Hard Luck Sonam

Sonam Kapoor’s Best Actress loss to Alia Bhatt tells us about the way film awards work

Once upon a time, film awards were mostly about celebrating great performances. While that largely remains the same, film awards today have also become a thing about celebrating the ones that got overlooked.

One such performance that deserves as many awards as the accolades that it has garnered is Sonam Kapoor’s riveting portrayal of brave heart air hostess Neeraj Bhanot in Neerja (2016). Kapoor was overlooked at a recent award function where Alia Bhatt ended up winning the Best Actress nod for her role in Udta Punjab (2016) and while one cannot say that the latter was undeserving, looking at both the films and the actress’ respective roles, it would not be incorrect to say that the former was robbed.

Ideally, film awards are given as an acknowledgement of a particular performance but for a long time, awards have come to be seen as recognition of an artist as opposed to one specific role.

One of the best examples of this notion can be seen in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar nominations and subsequent win. When Scorsese was in the running for The Gangs of New York (2002) most editorials and commentators believed that while the film was not in the same league as a Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) or Goodfellas (1990) he deserved it nonetheless as it would be a salute to a career. And, when Scorsese ultimately won the Oscar for The Departed (2006) the same talk of how the remake of a Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs (2002) might not be a befitting film to applaud the master but it was a well-deserved win for it summarised one of the greatest filmmaking odysseys of our times, did the rounds.

In this context, Sonam’s Aisha (2010) and Khoobsurat (2014) are two examples of how a project was centered around her but at the same time not expecting her to rewrite cinematic history. Aisha might have ended up falling short of expectations — both critical as well as commercial — but Khoobsurat managed to hit the bull’s-eye. While these were projects that were produced by her family, her sister Rhea and father Anil Kapoor both seemed to have played a major role, even her role in Raanjhanaa (2013) was an outing that suited her. It is a different story that Sonam’s Zoya appeared to be the weakest link in the grander scheme of things when one looked at Kundan played by Dhanush or the ‘other’ two characters in the narrative, namely Murari and Bindiya played by Zeeshan Ayyub and Swara Bhaskar respectively, but this was also a result of the screenplay that perhaps somewhere did not develop Zoya as much as Kundan.

If Aisha and Khoobsurat were about Kapoor trying to play to her advantage, Neerja can be seen as an actor’s true adventure — to go where people might not expect to see you. Moreover, in Hindi films where a film has the heroine as the lead is often categorised as woman-centric and undeservingly judged by harsher parameters. But much like a Queen (2013), Neerja, too, overcame such trappings. Some have also commented that Kapoor’s ability to ‘shoulder the film alone’, a term unique to popular Hindi films, is also a reason enough to award the performance. The argument is furthered amplified with details like the presence of a bunch of ‘stars’ in addition to Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab somewhere ought to diminish her claim. Bhatt’s portrayal might be one of the best things about Udta Punjab, a film that otherwise made waves for all the wrong reasons and the presence of a Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, and Dilijit Dosanjh does not lessen her performance but the point is being missed. The reason why Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja deserved an award is simply her performance creates a stronger bond with the audience. If the presence of other stars were criteria then a Benicio del Toro might not stand half a chance in front of a Michael Douglas or a Catherine Zeta-Jones in Traffic (2000), when in fact, his was the most heartfelt and award worthy performance.

An Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is not even a serious contender for any major acting awards even though she brilliantly got the nuances of an entire generation eager to please but not trade their truthfulness at the altar. Similarly, a Judi Dench is not even nominated for an Oscar for her Notes on a Scandal (2006), which has come to be seen as the role of a lifetime. Closer home, in the 1950s when a Dilip Kumar or a Meena Kumari were nominated they were automatically believed to be the best. Sometimes an actor is nominated for the same role in different categories — Kamal Haasan in Saagar (1985) was nominated in the Best Actor as well as the Best Supporting Actor categories! At times, the symbolic and the actual meet like in the case of Julia Roberts and her much-deserved Oscar win for Erin Brockovich (2000). That year the nominees included Joan Allen for The Contender (2000) and Ellen Burstyn for her tour de force performance in Requiem for a Dream (2000) and while many critics still believe that both Allen and Burstyn were practically robbed of the glory of a lifetime, no one believes that Roberts ought not to have won.

Much like Julia Roberts’ superstardom not hampering her chances of a win, which was also a foregone conclusion, the aura surrounding an actor, in this case, Sonam Kapoor, ought not to be misleading when it comes to rewarding a performance.