When film journalists decide to choose the best in films released over the previous calendar year, how ethical a practice is it? “Ethics’ in the contemporary context is itself a fluid word in a state of constant flux.

Film journalists sitting on judgment face multiple challenges, the first of it being questioned about the objectivity of the films and film personalities chosen for the awards.

Yet, the West Bengal Film Journalists Association (WBFJA) founded three years ago, took on this onus in the absence of similar awards for eight long years and chose from among 106 feature films in Bengali in 2016 for awards.

From the conflict between critics reviewing and critiquing films on the one hand and giving awards to people involved in the same films on the other, the WBFJA faced the challenge by bestowing awards in 18 creative categories and 8 technical categories beginning with the Best Film and ending with the award for the Best Make-up in a given film.

The Lifetime Achievement Award in memory of Satyajit Ray was rightly bestowed on veteran actress Madhabi Mukherjee for her outstanding contribution to Bengali cinema..

Praktan swept the maximum number of awards, eight out of 18 awards in different categories!

Praktan (former), the biggest box office hit in 2016 is a sharp indicator of the audience taste which, for Bengali cinema, is becoming more and more regressive and patriarchal. The film is an unabashed espousing of patriarchy that comes across in the dialogues critical about women who are not ready to give up their careers after marriage and therefore, are drawn, quartered and made mincemeat of if the marriage breaks down.

Rituparna portrays an ambitious conservation architect. For three-fourths of the film, her ex-husband’s present wife who believes in talking twenty to the dozen and laughing for every or no reason, gives her a continuous sermon during the long train journey from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Kolkata’s Howrah about how marriage is all about the wife giving in to her husband and his family, about giving up your job if you have one, about living only for the happiness of others in the family, though not strictly in that order!

Are we living in 2017? Then why blame the minister who says that women are sugar and men are ants who flock to wherever the sugar is?

Aparajita Adya as Malini, the second wife, is the happiest housewife and mother the Bengali screen has seen in recent times and does her happy bit extremely well. But her character tends to go over the top when the going gets tough till, a twist in the narrative mellows her down and the seriousness hidden behind the cover of laughter comes through.

According to the script and the storyline, happiness is encrypted only for the married woman who turns compromise into victory (really?) and tragedy is destined for the woman who is ambitious and loves to retain some control over her own life especially when she is married. Since it won the largest number of awards, one can draw generalizations about the critics’ tastes in the ideological stance a given film takes.

In a fast-changing world where even Bollywood with commerce ruling supreme with filmmakers flooding the theatres with films that have powerful women protagonists such as Mardaani, Astitva, Mary Kom, Nirja, Parched, Pink and NH11, the prizes going to Praktan alongside its more-than-handsome box office returns shows the distinctly patriarchal mindset of the critics who filled in the nomination forms for the awards.

Sad for a state that has produced the most liberal-minded littérateurs, leaders, social reformers across the map of humanity from Rabindranath Tagore through Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Raja Rammohan Roy, steps back by more than a century by actually endorsing a film that plays up to patriarchy and sacrifices the woman question purely for the sake of commerce!

The Award for the Best Film went to Shree Venkatesh Films for Cinemavala which has already won a string of awards and citations at home and beyond. “Kaushik Ganguly picked the Best Director Award in memory of Hiralal Sen for the film.

The Best Screenplay Award went to Ganguly but for a different film, Bastu Shaap. Paran Bandopadhyay bagged the Best Actor Award for his performance as Pranabendu Das, a retired film exhibitor from a small-town in West Bengal. It was a long overdue award to this veteran actor sadly diluted by his having to share the award with Prosenjit Chatterjee (for Khwato) who has won so many awards that he has probably lost count..

The film also fetched Sohini Sarkar the Most Promising Actress of the year for her moving enactment in a character role in the film. . On the technical front, the film bagged the Best Editor Award (Subhajit Singha), and the award for the Best Sound Design (Anirban Sengupta).

Film-critic-turned-filmmaker Pratim D. Gupta surprised everyone by bagging the Rituparno Ghosh Award for the Most Promising Director for his controversial but bold film Shaheb Bibi Golam.

Rittwick Chakraborty was bestowed the Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a simple cabby in the same film. Sulagna Chaudhuri and Ajopa Mukherjee jointly won the award for the Best Costume Designer.

It is sad that the awards avoided the sterling performance of Swastika Mukherjee as the housewife who prostitutes on the side in the film and even enjoys the identity split raising questions on what moral turpitude actually means in contemporary Kolkata.

Let us take a look at the year’s most touted, publicized, hyped production Zulfiqar which turned a turnip at the box office and was roundly trolled for its jumbled up papri chat of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Despite the trolling, the film bagged several awards the most surprising one being the Best Popular Actor that went to Dev (Deepak Adhikari) who plays the mute segment of the split character of Mark Antony with Parambrato making up the other side with his garrulousness and overload of dialogue.

Jisshu Sengupta’s award for the Best Actor in a Negative Role in the same film was justified. Nachiketa Chakraborty won the Best Playback Singer Award (Male) for the song purano ei mosjidey in the film while there was an award for the Best Make-up which rightfully went to Somnath Kundu.

2016 was marked by a plethora of thrillers – murder mysteries, erotic thrillers, psychological suspense and the age-old detective story, only one of them Eagoler Chokh directed by Arindam Sil managed to hit the mark with a couple of awards. Bickram Ghose won the award for his magical background score in the film and Anirban Bhattacharya made the grade as the Most Promising Actor (Male) for his essaying of the complex role of a serial murder suspect. Mark my words – this actor will go far….

It is interesting to note that though the award-giving organization’s main tool, strategy and method is powerful with the pen or its alternatives - the keyboard, the mike, or the videocam, there was no citation to go with the plaque gifted by Senco Jewellers. One hopes this lacuna will be filled next year. Imagine film journalists bestowing awards to films and film personalities without a citation to go with them….