The 65th National Film Awards ceremony was a departure from its tradition of the Indian President handing over the awards to all the winners. Many hurt recipients even skipped the ceremony here on Thursday as President Ram Nath Kovind had time to present only 11 out of 125 awards.
Vigyan Bhawan was buzzing with artistes from Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Assamese and Manipuri film industries who looked excited about getting recognition from the government for their work in movies.
But there were some winners whose name plates were placed facing down as they were not at the venue.
Praveen Morchhale, the director of Walking With the Wind, which won three National Awards including Best Film (Ladakhi) this year, was among those 60 recipients who chose to give the ceremony a miss.
“The decision was not taken by one person. It happened last night. During rehearsal, it was announced that the ceremony would be done in two parts. All were shocked,” Morchhale told IANS from his hotel here.
“Our problem is that they chose to tell us in the last minute. Even the invitation says the President would be honouring us. Suddenly they said only 11 will be given,” he added.
Over 60 awardees even wrote a letter to the Directorate of Film Festivals, President’s office and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, to stop them from categorizing between winners.
“Our protest is not against who is getting the award from the President. It is against discrimination. Everybody should be given by the President or the ministers. Discrimination is very humiliating. It is very hurting to us. It’s like artistes have been categorized into A and B,” said the director.
The President handed over the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Nargis Dutt Award for Feature Films on National Integration, Best Book on Cinema, Best Direction (non-feature film), Best Jasari Film, Best Male Playback Singer, Best Music Direction (songs and background music), Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Direction (feature film), Best Feature Film and Best Editing.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore gave rest of the awards to winners, including Bhanita Das. She received the Best Child Artist honour for her work in Village Rockstars which became the first Assamese film in 29 years to win the National Award for Best Feature.
Without commenting on the controversy, the ninth grade student said, “It’s my first National Award. I am very happy. I have come from Assam. It felt really good to receive the award.”
Actor Pankaj Tripathi, who received a Special Mention for Newton (Hindi), was also simply happy to get the honour.
“Even I got to know (about not getting the award from the President) after coming here.
“We had come here to collect the award from the President but there’s no problem. Award is an award. It doesn’t matter. My award is this – a large number of people gathering around me. We should be able to reside in people’s hearts. Awards…we will keep getting them,” said the Masaan actor.
Utpal Borpujari, whose debut feature film Ishu won the Best Assamese Film award, collected the award at the ceremony but also showed his support to the protesting filmmakers.
“A lot of people were absent. Filmmakers are feeling upset. And rightly so. I am contract bound by Children’s Film Society, India. They are producers so, I have to attend festivals and award ceremonies.
“And secondly, I feel I should not show disrespect to the jury who watched so many films and then found my film to be worthy of awards. It’s a very prestigious award so I thought that I should accept the award.
“But I am also with the protesting filmmakers. I feel it’s a right demand. If the President doesn’t have enough time then the award ceremony could be held on two days,” Borpujari said.
Central Board of Film Certification chief Prasoon Joshi said it’s a national honour.
“I have won the awards and I know the feeling. I feel that the honour should be respected first though I understand the feelings of the artistes,” Joshi told IANS.
“Getting an award from the President of the country is a special moment. But at the same time, these changes keep happening. I don’t think we should belittle the awards.
“These are institutions that were created over the years bit by bit. A lot of people putting their efforts together.”
For him, the feeling of “winning the award…nothing can take that away. The special feeling should stay supreme”.
There was another change in the ceremony. It had no musical performance by best playback singers this time.
But as usual, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award was presented by the President and a video featuring known names from the film industry praising the recipient was shown at the venue.
This year, it was given posthumously to Vinod Khanna. His wife Kavita Khanna and son Akshaye Khanna received it on his behalf.
Late actress Sridevi won the Best Actress Award-her first National Award for her impactful performance in the film Mom.
Her husband Boney Kapoor and their daughters, Jahnvi and Khushi received the honour.