In 1954 when the National Award was instituted by the Government of India to toast the best of Indian Cinema, gritty, hard-hitting social dramas, took a bow at the centrestage. Slice-of-life films like Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, Bandini, Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Mother India, Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Mughal-E-Azam were the winners then. Though most of these films were also commercial successes, they displayed aspects of life through the looking glass, exploring emotions and social mores of that era.
Down the years, with exposure to world cinema and an enlightened, educated audience, the type of films being made in the commercial circuit changed. Veering away from formula films, film-makers have become emboldened to explore novel subjects, with the confidence that their work will find resonance with the audience today. This change is also noticeable in the kind of films that walk away with the National Award, the highest in the country to applaud cinematic excellence. While the basic parameters of selecting a film remain the same, in recent times, films from mainstream Hindi cinema are finding their glory, a hark back to the fifties and sixties era when commercially successful Hindi films were recognised and feted.
When the Awards were announced on April 16, this year, the films selected across regions and languages reflected a change in trend in how films are made today. And what is heartening to note is that the films, especially in the Hindi film category also had the stamp of approval of the audience, for not only were they commercial successes, but also resonated with the sentiments of the aam junta. Saurabh Shukla, who won the Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Jolly LLB feels that the line between commercial meaningful cinema and art house cinema is becoming thinner. “Jolly LLB is not a typical commercial film, and had it not become a box-office success, it would have been called an off-beat film. There is greater participation of the masses. Films like Paan Singh Tomar, Barfi!, Kahaani were unusual subjects, and yet were also commercial successes.”
According to Subhash Kapoor, director of Jolly LLB, winner of the Best Hindi Film Award, the change is noticeable in the last couple of years. “I think Do Dooni Chaar turned the tide in favour of mainstream cinema and that was reflected in the film winning the National Award. This year, we have films like Ship of Theseus, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, winning the National Award, and this indicates a certain kind of change which I would imagine is towards good cinema, irrespective to the alternative to mainstream commercial cinema. The audience, who is exposed to world cinema, has reacted positively to all kinds of cinema and all kinds of films are doing well at the box-office. “
So, is there a distinctive trend, and a shift in the selection of films made in recent times? Hansal Mehta, who won the Best Director Award for Shahid, however feels that, “Film-making is beyond trend. It is about expressing yourself through a story. In the past five to six years, there has been a greater focus on story, characterisation, with the result that some wonderful films across languages have been made in the country. Marathi films like Fandry, in particular, are doing really well, winning the Award.”
In support of independent cinema
While, it remains a topic of debate that mainstream Hindi films are gaining precedence, edging other language films from the main category in the National Awards, the general consensus is that ultimately good, socially-relevant, entertaining movies are being recognised. However Sumitra Bhave, winner of seven National Awards in the past, won the Award for Best Dialogue this year for the Marathi film Astu, states, “I don’t know whether it is a good sign or not. I cannot relate to the kind of big budget cinema in Bollywood, depicting unnecessary violence. On the other hand, however, these are interesting times and films like Rajat Kapur’s Ankhon Dekhi with a significant social statement are being made and appreciated. For instance, Vidya Balan is an excellent actress, but I could not relate to her film, The Dirty Picture for which she received the Best Actress Award. It is difficult to understand that this kind of role got an acceptance at the national level. But, you cannot question the judgement of the jury. She is a fine actress and has given some very good performances but I felt that the award that she got for Kahaani was better-deserved than the one she received for The Dirty Picture. I feel there is definitely a change in the selection process and I don’t know whether it is a welcome sign or a deterioration in the choice of films.” Uttang Thakur, who co-produced the Marathi movie Yellow with Riteish Deshmukh won three National Awards for the film, feels that most Bollywood films are big budget ventures with the main focus on earning huge profits. “Very few film-makers like Rajkumar Hirani make meaningful cinema with a message to it.”
But irrespective of the dissent, the general feeling across the industry is that whether it is mainstream Hindi cinema or films across different languages, the National Awards are supportive of independent films and film-makers as reflected in the choice of the films selected this year. Film-maker, Saeed Mirza who headed the 10-member jury of the National Awards says, “We could not ignore Hindi films as 80 per cent of the entries were not only entertaining but were also socially-relevant. Our decision was highly supportive of independent cinema. If you look at the results, most of the films are made by independent film-makers, for instance, Miss Lovely, Ship of Theseus, Shahid, Jolly LLB or mainstream film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag have been given their due. These films had socially-relevant content and value, and touched upon issues and economic problems. A film like Jolly LLB discussed a very important subject and was incredibly well-made and successful.”
The selection process
There were 390 entries vying for the coveted Award this year. A screening committee consisting of five panels, covering the North, East, West and South films were set-up. Each panel consisted of five members headed by a Chairman. They shifted through the initial entries from their respective regions. While the North, East and West zone had one panel each, the South zone that had films from Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada was represented by two panels. It took the panels almost a month to sift through the films and discard the irrelevant ones. Following the basic guidelines as mentioned by the constitution of the National Awards, only those films that stood true to the parameters were sent to the Central panel for the final selection. “Films like Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela and Chennai Express were irrelevant and were rejected in the initial stage. This year most of the awards have been given to almost 30 films that spoke about a social issue and were made by debutants. A good commercial mainstream film, if made well like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or a Jolly LLB also walked away with the Award. One does not mind watching such films.This year, it can be said that all films across languages were evenly represented with regional films too taking away some of the technical awards,” says M.S. Sathyu, chairman of the East panel and also the jury of the central panel.
The central panel, consisting of 10 members, then goes through the shortlisted films. “We discuss the films and the winner is ultimately selected through a voting pattern. There is no casting vote of the chairman and the entire process is carried out in a democratic manner. We try to be as honest as possible without being biased,” explains Mirza. So, have there been any changes made in the selection process over the years? While the basic guidelines remain the same, each year the jury does send in their recommendations keeping in mind the broad parameters of the constitution. Mirza explains, “Every jury does have the right to recommend changes in terms of selection procedures. But these are recommendations made keeping in mind the basic manifesto. The Directorate of Film Festivals may then accept these suggestions at their own discretion.”
So, while some films walk away with the accolades, a few do not make it to the final count. “But then that’s the way it is, some win, some lose,” signs off Mirza.
List of winners
Best Feature Film: Ship of Theseus (English-Hindi)
Indira Gandhi Award For Best Debut Film Of A Director: Fandry (Marathi)
Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Hindi)
Nargis Dutt Award For Best Feature Film On National Integration: Thalaimuraigal (Tamil)
Best Children’s Film: Kaphal (Hindi)
Best Direction: Shahid (Hindi) Hansal Mehta
Best Actor : Shahid (Hindi) Rajkummar Rao & Rajat Kamal and Perariyathavar (Malayalam) Suraj Venjaramoodu
Best Actress: Liar’s Dice (Hindi) Geetanjali Thapa
Best Supporting Actor: Jolly LLB (Hindi)- Saurabh Shukla
Best Supporting Actress: Astu (Marathi) and Ship of Theseus (English-Hindi) Amruta Subhash and Aida El-Kashef
Best Child Artist: Fandry (Marathi) and Thanga Meengal (Tamil) Somnath Avghade and Sadhana
Best Screenplay Dialogues: Astu (Marathi) Sumitra Bhave
Best Audiography: Location Sound Recordist- Madras Café (Hindi) Nihar Ranjan Samal
Best Production Design: Miss Lovely (Hindi) Ashim Ahluwalia, Tabsheer Zutshi, Parichit Paralkar
We felt good more for Milkha Singh than anybody else. The film performed brilliantly at the box-office and bagged two National Awards. It definitely encourages and propels you to work harder.
— Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Best Popular Film, Bhaag Mikha Bhaag
Though I was not really expecting an award, I was hoping Saurabh Shukla would get one as he was brilliant. Winning the Award does boost one’s confidence. While making a film all you are concerned is to tell the story
in an entertaining manner.
— Subhash Kapoor, Best Hindi Film Award, Jolly LLB
My hard work has finally paid off. The perception of people changed after
I received my first award in a 20 year- long career from Screen for
Jolly LLB. The National Award, though, cannot be compared as it is bestowed by the Government of India.
— Saurabh Shukla, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Jolly LLB
This has been most unexpected. I am grateful to the jury, God and the team
of Shahid. I cannot say though how much it will affect my career, but the criteria for selecting films will remain the same. I am just happy that my
next film, Citylights will release post the National Award.
— Rajkummar Rao, Best Actor, Shahid
I received the news when I was engrossed with the post-production work of my next film, Citylights. The National Award recognises art without any concern to commerce.
— Hansal Mehta, Best Director Award, Shahid
While winning the National Award does open up a few possibilities, the state should also pay heed and provide the infrastructure that supports
independent film-makers. Our documentary film Gulabi Gang also won the Best Social Film award.
— Anand Gandhi, Best Feature Film, Ship of Theseus
This is my seventh National Award and it feels good that my work is appreciated by the jury which represents the conscience of the people and the nation. My films are not crowd-pullers, so I am happy when my work is appreciated.
— Sumitra Bhave, Best dialogue for Astu