Star powered awards

SHASHI BALIGA | Updated on: Jun 30, 2011

Film awards are a win-win all the way, raking in big money for the organisers and the stars they fete.

If you were an Indian in Toronto last week, you could be forgiven for thinking that the 12th edition of the Indian International Film Awards (IIFA) was an event of considerably greater magnitude than Osama Bin Laden's demise. While Toronto's predominantly Indian neighbourhood of Brampton had worked itself into a frenzy, the rest of Toronto was not too far behind with local television channels devoting hours of coverage to the event and many Canadian and Asian residents shelling out as much as $1,000 for a ticket.

I didn't attend the awards event myself; I just happened to be in Toronto (at my own expense, let me hasten to add) in the days preceding it and was left amazed — not by the near-hysterical NRI appetite for all things Bollywood (which we are all familiar with) but by the lengths to which the Canadian establishment was willing to go to host the shindig. My jaw dropped when a member of the Ontario Government told me that the Canadian State had given no less than $12 million to the organisers of IIFA.

“You can't be serious!” was my gob-smacked response. Later, I gathered that the handout was not quite as extravagant as it seemed — the Ontario Government hoped to generate business and tourist spends worth about $37 million as a spin-off from the event. So they saw it as money well invested.

While the organisers were sitting pretty with a kitty of $12 million, more moolah rolled in from sponsors, television rights and ticket sales.

It was the classic win-win case for all concerned. Which also included the stars in attendance who got a free red-carpet holiday, the stars who performed for eight-figure fees and, of course, the thousands of fans worldwide. No wonder countries are falling over each other trying to host such awards events. Toronto, London, Bangkok, Johannesburg, Macau… the world is there for the asking.

Now you know why everyone wants to give out film awards. Time was when there was an awards season which started in December (when Screen hosted its do) and lasted till February (when Filmfare held its awards night). Now the season carries on for half the year and more, with biggies such as the Star, Zee, Stardust , Apsara and IIFA awards, and other smaller ones. Dozens of other general-interest awards (for lack of a better definition) also include a film segment; others rope in a star or two to perform. If all else fails, a star is cajoled into handing out an award. Pay them, fete them, publicise them, but bring the stars in any which way is the event mantra.

Nobody… ‘serious' news channels or vacuous beauty pageants, small-time political organisations or venerable business houses… wants to host an event without a star creeping in somewhere, somehow. I've watched bemused as P. Chidambaram, the then Finance Minister, beamed away at a 2004 awards event held by a business newspaper, when Priyanka Chopra simpered about how they both shared the same initials. I've seen media barons preen as they escort one of the Khans into their august gathering. And “hard-hitting” political journalists smile indulgently when handing over an award or the mike, as the case may be, to the current reigning actress.

The stars are lapping it all up, of course. Especially those who get to perform. At anything from Rs 1 crore to Rs 2 crore per pop, one blockbuster song can translate into big-time money. Just one hit item number can bring you double-digit crores in a single year (now you know why the biggest stars do those item numbers). Plus, there's all the prime-time publicity.

The only problem is squeezing in all this award activity in-between work schedules. And negotiating fees — a tricky process that depends on the star's current box-office status, ‘exclusivity' and shooting locations during the awards season. The Morani brothers (one of whom, Karim, has now been arrested in the 2G scam) made a smart move some years ago and took over the task of negotiation on behalf of many stars, including Shah Rukh Khan. It was a move which suited both sides, as it saved both, event organisers and the stars, valuable time as well as bargaining hassles.

Some stars prefer to do their bargaining, though. Some years ago, one brattish superstar is said to have declared his rates to an awards organiser thus: “Rs 20 lakh if I attend; Rs 40 lakh if you want me to go onstage and present an award, Rs 50 lakh if you want me to make a speech.” The rates have gone up since then, no doubt; the demand for star attendance is insatiable. Because awards shows are all about TRPs and ad revenues, and success is measured by who's performing that night and the number of superstar faces in the front rows.

Today it is difficult to believe that a couple of decades ago, stars performed for free at film awards. As television and sponsor revenues zoomed, they wisened up and decided to take their share of the loot. Give it another five or ten years at most and they will demand to be paid to attend. Or go onstage and present an award. Or make an emotional, teary speech. They'll get their money, of course. Who is going to see an awards show without stars?

Published on June 30, 2011
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