On 18 September, Mumbai played host to the 20th edition of the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards, which were being held for the first time in India. As usual, the event was attended by the who’s who of Bollywood – Salman Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone... pretty much everyone was present. Except Priyanka Chopra who, it seems, was busy attending Milan Fashion Week in Italy.
To honour the 20th anniversary of the awards, the organisers introduced a special segment called ‘The Special Awards’. No points for guessing that one!
And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the category itself, it’s IIFA’s choice of winners that’s concerning. Let me explain. Deepika Padukone was given The Special Award for Best Actor (Female) for her performance in, wait for it... Chennai Express. Out of all the movies she’s starred in in her 12-year-long Bollywood career, IIFA chose Chennai Express, a film that’s known for its problematic stereotypes and subpar humour. Moreover, isn’t this award meant to celebrate the best Bollywood performances of the last two decades? Is Chennai Express really the only good film to have released since 1999?
Of course, Twitter has been outraging about it and with good reason. Take a look.
Its ... Hilarious. The Legendary Vidya Balan for The Dirty Picture... PC for Barfi... I meam...so many more performances... Even deepika in ram leela is better than getting the award for Chennai express...what were thr critics thinking— ｖib?anshu | my sky is pink (@vibh_forPChopra) September 19, 2019
In India unfortunately Deepika won for Chennai express which is not even 10percent of kangana's performance in queen .— Swapnil panchal (@Swapnil77224370) September 19, 2019
But that’s not the most infuriating bit of it all. IIFA not only chose to ignore a female actor’s very promising body of work but also went ahead and felicitated somebody who has been accused of sexual harassment. Filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani was given the award for Best Director. For those of you who may have forgotten, Rajkumar Hirani was accused of sexually assaulting a woman on multiple occasions during the production of Sanju. Following the accusation, his name was dropped from Sonam Kapoor-starrer Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, which he co-produced with Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Despite that, Bollywood has continued to support Hirani and the most recent example of it being IIFA 2019.
And while we’re at it, it’d be good to point out that Hirani was given the Special Award for his film 3 Idiots, which stars Aamir Khan. The same Aamir Khan who, very recently, announced that he would continue to work with another male director, Subhash Kapoor, who has also been accused of sexual harassment.
Some people may (jokingly or not) refer to IIFA as the ‘Indian Oscars’, but that, I feel, is too much of a stretch. If anything, IIFA feels more like an invite-only closed celebration where everyone just seems to be patting each other’s backs every chance they get. Moreover, the fact that these awards are given out so late in the year just makes it seem like a forceful echo of all the other award functions that have already happened.
Having said that, award functions like IIFA and Filmfare are legacy events that have been happening year after year. Their credibility and quality, over the years, may have been diluted but the fact remains, that the memory of their prestige still lingers. IIFA still claims to represent Indian (more specifically, Hindi) cinema on a global level. Which, if you think about it, is slightly embarrassing.
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