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Proma Khosla: 'Tis the season for Bollywood award shows

By Proma Khosla, Daily Bollywood Columnist
Published February 14, 2013

As awards season winds down in Bollywood and Hollywood alike, we’re reminded of everything we love and loathe about media awards. Inevitably, I find myself comparing traditional Hollywood awards ceremonies (the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, Oscars) to Bollywood ones (Stardust, Zee Cine, Filmfare). They’re as flawed and addictive as their Western counterparts, and as usual, these industries could stand to learn a lot from each other.

For starters, there’s the simple matter of hosting. In Hollywood, hosting is a much bigger deal but also a significantly reduced responsibility. The one or two hosts of an awards function (or five, like those Emmys I’m still trying to forget) appear periodically throughout the night in different outfits to introduce awards or presenters and make some carefully scripted comments and jokes. Sometimes the hosts steal the show — like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at this year’s Golden Globes — and sometimes they’re dull enough to blend into the furniture (sorry, James Franco). Sorry I’m not sorry.

That much is true in Bollywood as well, where successful hosts like the pair of Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan have hosted the Filmfares as many times as Ricky Gervais has hosted the Golden Globes, and with much better results. The Khans improved every year with ridiculous gags between award categories, including their own made-up awards for the worst work of the year and invented film scenes about their beautiful bromance.

That’s where Bollywood hosting becomes so much more taxing than Hollywood. The hosts aren’t just announcers for the ceremony; they are performers, and their job is to keep the audience engaged and entertained enough to justify distributing a sound editing award on national television. Gervais has received endless flak for his routines at the Emmys and Globes, but before they got tedious, they were a refreshing change of pace. Though these evenings were established to honor the worthiest works of film and television, there’s nothing wrong with poking a little fun at the rest of the room.

In Bollywood, making fun of guests is all but a staple of awards shows. Every once in a while, a stoic director like Ashutosh Gowariker or lucky-to-even-be-here rando like Neil Nitin Mukesh will tell the hosts that they’re going too far, but for the most part everyone is sporting enough to stand being joked about when they’re nominated as best of the year. For audiences, it grounds the ceremony, making it feel more like a gathering of friends than an exorbitant party in a world to which we don’t have access.

That being said, the Bollywood hosting model needs some refining. The emcees still bear the brunt of the work. They introduce awards by describing the category and naming all the nominees, and then call on presenters. At that point, the two presenters have nothing to do but give out the award, so one of them ends up opening the envelope and announcing the name while the other simply stands on stage looking awkward and handing out the statue. Add the fact that presenters change for every award and the format becomes immeasurably trying.

But if there is one thing at which Bollywood awards excel, it’s the factor of pure entertainment. Above all, awards shows celebrate the year’s best in entertainment; watching the ceremony shouldn’t feel like a chore. For one thing, none of the Indian awards functions are encumbered by time restrictions. Speeches have no set limit and neither do the telecasts. This could lead to a parade of pseudo-stars pontificating for hours, but instead establishes a healthy balance between the short, sweet speeches and those more prone to verbosity.

Another aspect that adds both to entertainment and length is the item numbers. In an industry that celebrates random song and dance, what more could you expect as awards show filler while the hosts change outfits and practice their next jokes? Every Bollywood awards function includes several performances by the year’s biggest stars to hit songs from their latest movies. If anything, the monotony comes from having the same stars invited to perform at every function, but the performances themselves highlight the most recognizable characteristics and flare of the industry.

But the most annoying part of the dances for me by far is the fact that they — and the entire ceremony — are so highly edited. Everything is pre-taped, so post-production adds boisterous crowd noise at unpredictable intervals. Camera angles change every few seconds from extreme close-ups to jaunty shots that just make everything harder to see. Show editors don’t seem to understand that there’s a time and place for music video imitation, and that this isn’t it.

During the functions, the excessive editing is less noticeable, but just as irksome. Jokes and comments are met with a predictable laugh track, which falls especially flat when reaction shots don’t show the audience laughing. And speaking of reaction shots — those are recorded separately and then randomly placed wherever the showrunners deem appropriate. So that clip of Priyanka Chopra laughing raucously at Imran Khan’s last joke PROBABLY DIDN’T HAPPEN. Worse yet, it’s not uncommon to see the same reaction shot repeated multiple times during a show.

Even on the most basic level, like dress code, Bollywood awards shows are inconsistent. On one end of the spectrum there’s Rekha and Vidya Balan, who will show up in elaborate, elegant saris without fail. Then there’s the generation of aspiring young actresses, the new-age “modern” women whose dresses wouldn’t be out of place at a Greek life date party.

And the men — good god, the men! Generally it doesn’t matter whether they wear a traditional Indian kurtha or a classy black suit, but neither matters when there’s always some idiot wearing jeans and chewing gum as he accepts his award with negative modesty. Clothes might not seem important, but they are a striking visual cue to how an audience should view the event and how guests in attendance should comport themselves. Bollywood tabloids don’t even have the joy of a proper best and worst dressed list because it would be unfair to include the outliers.

What it comes down to is this: Bollywood could stand to learn from the professionalism and authenticity of Hollywood awards shows. Hollywood, in turn, could stand to loosen up, take a joke and indulge in more nights of pure entertainment. After all, they say it’s an honor just to be nominated — might as well make the party worthwhile.