This years winners give a real sense of the best films made across the country
A boy and a girl playfully grapple with each other. Within a couple of opening scenes,it is established that the two are teens trembling on the cusp of young adulthood,the boy more aware of his feelings than the girl. He reaches out repeatedly,seeking to touch; she backs away,recognising in that insistence a growing out of carefree innocence,into a time of responsibility and relationships.
I watched Byari last night,a film that tracks the young girl as she moves from frocks to saris,away from her fathers home into her husbands,from one kind of dominance to another,and how she breaks out. And I see why,despite the occasional unsophistication and the linear telling heavily underlined by a musical score,this film (in which characters speak in a little-known mix of Kannada-Tulu-Malayalam-Urdu dialect) managed to get to the top of the heap at this years National Film Awards. Despite its flaws,Byari tells its tale simply and evocatively.
Child marriages,patriarchy and the devastation caused by overbearing religious laws are subjects more suited to lengthy dissertations. Byari holds them up for examination imaginatively,and thats why it shares the Best Feature Film Award with Marathi film Deool.
Byari what could also have been Byari who,given the extent of knowledge we have about languages other than Hindi,and by extension,film modes other than Bollywood. For some years,theres been an inexorable advance of Hindi mainstream cinema into a space reserved for the best films from languages still dismissively called regional. The recent distinct skew towards Bollywood and Bollywoodians has led long-time observers to question their presence in this sphere as well. Only a national award can give a film like Byari the recognition it needs,and that is the real value of these awards,which have been dipping disappointingly,and which have been given a boost this year because of some brave choices.
It is nobodys case,and certainly not mine,that Hindi popular cinema should not have a stab at receiving national awards: Vidya Balan is right there with her best actress nod. But just as there are awards and awards (all devoted to popular mainstream Hindi films),there are Hindi films and Hindi films,and the fear is that the quiet,worthy candidates,not backed by clever marketing ploys,may get lost in the mighty Bollywood juggernaut. The national awards,set up in 1954,to nurture and encourage those other cinemas which need both patronage and nourishment,have to be fiercely guarded against the onslaught of big budgets and star packages and studio might.
The awardees,who will be lining up this evening to receive their Swarnas and Rajat Kamals from the Vice President,can rejoice because this years awards are closer to the idea of national than they have been in a quite a while,the array giving us a real sense of the best and brightest films being made across the country.
In any other year,Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,a lightweight Bollywood confection full of exotic foreign locations and good-looking stars,would have been a cinch for the best popular film providing wholesome entertainment (as opposed to those providing unwholesome entertainment?). This year,that award has gone to Tamil film Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai,which is about a horse and his owner,and how their chance arrival at a village challenges graven-in-stone belief systems. Again,you can see a film thats not as bothered about polishing its wares as it is to make the point that it has set out to.
Deool,which split the best feature film honours with Byari,is equally intent on striking at hidebound religious dogmas. Director Umesh Kulkarni,whose previous credits include the superb Vihir,has a distinctive voice,and it comes through sharply in this one,giving its actors full play. Girish Kulkarni,who plays the lead in Deool,gets the best actor award,deservedly: also note the naughty interplay between Sonali Kulkarni and Nana Patekar to know what passion can look like. I Am,as the best Hindi feature,wins hands down for the relevance and importance of its subjects,unspooled over four different strands. The best Marathi film,Shala,is a little coming-of-age gem. And the best director
goes to first-timer Gurvinder Singh for the Punjabi Anhey Ghorey Da Daan,a film full of beguiling touches. Each of these is well deserved.
My favourite award,though,is the best debut feature given to Aaranya Kaandam. It is a smart,fast paced thriller rooted in earthy Tamil lingo,and a milieu which could only belong to those characters an impotent don,his beautiful,tricky mistress and a bunch of chatty Tarantino-esque hoods. Done with panache,in a tone thats truly local and global,the only way a film gets legs.
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