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The National Awards Controversy - What and Why

May 26, 2018

The National Awards Controversy - What and Why
The National Awards Controversy - What and Why | Credit: Ibtimes

The National Film Awards is one of the greatest platforms where the best of Indian cinema is lauded and awarded. The film fraternity looks forward for the announcement of the National Film Awards every year. This year, the 65th National film Awards, however, began on a sour note with as many as 60 award winners deciding to boycott the event.

The controversy over the National Film Awards that was declared on 13 April began when the day before the event (3 May) awardees were informed that The President of India would hand over awards to only 11 winners out of the total 127 recipients.

Deeply saddened and hurt by the declaration, around 66 of the award winners signed a letter of protest addressed to the Directorate of Film Festival.

It read, “It feels like a breach of trust when an institution /ceremony that abides by extreme protocol fails to inform us of such a vital aspect of the ceremony with a prior notice. It seems unfortunate that 65 years of tradition are being overturned in a jiffy.” 

In an open letter to The President of India, they stated that in such an ‘unbiased and pristine award function’ to be felicitated by The President of India was of great pride and they felt let down on the move. They, however, noted that their absence was a mark of protest against the event and they would accept the award.

In fact, several filmmakers questioned the sudden change in protocol, which until last year had The President giving away awards to all the winners in person.

There is, however, differences in opinion on whether the move of the award winners to boycott the event was just. Backing the move of the awardees to boycott the award function, in a hard-hitting post on Facebook, Oscar winning sound designer Resul Pookutty had written:

“... The National Award is our nation’s highest recognition, being recognized by Honourable. President’s hand is our privilege, our honour and our dream!”.. But I felt the Nation’s sentiment got left out in the choices that were made yesterday, or its technicians who always gets the raw deal!”

Reacting to the controversy, Director and Producer Boney Kapoor who was present at the event to receive the award for late actress and wife Sridevi said:

“I would have been equally happy if the Minister of Information and Broadcasting had given me the award. It is ultimately the recognition of your work. I don’t understand what the fuss is about. There is no harm in receiving the award by the concerned ministry.” 

The remaining awards were handed over by the information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani and minister of state (I&B) Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

In the middle of the controversy, the Rashtrapati Bhavan issued a statement refuting the allegations, “President attends all award functions and convocations for a maximum of one hour. This has been the protocol since he took office. It was conveyed to information and broadcasting ministry several weeks ago and the ministry knew this all along. Rashtrapati Bhavan is surprised by the 11th hour questions that have been raised,” said Ashok Malik, press secretary to the president.

The question also arises on if it is mandatory for The President of India to attend all ceremonies and awards till the end. On the day of the National Film Awards event the president was scheduled to meet Supreme Court judge Justice SA Bobde and Vice Chancellor of North-East Hill University, Prof SK Srivastava, on Thursday.

Amidst the controversy, the politicisation of National Film Awards also became a topic of discussion after ministers were given much of the stage presence.