubhav Sinha brushed it off with a laugh. But a close friend of Anubhav spoke, “Obviously, the criteria was something other than merit. Run through the list of winners, and you’ll know what I mean. Article 15 was undoubtedly the best film of 2019 not just in Hindi but in any Indian language. To not honour it is like giving the best music award to a film called Beimaan during the year of Pakeezah. This actually happened with the Filmfare awards in 1972.”

In one word, Article 15 is spellbinding. It is everything that cinema was always meant to be. Thought provoking, questioning, disturbing and ultimately cathartic because the cop-hero (played with a simmering intensity by Ayushmann Khurrana) succeeds in getting justice for the wronged.

I must say it is hard to believe the level of political credibility and social conscientiousness Anubhav Sinha’s cinema has acquired after Mulk. Article 15 goes even further than Mulk in search of the truth that lies underneath the veneer of fairness and justice for all.

Sinha’s stunning film says a lot of things we don’t really want to hear about social discrimination in the cow belt areas. Article 15 takes us to a dusty little town in Uttar Pradesh where a sophisticated liberal cop (Khurrana) joins duty and immediately stumbles onto a horrific caste crime whereby two girls are gang-raped and hung from a tree. A third girl is missing.

Sinha imparts to the search for the girl a ‘thriller’ element that in no way over-dramatizes the film’s incessantly grim mood. The director has no songs even in the background because there is nothing to sing about. Not now. Not here. The film has an exceptionally astute sense of pitch and tone.

Though the background score is a wee flashy, Anubhav Sinha never over-punctuates his drama. He is not afraid to let the world he recreates glisten with the sweat of inhuman conduct. The actors are all so clued into the director’s kingdom of the damned that they blissfully slip into their roles with no apprehension of tripping over the abyss of self-conscious authenticity.

Article 15 is a film that must be seen by every Indian. Not because it tells us something new. But because what it tells us ought to become irrelevant to our society by now. But oppression, like the films on oppression, have a knack of coming back when we feel it is gone.

At one point the hero confesses he needs to “un mess” the mess created by social discrimination. It is a mean savage world out there for women and men of meagre income.

That Anubhav Sinha takes on the onus of splitting wide open the debate between the haves and have-nots is no small achievement. The director deserves a standing ovation for putting the cinema of social awakening back on screen without any self-congratulation.

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Miya Biwi…Razzies….

The Razzies, awards for the worst achievements in cinema for the year 2020, were announced last month. For those who came in late, the Razzies celebrate the “best of the worst” each year. Last year’s unanimous winner was the icky meow of a film called Cats which did to the legendary Broadway musical what Kamal Amrohi did to Razia Sultan.

This year’s nominees for the Razzies include nauseous gems like 365 Days and Fantasy Island in the Worst Picture category. The two films are indeed disgraceful to the extreme, awful really. But it must be remembered that 365 Days made Michele Morrone (don’t read too much into the surname) into an international star with women across the globe wanting to be kidnapped and sexually assaulted by him the way the film’s heroine was shown to do.

My point is, bad films become successes everywhere in the world. The best thing to do is to laugh about their lowdown quality. The Razzies do just that. And the stars in America are sporting enough to enjoy the trashing and thrashing without getting nasty or supercilious about it. Some of them even attend these devaluation functions. It’s good for the ego.

The Razzies this year feature distinguished stars like Anna Hathaway (double nomination for Worst Actress for The Last Thing He Wanted and The Witches), Kate Hudson (for Music, a film and performance that I personally liked) and Glenn Close who ironically has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the same film and role that she is up there vying for a Razzie in Hillbilly Elegy.

How would our own Bollywood react if last year’s worst films like Coolie No 1, Gulabo Sitabo and Laxmii were nominated for the Indian equivalent of the Razzies? We did have them a few years ago and they were called the Golden Kela Awards. Its organizers were two fearless gentlemen named Anant Singh and Jatin Verma.

I remember during the year 2014 they were questioned as to why Katrina Kaif was not nominated in the Worst Actress category for Dhoom 3. “Because we don’t even consider her an actress,” they quipped.

Try saying that out loud if you are an awards organizer in Bollywood. Chances are, the aforementioned star will never attend your awards function, never dance for it and never invite you to her birthday party. Some years ago an awards function was on when one of the best actress nominees who was on the way to attend the function, got to know that another actress had won the award.

She called to tell the organizers that she should win or she wouldn’t dance. Caught in a sweaty situation they complied. But really, what kind of satisfaction does an actor get after bullying an award out of the organizers?

If I were Robert Downey Jr. I would be as happy with my Razberry nomination this year for Worst Actor in Dolittle as the Oscar for Chaplin in 1993. Because the Razzie nod is an acknowledgement of how much is expected from an actor. Kiara Advani in Indoo Ki Jawani cannot disappoint. There are no expectations.

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