It has been a thrilling year at the 61st National Film Awards for films of 2013. Despite all the pessimism, cynicism and juggling of regional interests, there’ s something very right if the National Award for Best Feature Film goes to Ship of Theseus directed by Anand Gandhi and produced by Recyclewala Films, and for Best Direction to Shahid, directed by Hansal Mehta.
As a member of the National Film Awards jury this year, I was hugely impressed by the quality of the top films.
Ship of Theseus won the National Award for the Best Feature Film
Imagine, India makes films in up to 39 languages and dialects! If we see good movies in French, Korean and Farsi-with English sub-titles—why not in Marathi, Tamil or Bengali? Even if we consider just one regional cinema — Marathi — it had such a rich haul of National Awards. I mention this, because we live right in the midst of Marathi films in Mumbai and Maharashtra, but rarely do Bollywood-watching regulars see them.
Marathi cinema in enriched by its deep roots in its literature, theatre and social reform tradition. The Marathi films that won National Awards this year include Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry (Pig, Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film; Somnath Avghade won Best Child Artist); Satish Manwar’s Tuhya Dharm Koncha? (What is Your Religion?, Best Film on Social Issues; Bela Shende won Best Female Playback Singer); Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar’s Astu (So Be It, Sumitra Bhave won Best Screenplay-Dialogues; Amruta Subhash won Best Supporting Actress). Aajcha Diwas Majha (Today is Mine) by Chandrakant Kulkarni got Best Marathi Film. Mahesh Limaye’s Yellow won the Special Jury Award, with a Special Mention for its protagonist Gauri Gadgil.
Each of these films is remarkable in its own way. But Astu is extraordinary. Dr Mohan Agashe plays a grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease, who loses his memory and forgets who he is. It connects the loss of memory to loss of identity.
And in the most breathtaking and magnificent fashion, it draws from Hindu, Zen and Buddhist philosophy, to link this loss of identity with merging with the Absolute. An existential masterpiece. Fandry is about a young Dalit boy who falls in love with a girl, but is humiliated because his family traps pigs for a living. Tuhya Dharm Koncha? is a sharp satire about religions competing to convert tribals. Aajcha Diwas Majha is about a chief minister who moves heaven and earth to provide accommodation to a blind artist in a day. Yellow is about Gauri Gadgil, who has won international swimming awards, despite having Down’s Syndrome.
Many good regional films have been playing at a theatre near you. Online options including Bookmyshow.com have Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu films. And of course they are on DVD, often with English sub-titles. Check the reviews-and go on, treat yourself!
Meenakshi Shedde is the India consultant to the Berlin and Dubai Film Festivals, an award-winning critic, and curator to festivals worldwide. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.