Killed by Baahubali: India’s National Film Awards have lost their art

  • Narayanan Madhavan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 30, 2016 00:27 IST
Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan in Piku

To cult watchers of Indian cinema, the first part of “Baahubali” left a tantalizing question in the end: Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?

We might add one more to this after the announcement of the winners of the 63rd National Film Awards: “Why did Baahubali get the national award for the best feature film?”

Both questions are intriguing: the former to those who follow mysterious plotlines, and the latter to those who thought the national awards given by the Government of India every year must have a plotline very different from the one that seems to have unfolded this year.

Film - Baahubali

True, director S.S. Rajamouli’s Telugu drama of epic proportions awaiting a mystery-solving sequel, with its magnificent special effects, has produced an export-quality gem from India’s frenetic cinema industry, but these have historically not been the basis for national honours.

Maybe it is a sign of the political change that cinema is now more a glitzy craft and an industry than a medium in which the government uses the awards as a signpost to sensibility, sensitivity and positive social change.

The long list of Golden Lotus winners seems to suggest that more often than not, some literary merit on the human condition has played a role in determining the award winner, rather than popularity. In fact, the unwritten rule has been that “parallel” or “art” films are meant to win national awards, with the rare exception when the commercial reveals the sensible.

Read | Why Baahubali, why not Visaaranai? A critic’s view of National Awards

In a rare exception, Page 3, Madhur Bhandarkar’s commercial portrayal of Mumbai’s high society and glamour elite won the Golden Lotus in 2005, but that was a dark, realism-drenched movie.

After all, we have Filmfare, IIFA, Zee Cine, Screen and other awards that gush on the popular variety. Do we need one more at the taxpayer’s expense?

This year’s national awards have more Bollywood than usual. Take a look:

Best Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali for ‘Bajirao Mastani’

Best Actor: Amitabh Bachchan for ‘Piku’

Best Actress: Kangana Ranaut for ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’

Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment: Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

Read | National Awards are complete farce this year: Director of Chauthi Koot

Now the hint. The chairman of the jury this year was Ramesh Sippy, the maker of Sholay. Should we now turn around and ask, Gabbar Singh like: “Kitney Art Film tey?”

For one, Neeraj Ghaywan won the best debut film of a director for Masaan, his moving, dark-hued love story set in the backdrop of a burning ghat in Varanasi. Given that the film had already won the prestigious critics prize in the Un Certain Regard category at the festival in Cannes, the Mecca of art cinema, one would have expected more in his home country.

We can split hairs on whether languages other than Hindi offered better movies, directors or actors this year – and there are bound to be various opinions. But it is clear that the sensitivity and the sensibility around the awards have changed.

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