Prathap Suthan
Guest Article

<font color="#ff0000">Guest Article: </font> Prathap Suthan: Pardon me, but there's a bee in your bonnet

An analysis of the affair called Goafest

I wanted to write this last year, but I'm glad I waited. What with more skeletons tumbling out of the Goafest jury's closets.

I have no scabs to peel, but this has been among the sharks thrashing inside our nets for long. May the long arm of justice gut them for good!

<font color="#ff0000">Guest Article: </font> Prathap Suthan: Pardon me, but there's a bee in your bonnet
Coming to my peeve, it isn't about what should have won, who should have voted, why my favourite work didn't win, or why we should or shouldn't do scam.

My gripe is about the pompous skew of our jury. About a process sadly out of sync; and a judging method that is a festival of multiple yardsticks.

To begin with, here are a few questions. Why are our juries so stingy? Why can't they be generous? Why can't they award more? Why don't they award anyone in many categories? Why is there so much bickering? What kind of benchmarks do they employ? Is playing Scrooge the way to get more respect? Whom are they trying to impress?

On the contrary, shouldn't Goafest be our national advertising event, and an all-out domestic show? Shouldn't it be a forum to appreciate our Indian contexts, our limitations, our many non-Cannes savvy clients?

Shouldn't we liberalize our awarding criteria to seek more winners, specifically from not-so-famous agencies? Give them merit certificates, some recognition?

After all, everyone shells out enough to make the trip, and Goafest shouldn't just be the business of making pariahs out of 95 per cent of its delegates. There's a 'desi' side to our sensitivity that needs softer handling.

I suppose it's easy to scythe through all this with the nonchalance that the role of the jury is to ensure that only the most outstanding ideas triumph. Perfectly acceptable logic; and an irrefutable raison d'être. But I have a completely layman take on this. Beginning with a large doubt on whether awards are all that we have distilled ourselves to be, as an industry.

While Goafest should be an event where we celebrate our best work, it should also be an event that motivates all of us from across India, especially the majority who aren't familiar, and will never glow with global recognition.

In the middle of this truth, should Goafest be meaner than Cannes and One Show? Should it be reduced to an event that only celebrates global ideas?

I can anticipate many of you seeing it as the highest peak in advertising, the Victoria Cross for global creative gallantry. But the outside world doesn't look up to Goafest yet. Nor do they tom-tom the ruthless quality of our judging. After all, not all our award winners conquer the world. Most come back in body bags.

Winning at Goafest doesn't yet carry the same value as a Lion or a Pencil; and I still haven't met a Western contemporary, who gushes over Goa like we gush about their awards. We are galaxies away from that iconic status; and we'll need to plunder global festivals for years before GoaFest gets a halo, and our metal gets extra dazzle.

Now then, if Goafest is merely the industrial-strength screening process for the international festivals, then why don't we own up and call it just that? Why sell tickets to thousands across India to watch regulars go up and down the podium? Why suck their money so that the coffers of AAAI can slosh at the brim?

Delegates have never seen most of the winning ideas before. Half of them don't have a clue why an idea was awarded. And many of them don't even know what an idea is; let alone create or judge one.

Goafest cannot be a show where the leaders of our biggest agencies come together and cement the solidarity of our industry with beer and guffaws.

It's time we pushed our brand of advertising, created our brand of winners, and rooted for our brand of ideas. Give a big finger to everyone else. Give a warm handshake to potential and promise.

For heaven's sake, this is an Indian show, not international. Why, then, do we employ international judging criteria? You can't walk into Rao's Dosa Palace, and complain that his onion uttappam doesn't taste like T-bone steak. It's ridiculous.

However, if we will only apply global benchmarks, then let's get other countries to participate. Let's make the fight fair. You cannot have only Indian entries fighting international standards. I know how loudly we cribbed at Gutter Bar, when we didn't get due cultural empathy at Cannes.

As it is, subjective benchmarking doesn't have a rulebook. And when our benchmarks ape those that exist elsewhere, and we award work that is unknown outside agency walls, we are losing an opportunity to build pillars for ourselves.

It's a bit contrived to award fictional work, and turn a snooty nose at the real work that feeds our stomachs.

I do record that our winning film work is as real as it gets; though most of it would fail to meet the international benchmarking we bring on when we judge print and outdoor.

We have to redefine standards to accept more winners and acknowledge half-ideas. Therein lies the largeness of our hearts. Not a crushing vendetta against par work.

Giving more bronzes won't sabotage your chances; pushing more bronzes to silver won't dull your gold; and Goan metal isn't a salary-changing event yet.

By slaughtering anything less than extraordinary, and not letting up, we are cooking our own goose. Because soon, many agencies would see the pointlessness of entering a show perpetually dominated by the biggies, and controlled by exacting judges.

Sometimes I think that some of us, who get into juries, don't come in to give awards. We come in to ensure that none are given; with an attitude called 'my-benchmark-is-tougher-than-yours'.

Goafest is an unfair fight. Pros against amateurs. Veterans against rookies. Scam versus real. Global versus local. David versus Goliath. Just that here, Goliath whips the skinny backside of David. Inequality aside, this has to stop. We need to be indulgent. We cannot be those who weed out everything. We need to let something grow.

I am not writing this because I am above stain. I am writing this because I am very much part of this mindset. In the vanity of my office, I also think that I am the custodian of glorious global standards.

Consider this last point. In almost every competition, from athletics to arts, there's always a first, second and a third; or gold, silver and bronze. However, in our festivals, sometimes there are only losers, no winners. No gold, no silver, only bronze. Shouldn't there be a first, second and third? Not allowing awards is our own hallowed Frankenstein.

Whose fault is it that no one else did anything in your category? It certainly cannot be your fault if only you have entered work.

Then again, I haven't heard of Oscars, Grammies, or Filmfare not giving awards. Every year, there's a new benchmark. Every year, there's a new find. It may or may not be better than the previous year. But every year, there's a best film, best song, best director, and so on. If they were the best of the lot that year, awards will be given.

Why is our jury so uptight? Why are we sitting there to prove that we are all powerful in the 30-second planet? We've got to be benevolent. Let's learn from the generosity of celebrated juries in the cinema and music industry -- the very personalities whom we aspire to evolve into.

We should recalibrate our standards. We should lead with grace. Otherwise, we will live in an artificial world. If there are no winners, and only more categories are created, why should one enter Goafest? It's self-defeating.

Goafest must be an inspiring venue that props up our people, flies the Indian flag, includes and not excludes, encourages the weaker among us, and understands that most of those who come to Goa will never walk the Croisette.

This is the only chance they will get to enjoy little victories. Let's not spoil it for them, and make them compete with ghosts and spectres. Be a little more Indian. Show a little more mercy. The bee in your bonnet doesn't have to stay. Flick it, and it will buzz off.

(The author is national creative director, Cheil Worldwide)