Blog: At IIFA, Salman Gets Attention, Abhishek Is A Quiet Winner

They came, we saw, and they did not conquer. The 'celebrity' - it was all relative - gowns that popped up occasionally on the promenade overlooking the stunning blue waters of Abu Dhabi couldn't outshine a city that sparkles by night. Or perhaps, B-list is never the real deal, even if the thinking is that parading anyone in front of "desh-ki-mitti-starved NRIs" will yield the desired effect.

Billed as "the grand return", the IIFA awards were back after two years - a lifetime that has changed us, but no one would have guessed looking at the show. A remote was desperately needed. The semantics and the optics were all in place, but someone had forgotten to write a script.

Instead, this is probably what the private party of Bollywood stars looks like. The jokes between the three hosts and those on stage were personal, as though the get-together had seamlessly moved from Karan Johar's celebrations to the grand stage at Etihad Arena.

Salman Khan rode in on a bike to an expected uproar in a packed arena (there was even a Mrs Universe in her full tiara and sash trying to get a seat and some attention), and then forgot he wasn't on Bigg Boss. When he sat next to a woman who was not skinny, he made sure everyone in the audience knew it or her, with the cameras panning to the woman's uncomfortable smile across the huge screens. Bollywood may claim it is trying to join the politically-correct wagon of body positivity but the slip showed. Or perhaps this is the difference between authentic and movie promotions. Anyway, Salman is bhai, and when the actor got emotional, the co-hosts were heartbroken, the audience could almost hear them sob.

In international awards, there is humour, roasting and even some activism. Indian awards, at least of late, have nothing amusing to write home about, and the last two years showed, the more things change the more they remain the same. Defenders will say at least there hasn't been a Will Smith slap but is the compensation seeing a host plonking himself on the lap of a male guest? Maniesh Paul's jokes occasionally hit the spot but sample this and decide, "We eat green not wear green" - to a gentleman. Even canned laughter found it tough.

IIFA returned after two years, it was a readymade platform for Bollywood to show that with return to normality it means business. If the awards are any reflection, then it is an opportunity scuttered away. The one thing that has come out roaring during Covid has been OTT platforms - they experimented, diversified, especially with big roles for women, and made an audience more discerning.

But host Maniesh Paul though got the wrong memo, his antics on stage were tailor-made for an audience that would have to significantly dumb down to see them as amusing. Sara Ali Khan meanwhile tried to sell some detergent in a school skit from the 90s.

Suniel Shetty's entry was scripted but the acting chops were missing. He didn't need to go through the charade of opening the envelope to announce his son's name as the winner. Again, it was a family drawing room - with a father-son moment when Suniel Shetty's son couldn't stop praising his father or his legacy.

In all this, a shoutout to the one man who stands out - the underrated Abhishek Bachchan - even his dancing comes from a place that appreciates the audience. It had soul especially when he went up to Aishwarya and animated not just the actress - we are seeing her after the Cannes outing where her outfits did most of the talking - but the overflowing arena including the smattering of locals.

AB also has wit; it pops up every so often on social media even when he is trolled. The viewers need that respect.

After 30 years, Tom Cruise as Maverick is back, that is truly the return of cinema. Indian actors who I saw on stage would like us to believe it is not the sequel, that this is still circa 1986.

(Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava worked with NDTV for more than a decade and now writes on a variety of topics for several news organisations. She is the author of 'Stoned, Shamed, Depressed'.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.