When I first heard the now trending news of Katrina Kaif being chosen as the recipient of this year’s Smita Patil Memorial Award, I was neither amused nor angry. Rather my first reaction was quizzical in nature: How many awards has Katrina Kaif won till date? A quick look on Wikipedia revealed that Katrina has two Big Star Entertainment awards, one IIFA , three Screen awards, two Star Guild awards, three Stardust awards, three Zee Cine awards to her name.
Apart from these commercial film awards, she has also won 21 other awards the likes of FHM World’s Sexiest Woman, Hello Hall of Fame Entertainer of the Year award and also the Rajiv Gandhi National Award, not to be confused with the National Award given by the Central government. The question is why so much outrage and trolling of the actress now for being honoured with Smita Patil Memorial award, which is just another award instituted by an NGO named Priyadarshni Academy. The award seeks to recognise Hindi actresses for their contribution towards cinema and was first given away in 1987, a year after Smita Patil’s death with Tanvi Azmi (then Kiran) as its first recipient. Over the period of three decades, a lot of actresses have been honoured and most of them have been commercially successful actresses like Madhuri Dixit, Urmila Matondkar, Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and others. Off-beat cinema actresses have not exactly been honoured yet except for Tabu and Tanvi Azmi. So if one were to strictly follow the rule book of Priyadarshni Academy there is nothing wrong in awarding a commercially successful actress like Katrina with the memorial award. Yet there is an outrage currently something that one didn’t witness when say a Deepika Padukone or Kareena Kapoor were honoured with the same award. So why is Katrina being criticised?
The answer is simple and popular. Smita Patil was an actress par excellence, someone who led the small cinema movement in India, while Katrina Kaif is seen by many as someone who is yet to prove her worth as an actress despite being in the industry for more than a decade now. Her performance in the recently released Baar Baar Dekho has only amplified that belief of many of her critics. However, what one or two flops can’t take away is the huge commercial value she enjoys in Bollywood today. Her future line-up of films opposite Fawad Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan are enough proof of the same. Katrina is also unarguably the first and only person of Indian origin to have made it absolutely big in Bollywood after 2000. How she achieved it, if it had anything to with the ‘Being Human’ nature of Salman Khan or the fact that most of her films had bankable superstars in it are redundant questions. In Bollywood, the nature of the beast is such that means don’t really matter, ends do. And if you are eventually successful, there is no taking away that fact. Now the real question is – does Katrina’s huge commercial success entitle her to receive Smita Patil Memorial award? Partly yes. To understand the same let’s take a look at how Smita Patil viewed commercial cinema and why she thought it was downright important to do sych films.
Smita was not interested in commercial cinema to begin with and was committed towards doing small cinema. “I remained committed to small cinema for about five years. I refused all commercial offers,” Smita had said in an interview.
For her, commercial cinema was the medium that offered big money but she still viewed it with disdain as is evident from her following words, “I’d love to do a few commercial films because that’s where the big money is. Film acting is the only profession in India where you are paid enormous sums of money for doing precious little. I am not a fool not to understand this. But I am not cut out for the unnatural mode of living which working in commercial cinema entails. The schedules are so disjointed. There is no personal communication. A person like me is brushed aside as a nonentity. I find all this an insult to the individual in me. ”
But soon enough she realised her very survival as an actor depended on doing commercial cinema. Why? As Smita explained, “Around 1977-78, the small cinema movement started picking up and they needed names. I was unceremoniously dropped from a couple of projects. This was a very subtle thing but it affected me a lot. I told myself that here I am and I have not bothered to make money. I have turned down big, commercial offers because of my commitment to small cinema and what have I got in return? If they want names I’ll make a name for myself. So I started and took whatever came my way.”
Smita’s words clearly echo the importance of doing commercial cinema and the need to be a commercially saleable star. Despite being a terrific actress, she was dropped from her own turf because she was not commercially big enough. Let’s pause here for a minute and talk about Katrina. The Ek Tha Tiger actress started doing only big films after Boom. She has since then only done huge commercial films, worked with top banners and top superstars. Her future line up with films opposite the Khans will only make her a bigger name than what she already is. What Smita didn’t have after years of brilliant acting, Katrina already has today – a commercial name.
Not every hit movie that Katrina has been a part of has great content. So does being part of a bad commercial cinema serve any purpose? Let’s see what Smita had to say about it.
In an interview with Filmfare given way back in 1985, when asked about whether bad commercial cinema served any purpose, Smita said, “Commercial cinema has helped me to do a lot. It teaches you to look at yourself from others’ point of view. If you have your head on your shoulders, you’ll improve. For a good artiste, the fear lies in being applauded even for mediocre shots. So you sit back and think and say, ‘My god, what have I done? I have to do better than that.’ So you fight your own complacency and compare yourself with yourself. The learning process involves the people you work with, different kinds of performance, constantly assessing your own growth, sensibilities, weaknesses and accepting that you can be mediocre, given mediocre circumstances. But unfortunately people will always say Smita ne kharabkaam kiya, they won’t say the film was bad. So today if I find that a good film is petering out, I’ll at least try to save my own face. I had great visions of directors as people who know their jobs. Now I know they don’t all know their jobs.”
And what did Smita had to say about adapting herself to the commercial film scene?
“It’s a gamble. One goes on. Suddenly there’s success and defeat. That’s the charm of Indian cinema. So you keep experimenting. You’ve done your job, you’ve created a character. Finished. Some films leave a hangover. Like `Subah’. That hangover will never go. In this film the demarcation line between the person and the actress vanished completely. That film still affects me whenever I see it. It’s so real.”
Now Katrina may not be a delight as an actress for many to watch but she certainly scores well in the dance department. She has to her credit some uber popular dance numbers. Or in other words the taali-maar things that Smita herself recognised is important to become massy and popular among audience.
When asked why she said audience recognised her as an actress only after Aaj Ki Awaaz(1984), Smita said, “It’s strange but I saw the film in the theatre with the audience, at a night show, and I realised that people really go ga-ga over it. The whole concept of taalimaar dialogues you know, they are not just taali maardialogues like `Mughal-e-Azam’, these dialogues appeal straight to the people. `This is a democratic country. Even the P.M. can be hauled into court.’ You know lines like that do appeal to the audiences immensely.”
Suffice to say Smita was amply inclined towards doing commercially oriented cinema once she understood the significance of the same and would have perhaps ended up doing a lot more commercial work had she lived.
When one talks about contribution to Hindi cinema, it includes both commercial as well as meritorious aspect. Commercially Katrina has succeeded enough to deserve part of this award. And those who say it’s because of the male superstars that her films have been blockbuster hits should remember what Smita said about the reason behind agreeing to do “Shakti”.
“I felt it was a good role and the fact that I will be working with good artistes like Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee.”
Celebrated co-stars do matter in commercial cinemas and there is nothing wrong in being part of one where someone more illustrious and celebrated than you is also acting alongside.
Now to address the meritorious acting issue that has been giving naysayers great fodder for gossip and point fingers at Katrina as being a misfit for the award (By the way, in Smita’s own words, critics called her a misfit). Smita was an actor who went on to become a star. Katrina, on the other hand, is a star who can go on to become an actor. After all, there is still time and some of us are late bloomers.
It took a man like Sachin Tendulkar a good 78 ODI matches to hit his first century before going on to become the leading century maker in the world. Former Australian cricket team opener Matthew Hayden struggled for long before finally cementing his place at the age of 29 while touring India in 2001 when he emerged as the top scorer for his country in the Test series. So all it takes is one solid performance in one solid film to silence your critics. Ask Sonam Kapoor. Neerja turned tables for her and from a non-actor she suddenly became a good one. May be Katrina’s Neerja is just round the corner and she could perhaps use this award as an inspiration to choose and excel in stories and subjects that Smita Patil was famous for.