There are way too many award shows in the country nowadays and we have been seeing awards everywhere lately. But they have hardly made a difference when it came to their fundamentals of recognizing and appreciating talent. In addition, these maudlin award ceremonies have only exhibited a hefty dose of self-praising due to this strange notion of “everyone who is anyone must have awards.” However, Thursday evening was a sweeping exception (to the regular practice of handing out trophies like candy) as artistes brought home well deserved honours at the 65th National Film Awards at Vigyan Bhawan.
Though President Ram Nath Kovind certainly stole the thunder from the winners, with his last minute
decision of presenting awards to 11 out of the total 140 recipients, let not the victory of these talented artistes go in vain by only discussing an apparently “political motive” behind this move.
Unlike last year, regional cinema took the front seat at the ceremony in 2018, hammering home a message that Bollywood no longer dominates Indian cinema. “This year all the best awards were given to regional cinema so that’s how we can see that it’s evolving and people are coming out of ‘Bollywood’. I think it’s a great time for regional cinema that they are proving with such limited budget with so many difficulties they can emerge out with,” says Riddhi Sen, who received the National Award for Best Actor for his role in Kaushik Ganguly’s Nagarkirtan, which deals with same-sex relationships.
Sen has become the second actor to win a National award (best actor) for portraying a LGBT character on the big screen after Sanchari Vijay, whose performance as a transgender in Kannada-language film Naanu Avanalla…Avalu earned him the prestigious honour in 2014. However, the victory didn’t come easy to the 19-year-old Bengali boy, whose film Nagarkirtan had courted controversy last year when a Calcutta High Court advocate wrote a letter to CBFC chief Prasoon Joshi, asking him to ensure that no law is violated in clearing the film.
“We have two cuts in the movie since homosexuality is still criminalised in our country which is so unfortunate but again on the contrary I’m so happy that so many critics found out the beauty and strength in the film and they have given such a film based on something which is a little controversial in India such an immense support. So, I think the support we have received from the jury and the national awards is great which can draw a lot more audience to watch this film especially because it’s on such a sensitive issue”, Sen added.
Last year, Akshay Kumar’s best actor win for Rustom was met with severe criticism, with many arguing that Manoj Bajpayee’s performance of a gay professor in Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh was more deserving.
Even Mehta had tweeted that it was disappointing that his critically acclaimed film was not considered worthy of an honour at the 64th National Film Awards. He had also said that he was hurt by the then jury panel head Priyadarshan’s “disturbing and insensitive” statement ruling out homosexuality from being a social issue. Commenting on the same, Sen says, “Here they have taken this initiative which is the biggest blessing for our movie that in such turbulent times if a film like ‘Nagarkirtan’ gets four awards, what can be better than that.”
In addition, self-taught Assamese filmmaker Rima Das bagged two awards for her coming-of-age tale Village Rockstars, including Best Feature Film and Best Editing, besides two movie picking up two more awards — Best Child Artist for Bhanita Das and Best Location Sound Recordiing. The movie, about a young girl dreams of owning an electric guitar, quenched the dry spell that had taken over the film industry of Assam for 30 years. Jahnu Barua’s Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai was the first ever movie from the state to win the Best Film honour in 1988.
“It feels really blessed. I’m extremely happy. All my people in Assam are so happy for us. They are eagerly waiting for us to celebrate this victory with them because obviously this is coming after 30 years. My parents are here. I can’t express it in words,” says Das.
In another breakthrough moment for the North-east, director-writer Bobby Wahengbam’s Matamgi Manipur: The First Manipuri Feature Film was awarded the Best Book on Cinema at the ceremony. The book explores the emergence of Manipuri cinema in the state’s socio-political scenario. In the book, Bobby briefly analyses film theories and cinemas of different countries and states prior to the production of Matamgi Manipur, which was released in 1972.
“I’m very excited. In fact, when I had got to know that my book won the best book on cinema award, I couldn’t sleep the whole night. It’s something I have always dreamed about. Filmmaking is just not about learning the nuances of films but it’s also about theories and academic discourses so I have incorporated all that while writing this book,” says Wahengbam.
Wahengbam also said he was extremely proud of Das and her film Village Rockstars and hoped that more Manipuri films would find their way to the National awards next year.
“I’m very happy with (Rima) Das. I have not seen Village Rockstars but I would like to see it. I think it’s an exceptional film. Jahnu dada got it for ‘Halodhia…’ long back and after a long period of time they came into notice and being a north-eastern filmmaker I feel so proud that our films also win national awards suppressing all the regional as well as national films. Unfortunately, there was no film for Manipur this time but hopefully people will see more films from Manipur both in feature as well as non-feature film next year.”