I knew I had about five pertinent questions for Priyadarshan, the 64th National Awards jury head. He has been the centre of attention since the announcement yesterday, but what was supposed to be another ‘Q&A’ veered into discussion and debate on the winner’s list, with the director concluding, “I shall watch Aligarh.”
I started by asking him about the trolling that the National Awards has invited for Akshay Kumar’s win as the best actor and the claims that his long-standing friendship with the star helped him achieve the feat. Priyadarshan shot back, asking “Why are we insulting an actor? If he was a bad actor, how is he one of the top stars of the film industry for so many years? 38 people decided to award him and these people are sensible. Does that mean they are fools? Also, last year Mr Amitabh Bachchan got the best actor trophy (for Piku) and Ramesh Sippy was on the jury, no one questioned that. When Ajay Devgn won for Gangaajal, Prakash Jha was on the jury. That time also no one said anything.”
Audience argues that those were better performances of their respective times as well. To which, Priyadarshan argued, “We considered both Rustom and Airlift and felt Akshay showed versatility. In Rustom, his performance was dramatic, while in Airlift it was realistic. You tell me who could have been the choice then?” Aamir Khan, perhaps, for Dangal, if the popular perception is something to go by? I said. Obviously not impressed with the option, for Aamir doesn’t believe in awards, Priyadarshan said, “Why should we give an actor who rejects awards. When someone is saying he does not believe in awards then why should we give it to him?”
But shouldn’t the award be based on the merit and an actor’s opinion of it be of secondary value? He countered the argument saying, “This is not any other award… It is the President award. By saying that you won’t take it, you are insulting. So, it is better to give to someone else.” The filmmaker, himself a National Award-winner, added that people should accept the decision taken by the jury of National Awards. “People should respect it. National Awards are not based on people’s votes. You have to accept it. Now, if High Court passes something, will you say we don’t accept it? So, when you have a jury, respect its decision.”
The biggest and probably the most disappointing takeaway from this year’s National Awards, according to many – from critics to the audience was that one of the most powerful Hindi films of 2016, Aligarh, got no place in the winner’s list. The film was directed by Hansal Mehta and based on the life of Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was terminated from his job because of his sexual orientation. Siras, who was the professor teaching Marathi at the Aligarh Muslim University, later committed suicide.
When asked about it, the director, sounded a little exasperated having answered this already to other scribes. He said that there were many Marathi films which were “much ahead” of Aligarh. “Aligarh didn’t make it to the final list. It got rejected by the jury of Bombay. It never reached me. I haven’t seen the film. Also, homosexuality is a personal problem, not a social issue.”
When people are discriminated against in the society on the basis of their sexual preferences, it is a social issue, isn’t it? I asked him. He continued, “I don’t mean to say that I am against homosexuality. It is a personal choice. All I mean is that homosexuality as a topic is dealt in many Hindi films. What I think is that the jury of Bombay might have felt that other films were ahead of Aligarh. They spoke about social issues like caste.”
In the same breath, Priyadarshan wondered – if there’s such a hue-and-cry about the film right now, why was it ignored at other film awards. Of course, other accolades eluded the movie and exactly that’s why people thought the most respected awards in the country, National Awards, would recognise its merit like they have done with other films and talents in the past, I said.
The filmmaker then revealed, “Sometimes we have been forced to choose from bad films. This happened because the final list didn’t have good films, they got rejected at the lower level only. In the past, it even happened with my film, Sila Samayangalil. So, we have given a recommendation that there should be an increase in the number of films which make it to the final list, so that many good films have the scope of getting recognition.”
In the conversation, he also opined that people should watch the films that have won the honours before saying that those which didn’t make it were better and towards the end of the interview, he said, “I wanted to watch Aligarh but couldn’t as it didn’t reach to me. (Many are talking about it) so, I will definitely watch it.”