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The Filmfare Awards: Nothing ‘Fair’ About It

The Filmfare Awards: Nothing ‘Fair’ About It

by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri August 30 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 3 secs

The history of these prestigious awards is a sorry saga of favouritism and cronyism that has deprived deserving candidates time and again. Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri looks at some of the most glaring lapses and omissions.  

So, Kangana Ranaut, miffed about being put in the same bracket as other actors less deserving than her, is suing Filmfare for nominating her for the forthcoming awards? Or is it Filmfare that is contemplating action against the star? If the Academy has its Chris Rock and Will Smith, the Filmfare Awards, often touted as India’s version of the Oscars (of course it’s nothing of the kind), now has its own ‘slapgate’ (metaphorically speaking) with the latest row.

However, the one thing that Filmfare has in common with the Oscars is a legacy of awards that have flummoxed viewers and left them scratching their heads. Tom Hanks won the best actor award for Philadelphia over Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot), Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) and Anthony Hopkins (The Remains of the Day). Or, since Laal Singh Chaddha is in the news, one can talk of Forrest Gump’s multiple wins in a year (1994) that had Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Robert Redford’s Quiz Show.

Crash remains a low in the history of the Oscars, winning the best picture in a year (2004) that had Capote and Brokeback Mountain (even the director of Crash, Paul Haggis, thought the film did not deserve the award). Or for that matter the mediocre Shakespeare in Love triumphing over Saving Private Ryan. And Rocky (1977) winning in the face off competition with Taxi Driver, Network and All the President’s Men.

Al Pacino won his first best actor for Scent of a Woman (a bravura performance if ever there was one, but nowhere near his best, and which pales when compared to Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and Stephen Rea in The Crying Game).

The Filmfare Awards too have a hoary history of hiccups. Before I go into some of the more glaring ones, just consider this: R.D. Burman won his first award for best music as late as 1982, for Sanam Teri Kasam. While that album might be a retro favourite today, it is by no means among his best. Given that Filmfare did not deem his compositions, just to name a few, in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Amar Prem, Yaadon Ki Baraat, Jawani Diwani, Aandhi, Kinara, Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin, worthy of recognition, the award for Sanam Teri Kasam comes across as tokenism at best. Of course, they sought to make amends by naming the best music award for new and upcoming talent after him, but that reminds me of Mark Twain’s ‘Is He Living or Is He Dead?’: The merit of every great unknown and neglected artist must and will be recognised and his pictures climb to high prices after his death.

1973: The Annus Horribilis

Of all the glaring wrongs, nothing quite beats the ones in 1973 - surely, the annus horribilis as far as the Filmfare Awards are concerned. This was the year that had Amar Prem and Anubhav as best picture nominees. Rajesh Khanna was nominated for best actor in Amar Prem and Dushman. The nominees for best music included Amar Prem and Pakeezah. And Kamal Amrohi was a nominee for best director (Pakeezah). Guess who won the best awards in all these categories? A film whose title is supremely ironic given that it means ‘dishonest’: Be-Imaan, which took home seven awards.

Does anyone remember the name of its director, or a song from the film? It says a lot that in a year that had the incredible songs of Amar Prem, Pakeezah and ‘Ik pyaar ka nagma hai’ (Shor), the award for best lyricist went to Verma Malik for the song ‘Jai bolo beimaan ki’ (hear hear). It was so outrageous that Pran, who won the award for best supporting actor in the film, refused to accept his award, pointing out that the award for best music should have gone to Pakeezah.

Best Music Awards

Some of the most outrageous lapses and omissions have come in this category. I have already mentioned the curious case of R.D. Burman. His father, S.D. Burman, too, got the wrong end of the stick all through his life, winning only for Taxi Driver (1954) and Abhimaan (1974). The unkindest cut of all must have been not winning the award for Guide (1965), losing out to, guess what? Suraj!

If one were to ask a lover of Hindi film music about Suraj, it is unlikely that anyone will remember a song from the film, barring ‘Baharon phool barsao’. The song also won Hasrat Jaipuri the award for best lyricist, in a year that had Shailendra writing all those gems for Guide. Though Mohammad Rafi won best male playback singer for the song, the moot point is: is this better than his songs in Guide? And to imagine that Teesri Kasam wasn’t even nominated in the music category, though Shailendra was (for best lyricist) and lost.

But then Shankar-Jaikishan (who composed Suraj) seems to have the Filmfare Award in their thrall, winning it time and again over more deserving films: Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi over Chaudhvin Ka Chand and Mughal-e-Azam, Pehchaan over Do Raaste and Talaash, to name just two.

Among other eyebrow-raising decisions are S.D. Burman losing out for Aradhana to Laxmikant-Pyarelal (another Filmfare favourite) in Jeene Ki Raah (remind me again of one song from this film?), R.D. Burman’s Shalimar failing to make the cut in a year that Laxmikant-Pyarelal won for Satyam Shivam Sundaram (Rajesh Roshan’s Des Pardes was also in contention), and Kalyanji-Anandji winning for Kora Kagaz over R.D. Burman’s Aap Ki Kasam. Yes, ‘Mera jeevan kora kagaz’ is one of Hindi cinema’s finest songs, but as an album does Kora Kagaz rate anywhere near Aap Ki Kasam?

By the 1990s, Shankar-Jaikishan and Laxmikant-Pyarelal were replaced by Nadeem-Shravan as Filmfare’s blue-eyed buys. They won for Saajan against what was and remains a far superior album, Lekin, and for Raja Hindustani over Jatin-Lalit’s Khamoshi and Rajesh Roshan’s Papa Kehte Hain, and, of all films, over Maachis (for which Vishal Bhardwaj won a consolation R.D. Burman Award for New and Upcoming Talent).

Best Film and Best Director

This is another couple of categories with a legacy of howlers. In the awards given in 1962, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai won best picture over Gunga Jumna. Now, there’s no denying Raj Kapoor’s genius, but did the film merit the award, over what is now an acknowledged Indian classic? And to rub salt on the wound, the best director award for the year went to B.R. Chopra for Kanoon, leaving Gunga Jumna high and dry (pun intended). Raj Kapoor’s voyeuristic Ram Teri Ganga Maili would win again over much more accomplished works like Rahul Rawail’s Arjun and J.P. Dutta’s Ghulami.

Other best picture winners that had me wondering include Anurag over Bobby and Koshish in 1974, Main Tulsi Tere Angan Ki over Shatranj Ke Khilari in 1978 (a year that also had Muqaddar Ka Sikandar), Maine Pyaar Kiya over Parinda (1990), and Raja Hindustani over Bandit Queen and Maachis in 1997.

Ram Gopal Verma proved unlucky twice over with two of his finest and indeed pioneering films, Satya and Company, losing out to the much inferior Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Devdas, in 1999 and 2003 respectively. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, another Filmfare favourite, trumped the superior Piku and Talvar in 2016 with Bajirao Mastani.

Among best director winners, Manoj Kumar incredibly won for Roti Kapda Aur Makaan in 1975, a year that had Ankur and Garm Hawa, both of which have gone on to be hailed for ushering in a new idiom in Hindi cinema. Yash Chopra was a most undeserving winner for Daag when you consider the ones who lost that year (1974): Gulzar in Koshish and Raj Kapoor in Bobby. Subhash Ghai winning for Saudagar over Yash Chopra in Lamhe or Mahesh Bhatt in Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin in 1992, Mukul Anand for the laughably disjointed and over-the-top Khuda Gawah over Mansoor Khan in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar in 1993, Sanjay Leela Bhansali for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam over John Matthew Matthan for Sarfarosh (2000), Kunal Kohli for the ludicrous Hum Tum over Ashutosh Gowariker in Swades, and Raj Kumar Santoshi in Khakee make for some more unfathomable entries in this hall of shame.

Best Actor

There are many over here but what stands out for me is the one that its recipient actually admitted to paying for. In his autobiography Khullam Khulla, Rishi Kapoor candidly describes how he garnered the award for best actor for Bobby, forking out a princely sum of Rs 30,000, over Amitabh Bachchan in Zanjeer and Sanjeev Kumar in Koshish.

Interestingly, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor were among the nominees fighting it out every year between 1959 and 1963. Though there are no issues with the winners in each of these years, there is no doubt that Dilip Kumar in Gunga Jumna was more deserving of the award than Raj Kapoor in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai.

Ashok Kumar winning best actor for Rakhi in 1963, facing off against Guru Dutt in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam is as startling as Sanjeev Kumar winning for Arjun Pandit in a year where he was also nominated for Mausam (1977). Shah Rukh Khan got the award for Dil Toh Pagal Hai when his competitors that year were Kamal Haasan in Chachi 420 and Anil Kapoor in Virasat, both much more nuanced performances than SRK’s in Yash Chopra’s mediocre outing! However, the one actor who can consider himself unfairly undone time and again is Aamir Khan.

Between 1989 and 1996, he was repeatedly nominated only to lose out every time. His performance in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak was overlooked for Anil Kapoor in Tezaab. Raakh lost out to Parinda in the best actor stakes. Sunny Deol in Ghayal beat him to the post in Dil. He lost out in Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin to Hum, in Hum Hai Rahi Pyaar Ke to Baazigar, in Rangeela to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and in, what must have rankled most, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar to the ridiculous Beta. His consolation win for best actor, however, also came in what is one of his worst performances, Raja Hindustani, which trumped Nana Patekar’s class act in Khamoshi (poor compensation indeed for losing in Andaz Apna Apna to Krantiveer).

Raja Hindustani is to Filmfare Awards 1997 what Be-Imaan was in 1973, winning a number of undeserving awards (actor, music) in the face of much more deserving candidates, including Karisma Kapoor as best actress who beat Manisha Koirala in Khamoshi, Tabu in Maachis and Seema Biswas in Bandit Queen.

Jaya Bhaduri winning best actress in Kora Kagaz over Shabana Azmi in Ankur, Sridevi in the atrocious Chaalbaaz over the exemplary Vijayashanti in Eeshwar, Kajol for Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham over Tabu in Chandni Bar, Rani Mukerji for best supporting actress in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai over Shefali Shah in Satya are a few more instances of dubious wins. And of course, there’s Suraj Pancholi who won the best debut award for Hero (2015, a dud of a remake of Subhash Ghai’s 1983 blockbuster), in a year that Vicky Kaushal arrived with the incredible Masaan – adding fuel to the nepotism debate in Bollywood.

The Filmfare statue has been described in the following words by an anonymous staffer: For sheer grace, beauty and artistic merit, it bears comparison with the best of its kind in the world for it is as classic as our most ancient bronzes and as modern as the newest Florentine expressions. If only the same could be said of the artistic merits that went behind many of the awards.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.