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National Film Awards 2018 ceremony: What a protocol Mahamahim! It's a goof-up of your office; film industry disappointed

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 04, May 2018, 16:11 pm IST | UPDATED: 04, May 2018, 19:30 pm IST

National Film Awards 2018 ceremony: What a protocol Mahamahim! It's a goof-up of your office; film industry disappointed New Delhi: If the President secretariat works properly and not stuck about so called newly adopted protocol, the National Film Awards ceremony 2018 may becomes a big hit and controversy may be avoided. Many regional Cinema got their dues after so long but what an irony after people's President Kalam and Mukherjee we are seeing our present President Mr Kovind, who is restricted on an 'one hour protocol', even for National Film Awards Ceremony and the winners: the whole story

Bagging the coveted National Film Award is arguably the greatest honour for any recipient in Indian cinema. However, a number of winners this year were not in a celebratory mood when it was announced that the Honourable President Ram Nath Kovind would only present 11 awards.

In an unprecedented move, about 50 of the 140 recipients of the 65th National Film Awards boycotted the ceremony on Thursday after learning that only 11 of them would be receiving the honour from President Ram Nath Kovind. The rest of the filmmakers were to be felicitated by Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

Many recipients said that they learnt of this change in protocol at the rehearsal for the event on Wednesday. Traditionally, the president gives the award in the information and broadcasting minister’s presence.

In the history of the National Film Awards, it was for the first time that the president attended the second half of the ceremony honouring only a few of the veteran artistes and winners in major categories.

The first set of the awards, which included some technical categories, best supporting actress and best female playback singer, was handed over by Minister of Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani and MoS Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

Many from the Indian film industry, including winners Kaushik Ganguly, Rima Das, Riddhi Sen and 'Baahubali 2: The Conclusion' producer Prasad Devineni expressed their disappointment as President Ram Nath Kovind presented the National Film Awards only to 11 honourees.

“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 the MIB 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 Mallik, press secretary to the President. What a protocol Mahamahim!

When the MIB official cited above was asked why the ministry chose not to convey the message to award winners in time, he said: “Even if the decision had been conveyed earlier, the threat of boycott would still have persisted. There are some disgruntled elements and trouble makers who would have still created problems.”

On Wednesday, during the rehearsals at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, it was announced that the rest of the awards would be conferred by Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Smriti Irani; Minister of State, I&B, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and I&B Secretary Narendra Kumar Sinha.

The decision didn’t go down well with many of the awardees, who were upset with the development. They wrote a letter to the Directorate of Film Festival, Office of the President of India and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, expressing their disappointment. After Hrs spoke to the winners of the 65th National Film Awards and former recipients, who expressed their point of view about the emotional reaction of the awardees.

The president felicitated winners in prominent categories such as the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Vinod Khanna, best actress for Sridevi, best playback singer male for KJ Yesudas, best actor for Sen and AR Rahman in two categories- best music director and background score.

Speaking on the occasion, the President Ram Nath Kovind said that our films both represent and contribute to the diversity that is India’s biggest strength. In their narrative our films inspire us to stay true to the ideals of our civilisation and of our shared society. They educate and they entertain. They also hold a mirror to the social challenges that we still have to overcome. And they do this in a language that is universal.

The President said that films are made in a variety of languages in India, from Bhojpuri to Tamil, Marathi to Malayalam to several others. And yet cinema is a language in itself. Hindi cinema has probably done more than any other institution to popularise Hindi as a language across the country. One doesn’t have to be a Bengali to appreciate the humanism and the nuance of a Satyajit Ray or a Ritwik Ghatak. We need not know Telugu to be mesmerised by the epic of “Bahubali”. And let us not forget that A.R. Rahman – who has won the National Award again – made an early impression even among those who did not understand the Tamil words of the songs, but were nevertheless enchanted by his music.

The President said that cinema is culture and cinema is also commerce. The Indian film industry is among the largest in the world, with about 1,500 films a year. It is an expression of Indian soft power and has a trans-continental footprint. Our films are watched and appreciated in Japan and Egypt, China and the United States, Russia and Australia and so many far-off countries. Films are one of our foremost cultural exports and an important device for connecting the global Indian community to the rhythms of life back home.

The President said that we are living in exciting and transformational times for cinema and for the wider entertainment economy. Technology has changed the way films are made as well as the way they are consumed. With the advent of low-cost data and smart phones and tablets, there is a clear shift in viewership patterns. The Indian film industry is adapting to these changes and he was sure it would continue to devise strategies to convert challenges into opportunities. Filmmakers could also find that the economics and the delivery of niche productions will become increasingly feasible. Hopefully this will encourage them to raise the bar.

Das, who won the Best Feature Film award for her critically acclaimed Assamese film 'Village Rockstars' told ,"It is very sad and unfortunate as we were all expecting to get the award from the president." Devineni said although it is unfair but he was present at the ceremony as he did not want to disrespect the office of the president.

"It's very unfortunate and unfair. We are are very disappointed. Everyone wants to receive the award from the president. I am here because I don't want to disrespect the office of the president," he told . Ganguly, whose film 'Nagarkirtan' won multiple awards including the best actor, special jury, makeup and costume, skipped the ceremony, even though the film's lead Sen was present.

When contacted, Ganguly said he did not attend the event to support the fraternity. "This does not mean that we are rejecting the awards. But the president is supposed to give us the award. It is something special that cannot be replaced and there was no information given to us," the director told .

Film's actor Sen told , "Everyone is bit upset because we got to know about it at the last moment. I feel it is very unfair as people from across the country are here with their families to receive this award from the president."

Best female playback singer Shasha Tirupati said she was happy about her win, but she had 'a lot of issues' with the way the news was broken to the awardees. "I feel great about the win. But I have a lot of issues about the fact that we were not informed. It is like a bomb went off just hours before the event. This doesn't make any sense as this is an event which is planned a year in advance. I didn't like the way whole thing was implemented," she told .

In an open letter earlier in the day, marked to the Office of the President and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, over 70 artistes said they had decided to give the ceremony a miss as they 'felt dejected rather than honoured' on being informed at the last minute that the president would give away only 11 awards.

Some of those who had signed the letter, however, attended the ceremony. Among them was Yesudas. "I don't want to comment on this," he told . "The president invited me so I'm here."

Three winners who boycotted the ceremony spoke to Scroll.in about their protest and why receiving the honour from the president holds great significance for winners.

Sankalp Meshram, winner of Best Film on Art/Culture for ‘Girija - A Lifetime in Music’ said, It was an unpresidented show. That should be the headline. I think our [those who boycotted the ceremony] sentiment was very clear. First of all, the the glamour and the greatness associated with the National Awards is because it is the president’s medal and it is always handed out by the president. This is my fifth National Award and on all other four occasions, I’ve always received the awards from the president.

Also, the fact is that the date of the ceremony is fixed – it is always on May 3 because it is [shortly after] the birthday of Dadasaheb Phalke. Every year it is on this date. It is not as though the date shifted or that the venue or time was not known. One can’t understand why there has been a mistake or logistical problem in terms of planning. Also, from what one hears today, they knew the president will not be giving the awards and yet, they sent us letters, invitations and other stationery and on each and every item that they gave us, it said the president will be giving the awards.

Our position was that we are only protesting first, the decision that the ministry has taken to differentiate between some award winners who will receive the award from the president and others who will not. Everyone should get the award from the president. Secondly, we are also protesting against the manner in which we have been informed – just off-hand – that there has been a change in plan. After all, one has worked very hard to get the award in the first place. This is one moment of glory, it is a memory, one has looked forward to. It needed to be perfect for that memory. It cannot be that in a few cases, less than perfect organisation was arranged for us.

There is a very big difference between getting the award from the highest non-political authority of the country and getting it from a political appointee. Suddenly, the nature of the award changes. At least in my case, I didn’t want the image of me and this award being associated with some political party’s appointee.

There is also further aggravation. Only 11 certificates have been signed by the president. The rest are signed by the secretary of information and broadcasting.

Abhaya Simha, won the Best Tulu Film award for his film ‘Paddayi’ said, We don’t seem to have a complete picture from their side. But we came to know that ever since this president has assumed office, this has been the practice – that he hands out only one award in any award ceremony. So, if the Ministry [Information and Broadcasting] knew about it, they could have informed us because we are brought in on government-paid flights and put up in five-star hotels and so on. It is an occasion and all of us awardees came with the dreams and hopes that we will receive the award from the president of India. Suddenly, we realise during the rehearsals, that some awards were going to be given by the ministry and some others by the president. That’s when we understood that the programme’s format is different from what was told to us. Some of the awardees came from countries like New York, Dubai and Kuwait and also brought their family on their own expenses. The office of the President has such high respect.

We understand that it could get tiring for one person to stand for so long. He is an elderly man and we respect that. The previous President Pranab Mukherjee, I think, is around 10 years older too. The point is that the whole ceremony is designed in such a way that the president is given ample rest between the different awards. There are screenings, performances etc. We even suggested ways in which everyone could have been accommodated: the minister’s speech could have been cut short, once the president comes, there is a short film screening and then there is a photo opportunity too. There’s about 30 minutes that goes in this which could easily accommodate the absentees.

We are not against anybody, let me make that clear. Suddenly there were reports calling us the “award wapsi gang”. This is my second National Award and I haven’t returned my award. I’m not against anybody. I just don’t want to be humiliated, that’s all.

It becomes very easy also to construct a narrative that we are against Smriti Irani and the BJP. But it is not that. People may have reservations against the Rashtrapati too – each of us have our own political leanings and ideologies. But this is about the post he holds, its sanctity and dignity.

So, after the rehearsal on May 2, we stayed back at the hotel the next day and decided to not go for the ceremony. Prateek Vats, won the Special Jury Award for ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’

Broadly put, all the National Awards, be it any stream, is given by the highest constitutional authority or head of the state. This takes the award beyond any political party or government. What happened yesterday was really weird, therefore.

It wasn’t communicated at all to us that there has been a change. Also, the sheer audacity of how they tell us during the rehearsals and also, they happily pick and choose awards that the President will give because apparently they seem to be worthy of his time. That was the real tipping point for everyone who boycotted the event. It is disrespectful.

The National Awards, by its original format, maintains that everyone is equal and the state recognises your work in your field. Suddenly, you hear there is a demarcation. It hasn’t happened before. It just felt weird to be going there and taking it.

We kept asking what is the reason for the change. But there was no answer. There was a lot of disrespect with which they treated us. No one from the Ministry or the Directorate of Film Festivals talked to us. Only the jury members, rather politely, spoke to us and listened to us.”
Other voices of dissent

On Wednesday, several artists had expressed solidarity with the award winners and criticised the change of protocol on social media. In a Facebook post, Oscar award-wining sound designer Resul Pookutty said that technicians in the film industry always get a “raw deal”.

“When your good office chose the last 11 from the list of 125, it is these extra ordinary small people who got left out in their national recognition. We learned from the news that the President’s office was too busy and couldn’t have allowed more than one hour. We could have been called back on another day! We would have come back with our own expenditure, in trains or buses,would have stayed in the cheapest lodges to avoid extra burden of repeat call… We felt bad because when Your good office chose from the bottom of the list it was only the stars and star elements got picked up! Or those 11 people could have been the young and first time awardees!”

Producer of best Hindi film winner, 'Newton', Manish Mundra, who earlier expressed his disappointment on Twitter over the controversy, did a turnaround as he eventually showed up at the ceremony.

"It is the highest recognition. It doesn't matter who gives it. We are happy that we the government has given the award. Yes, we were a little de-motivated. But one shouldn't boycott the ceremony," Mundra told .

National Film Award winner Resul Pookutty and filmmaker Rahul Dholakia also criticised the sudden change in the routine of the National Film Awards.

"I&BMinistry learn some lessons from #Govt Of Maharashtra how they conducted the #StateFilmAwards few days ago! Impeccable show by @Dev_Fadnavis and his colleagues. We feel proud in receiving the state gesture. Don't discriminate the 'nation' in National Award," Resul tweeted.

Dholakia wrote, "One of the reason the National Film Awards are prestigious is because they are handed by the President and not a minister. This is a moment of a lifetime for Filmmakers. Please don't deprive them of their merit/glory."

Director Ashwini Chaudhary tweeted, "The Indian Film Industry should come out in open and take a stand against the humilation of National Film Awardees who are going to skip the award ceremony today. Dark day in the history of #NationalFilmAwards."

Meanwhile, in the ceremony all the Jury are thier representative were present in Vigyan Bhawan. These hard working experts of diferent fields included Feature Films Central Jury Chairman Shekhar Kapoor and members Imtiaz Hussain, Gopalakrishna Pai, Gautami Tadimalla, Rahul Rawail, P Sheshadri, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Rumi Jaffery, Ranjit Das, Rajesh Mapuskar, Tripurari Sharma; Chairman and the members of Non-Feature Films Central Jury Nakul Kamte, Bhaskar Hazarika, Ranjit Ray, R V Ramani, Christo Tomy, Aradhana Pradhan, Manisha Kulshreshtha; Chairman and the members of Best Writing on Cinema Jury Anant Vijay, Ravi Subramanian, Neha Tiwari; Feature Films Estern Panel Jury Jadumoni Dutta, GS Bhaskar, Indrajit Neyogi, Sange Dojee; Feature Films North Panel Jury Sujata Shiven, Sanjeev Rattan, Rajeev Bhatia, Judhajit Sarkar; Feature Films South Panel Jury- 1 G Dhananjay, Priya Krishnaswamy, Vinod Mankara, Vinod Anupam; Feature Films South Panel Jury-2 Mehaboob, Rajesh Touchriver, Chandra Siddhartha, Shekhar Das; Feature Films West Panel Jury Saibal Chatterjee, Rajesh Joshi, Amrit Gangar, Sunil Sudhankar; Film Friendly State Jury Commitee Chairman and Member Ramesh Sippy, Nagraj Manjule, Raja Krishna Menon, Uday Singh, Vivek Agnihotri. From Dada Saheb Falke Award Committee Member Jahnu Barua, Shaji N Karun, Usha Kiran Khan, Ram Gopal Bajaj and Manmohan Mahapatra were presents. 

List of National Film Award winners in feature film category

Dadasaheb Phalke Award: Vinod Khanna

Best Feature Film: Village Rockstars (Assamese)

Best Popular Film: Baahubali 2 (Telugu)

Best Director: Jayaraj for Bhayanakam (Malayalam)

Best Actress: Sridevi, Mom (Hindi)

Best Actor: Ridhhi Sen, Nagarkirtan (Bengali)

Best Supporting Actress: Divya Dutta, Irada (Hindi)

Best Supporting Actor: Fahad Faazil, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (Malayalam)

Best Film Playback Singer: Shasha Tirupati (Vaan Varuvaan song)

Best Male Playback Singer: KJ Yesudas

Best Film for National Integration: Dhappa (Marathi)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Bhayanakam (Malayalam), to Jayaraj

Best Screenplay Original: Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

Best Assamese Film: Ishu

Best Odiya Film: Hello Arsi

Best Marathi Film: Kaccha Limbu

Best Malayalam Film: Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

Best Tamil Film: To-Let

Best Kannada Film: Hebettu Ramakka

Best Telugu Film: Ghazi

Best Hindi Film: Newton

Best Bengali Film: Mayurakshi

Best Gujarati Film: Dhh

Best Tulu Film: Paddayi

Best Ladakhi Film: Walking With The Wind

Best Jasari Film: Sinjar

Best Action Direction: Baahubali 2

Best Choreography: Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Hindi) to Ganesh Acharya

Best Special Effects: Baahubali 2

Special Jury Award: Nagarkirtan

Best Lyrics: for Song Muthu Ratna, for Kannada film March 22

Best Music Direction: A R Rahman for Kaatru Veliyidai

Background score: A R Rahman for Mom

Best Make Up Artist: Ram Razak, Nagarkirtan

Best Production Design: Santhosh Raman, Take Off (Malayalam)

Best Editing: Rima Das, Village Rockstars

Best Book on Cinema: first book on Manipuri films. This is the first time that a book on Manipuri Films has got award

Best Film Critic: Giridhar Jha

Special Mention for Film Criticism: Sunil Mishra of Madhya Pradesh

Special Mention Awards: Marathi Film - Mhorkya; Odiya Film: Hello Arsi; Malayalam: Take Off; Pankaj Tripathi for Hindi film Newton; Malayalam actor Parvathy too received a special mention for Take Off.
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