I write this as I watch the Oscars — a yearly ritual that never fails to motivate me to wake up at a cruel hour to watch it live. What’s the point otherwise, right? Yes, yes, I know it can be tedious, corny and too rehearsed at times. It’s got way too many fake smiles and brain-numbing laundry-list speeches. More attention is often paid to an actress’s dress and jewels than her on-screen skills. All those syrupy “I love you-s” can hit puke-levels. It’s the night of the beautiful, rich people who inhabit a bubble universe.
But I can’t resist it. Because it’s a celebration of the movies, because it has some truly great moments, because it’s just such a treat to see so many talented, beautifully dressed people all together. And because, for me, it is a joy to see such an incredibly smooth, brilliantly executed show.
I’ve worked behind four Filmfare Awards — still the biggest entertainment night in India — and I know what it takes to pull off such an event. Nerves and knees of steel top the list. There are an insane number of things that can go wrong in a show of this scale — and many of them do. You don’t see most of them because none of the major film award shows are broadcast live in India (the very thought is enough to make me hyperventilate even after all these years). This means we get time to chop off the bloopers, the mishaps and the glitches.
The Oscars don’t. Which means Oscars night has to be a zero-error one. Down to the last tele-second. For even a couple of unwanted, unscheduled seconds on the stage or live TV can be gut-wrenchingly painful. Only someone who has been part of a show filled with the industry’s biggest names can appreciate the heart-stopping enormity of that task.
I’m constantly asked: Can’t we have an awards ceremony as classy, smooth and glamorous as the Oscars? My short answer: No. Forget a live broadcast; it’d be tough even for a delayed one.
It’s like comparing a Maruti to a Ferrari; both may be cars, but their raison d’etres are entirely different. And it’s not only about the money, though that makes a difference of course. Last year’s Oscars, for instance, cost $38.3 million, according to industry bible The Hollywood Reporter. At the current exchange rate that’s over Rs 200 crore. Our award nights would cost a tenth of that, or less.
But wait, the Oscars earn its governing body, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, $89.6 million in Oscar-related revenue. Let me do the math for you: that works out to over Rs 480 crore, or more than twice the costs. And they pump in some $130 million into the Los Angeles economy. (All Oscar figures courtesy The Hollywood Reporter.) That’s good economics by any standards. The Oscars are big, big business.
Award shows are money spinners in India too. With one big difference: the stars get to clean up too. Unlike the Oscars, our stars demand fees in lakhs and crores to perform. There was a time, long, long ago, when a galaxy of stars far, far in the past used to perform for free at the Filmfare Awards. They stopped when too many award clones popped up. If everyone’s making money off us, why shouldn’t we get a slice of the pie, was their (justified) argument.
But, to repeat, it’s not all about the money. If I had to pick one reason why it would be so tough to hold an event as smoothly coordinated as the Oscars, it would be punctuality — or the lack of it.
When budding stars don’t care to arrive on time even to collect their first Filmfare award, as Esha Deol once did, what hope can you hold? (You can see why her career went kaput very soon.) Not surprisingly, it is the old guard that is the most punctual. There’s Amitabh Bachchan, of course, and Jaya and Abhishek. It’s nice to see that Aishwarya, once a chronic latecomer, seems to have improved thanks to her in-laws. There was the ever-gracious Yash Chopra, who held the record of having attended every single Filmfare award show, and who always reassured me, “Tell me what time you want me to come and I’ll be there.” There’s Mukesh Bhatt, who would be one of the first to arrive, at the time specified on the invite. “If I let go of my punctuality once, I’ll be tempted to do it again. So I don’t,” he explained to me. (No wonder he runs one of the most efficient, tightest-run production houses in the business.) Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi, Sooraj Barjatya and Abbas-Mustan are others who come to mind.
And we were always grateful to Kabir Bedi, because we could count on him to be in time to give away the early awards, which most stars would make a fuss about.
At the Oscars, big stars hand out the technical awards, ridding them of their ‘unglamorous’ image. Here, no top star wants to give away anything beyond the big four (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress); they’ll agree to the Supporting category only after due pleading.
And then there’s the problem of seating and accommodating all the big egos (not necessarily the big stars) in the front row. But that’s a long, woeful tale in itself, best saved for another day.
For now, I’ll say, forget the Oscars; it’s a miracle we can pull off even what we do.