Meenakshi Shedde: The President's Cinderella Hour
The President informed the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) three weeks earlier that he would leave the award function in an hour
Oh, wretched irony, that President Ram Nath Kovind — whom BJP president Amit Shah unabashedly introduced as a Dalit when nominating him as a Presidential candidate — should himself introduce a caste system, where it never existed before: India's august National Film Awards. The President informed the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) three weeks earlier that he would leave the award function in an hour. But the winners were informed only a day earlier, that the President would give away only 11 of the approximately 137 awards at the 65th National Film Awards; the rest would be given away by Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, and Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore. As the award winners' invitations stated that they would receive the award from the President of India, they wrote to the DFF about a breach of trust, "65 years of tradition was being overturned in a jiffy," and nearly 55 winners boycotted the function.
Nothing spoke of the sordidness of this prestigious event as that photograph with just two disturbed award winners, in a hall full of empty chairs. The names of the 30 award winners who protested were not even announced. It is heartbreaking that a number of award winners, including Fahadh Faasil, who won Best Supporting Actor for Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, and Parvathy, who won Special Mention for Take Off, both in Malayalam, returned home without their National Awards. We are proud the National Awards still go to those truly deserving them, mostly. Bollywood, which usually hogs the limelight, is shown its true place in Indian cinema at the National Film Awards. Malayalam cinema won 11 major awards, Hindi cinema only eight in comparison; Bengali and Assamese cinema won five each; Marathi cinema won four; Tamil and Telugu cinema won three each.
The President, who is 72, gave no reasons for his self-styled, one-hour Cinderella rule. If he had medical issues, he could reasonably have declined, or split the awards into two sessions.
I have had the honour of attending four National Film Awards — once as an award winner, and thrice on the National Film Award Jury, in 2008, 2011 and 2014. Bungling and uncertainty are a given. I had won the National Award for Best Film Critic for 1998, but received the award only in 2000, because of unstable governments. As I'm usually at the Berlin Film Festival in February, I had asked the DFF about likely dates since October, but they said they would know only at the last minute. I was at the Berlin Film Festival when I was swiftly summoned to New Delhi, so my parents Indu Shedde and S Rammohan went to New Delhi, and my mother received the National Award on my behalf from President KR Narayanan.
On the other hand, Ramendra Naresh, a Dalit student who topped the MCA programme at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, refused to accept his gold medal from President Kovind at the convocation scheduled last December, to protest against the growing atrocities against Dalits. Along with all this year's award-winners, I applaud Naresh as well.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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