KOLKATA: The National Film Awards, that were started as an annual incentive by the Government of India for the making of artistic, competent and meaningful films, have come a long way to cover the entire national spectrum of Indian Cinema to judge merit by the highest possible yardstick and to become the most coveted and prestigious awards in this country.

According to the Directorate of Film Festivals that organizes the awards, “The awards aim at encouraging the production of films of aesthetic and technical excellence and social relevance contributing to the understanding and appreciation of cultures of different regions of the country in cinematic form, thereby also promoting unity and integrity of the nation. The awards also aim at encouraging the study and appreciation of cinema as an art form and dissemination of information and critical appreciation of this art form through publication of books, articles, reviews etc.”

Awards are given in several categories such as Feature films, documentary films, short features, technical excellence in different streams of filmmaking both for features and non-feature films, outstanding films in different languages and dialects and two prestigious awards for the Best Writing on Cinema.

But the awards this year, in the 63rd year of its founding, in the Feature Films Category, if looked at closely, will reveal that they violate the very objective of the National Film Awards.

This is surprising considering that the 11-member jury was headed by none other than Ramesh Sippy, one of the most talented and successful filmmakers within Indian cinema. He is not just a filmmaker but extremely erudite and up-to-date in what is happening in the world of cinema. Therefore, there is no question of doubting his eligibility to chair the jury for the feature films section.

Gangai Amaran’s appointment as a member of this jury raises questions not because of his eligibility as a noted music director, singer, lyricist, writer, director and actor in Tamil cinema but because his brother the famous music director Illaiyaraja was bestowed the award this year for the best background score.

It is said that Amaran refrained from voting in the final round but is it not extremely unethical for a younger brother to be on the jury that bestows an award to the older one?

Besides, the outstandingly gifted Illaiyaraja known internationally has already won the National Award four times before of which thrice for best music direction and once for the best background score. This is his fifth national award. With due respect to the talent and achievement of Illaiyaraja, should the jury not concentrated more on the contribution of younger and/or newer talent?

Baahubali is more magic than cinema and does not fit at all into the aim of the National Awards that clearly states that the awards will be for “contributing to the understanding and appreciation of cultures of different regions of the country in cinematic form, thereby also promoting unity and integrity of the nation.”

In what way then does Bahubali contribute to the understanding and appreciation of cultures of different regions of the country in cinematic form”?

Tanul Thakur rightly states: “Both Baahubali and Bajirao Mastani – not the greatest of movies even among their Hindi peers during the year – are fictional valorizations of a certain kind of Indian cultural imagery and mythology. Is this some kind of signal?” Yes, it is a signal that only the “Hindu Right” especially from the commercial mainstream were as if already ear-marked for the awards.

The very title of the film Bajrangi Bhaijan offers a carefully designed, lavishly mounted and spray of oranges and reds generously endorsed by colossal idols of Lord Hanuman with Bajrangi suggesting Hanuman, the favourite of you-know-which political parties and Bhaijan that is a favourite form of address among members of the minority community.

The geographically scattered setting spread across the two neighbouring countries where a Hindu man is trying desperately to restore a Muslim girl back to her family across the Indian border in Pakistan is sensationalized further by making the little girl a deaf-mute that keeps her communal identity a convenient secret for a considerable part of the footage.

This is clearer with the introduction of a new award for the Best Sanskrit film this year. The award went to Priyamanasam, directed by Vinod Mankara. This film has been panned by critics who watched it as the opening film in the Indian Panorama last year as one of the most shoddily made films with very badly spoken Sanskrit dialogue to have made it to the IFFI. Yet, it bagged an award, Why and how?

The same would apply to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Best Director Award for Bajirao Mastaani which has toed the line glamour and pomp and show and adultery through the messing up of a historical legend with an intriguing and sensual duet dance performed by the wife and the ‘other woman’.

A descendant of Peshwa Bajirao I has alleged that historical facts have been "altered" while portraying the late king and his wives Kashibai and Mastani in Bajirao Mastaani.

A petition was filed stating that the song ‘Pinga’ is offensive to Marathi culture. A descendant of queen Kashibai Peshwe, who wished not to be named, claimed that Kashibai suffered from an arthritis-like ailment at a very young age and was bed-ridden for most of her life. She also suffered from asthma, and hence it was highly impossible that she danced with Mastani.

Why such terrible anomaly in the feature film awards this year? Kangna Ranaut bagged the Best Actress Award for her double whammy performance in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. It is not only a bad sequel to the first one, but Kangna’s performance would pale next to the portrayal of Anushka Sharma in NH10 and no questions raised. Ranaut’s Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a drug-addicted model in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion was a well-deserved award. But how could she bag the Best Actress Award for her performance in Queen when Priyanka Chopra offered one of the most challenging performances in Mary Kom the same year? What about the multi-layered performance of Alia Bhatt in Highway? Or, say Rani Mukherjee, who has never won a National Award for her aggressive power-packed performance in Mardaani?

Why choose Amitabh Bachchan for the Best Actor Award when many young actors could have beaten him to the winning point? The actor has already won the National Award many times in the past and has been winning since 1991.

What about the mind-blowing performance of Nawazuddin Siddique in Ketan Mehta’s Manjhi, the Mountain Man.? Or, what about Varun Dhawan’s electrifying performance in Badlapur? Or, Irrfan Khan’s masterful performance in Quissa?

Irfan has already won the Best Actor Award for Paan Singh Tomaar and logically, the award could/should have gone either to Siddique or to Dhawan.

Since this is an annual award, it makes sense not to bestow the award repeatedly to an actor who has been winning it every other year and specially if it is one of the senior-most actors in Indian cinema like Amitabh Bachchan who has already proved his excellence, his durability and his versatility over the past forty plus years. He is 75 years old though the media cuts it by two years. His performance being awarded must now have become more embarrassing for him than prestigious.

Was the choice of Amitabh Bachchan under-written by the fact that he is/was the brand ambassador of Gujarat and reportedly close to our PM Modi? If truth be told, I think Deepika Padukone was much better than Bachchan in the film!

One wishes they give him the Dadasaheb Phalke Award next year so that he can bow out of such meagre awards for his status from next year and make room for excellent actors who perhaps can become as good as he is!

Incidentally, this year a new category has been introduced a special award for the state for being the most film friendly state in the country and Gujarat has bagged this award. Oh! Really? Is Gujarat really the most film friendly state in India?

In December 2014, violent protests were held in Ahmedabad against Aamir Khan’s P. K., and the film’s screening had to be stopped in at least two theatres of the city.

In December 2015, following protests in Ahmedabad, Surat and Mehsana, nearly a dozen theatre owners in the state had to stop the screening of the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Dilwale, fearing damage to their properties.

In February this year, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s car was attacked in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city, according to reports, where he was shooting for his forthcoming film Raees. The attackers also shouted slogans, demanding the boycott of his film. Sources said this was likely a reaction to Khan’s recent comments on intolerance in India. The incident occurred early on February 13 when the actor’s car was parked inside a hotel compound. The crew of Raees faced a similar protest in Gujarat’s Bhuj area a fortnight ago while shooting the film.

Let us trace our steps back into the past. In May 2006, the Cinematography Exhibitors Association of Gujarat decided not to screen any film starring Aamir Khan till he tendered an apology for his anti-Narmada comments. According to a statement issued by association president Harish C. Patel, no film starring Aamir Khan including the then soon-to-be-released Fanaa would be screened in any theater across the state.

The Multiplex Association of Gujarat endorsed the ban. "We will not screen the movie as it would be morally wrong. Khan has offended the feelings of Gujarat's people and it would be improper to release his movie,"said association president Manubhai Patel.

What does the citation say because the jury had nothing to do with this particular award? C. Senthil Rajan, director of Directorate of Film Festivals stated at the Press Conference, “We chose Gujarat primarily because of the efforts of ease in doing business and facilitation of films and towards the promotion of Indian Cinema.”

Why should the DFF choose the most cinema friendly state in the country and why not an independent jury who would study the cinema-friendliness of different Indian states and union territories? What does the phrase ‘cinema-friendly state’ mean? How defines it and how? “Efforts in the direction of ease of doing business and facilitation of films towards the promotion of Indian cinema” is an extremely vague, ambiguous and funny phrase that is neither here nor there. But what yardstick was cinema-friendliness measured since the award is being bestowed for the first time?

Despite these dark spots, there are some bright sparks. The best Hindi film award for Dum Lagake Haisha and the Indira Gandhi Award of the Best Debut Film of a director to Neeraj Ghaywan for Masaan have been ideal choices that could not have been bettered much either way.

But what is very saddening that even most of the technical awards have gone to mainstream films when there were excellent contenders among small films and new filmmakers. Some very good films failed to make the grade such as Babar Naam Gandhiji directed by first-time director Paval, an excellent take on a child’s perspective on Gandhi.

The Bengali film directed by Gautam Ghose that bagged the Best Bengali film award namely Sankhachil is an Indo-Bangladesh co-production in which case the producer has to fill in six extra forms to get into competition. But since none of us have seen the film, no one has any clue on what the film is like though we all know that it has to do with the Partition.