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Is Phalke award turning into 'goodbye' honour?

Devika Rani, Lyricist Pradeep, filmmaker B.R. Chopra were felicitated much after they had stopped working. Bhupen Hazarika has been the only exception who is still working after getting the award.

entertainment Updated: Jan 25, 2010 18:06 IST

The highest honour in Indian cinema for lifetime achievements, the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, seems to have become more of a 'goodbye' honour for the veterans in the twilight of their lives. Cinematographer V.K. Murthy, 86, has been given the honour this year. The man behind the famous brooding shots in most Guru Dutt films said he had never expected to get the prestigious award at this age.

"By the original scheme, the Dada Saheb Phalke award was supposed to be the cherry on the cake," Gautam Kaul, former super cop and National Award winning film historian, told IANS. When Tapan Sinha, who made movies like Kabuliwala, Sagina, Ek Doctor Ki Maut, Upahaar and Louho Kopat, was bestowed with the honour in 2006, he was 82, ailing and in hospital. Just a few months after receiving it, he died.

Many felt he should have got the honour years ago. "I am surprised that it took the government so long to confer the Dada Saheb Phalke Award on Sinha. However, it's better late than never," veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen, who himself won the award at the age of 80 in 2003, had told IANS then.

Ruma Guha Thakurta had said: "Sinha would have been able to relish the award if he had received it when he was active." Veteran singer Manna Dey too got the award at the age of 90. The award for 2007 was given last year.

"Manna Dey should have got the recognition much earlier. When Lata Mangeshkar got the prestigious Bharat Ratna award, I thought dada will get the Padma Vibhushan," said Guru Kiran, Kannada film industry's well-known music director.

Lyricist Pradeep was given the honour in 1997. He was 82 and he died a year later. Even veteran filmmaker B.R. Chopra was felicitated when he was 84 and not active in moviemaking. Kaul says there have been a couple of surprises like Bhupen Hazarika.

"There was an exception in Bhupen Hazarika (1992). Even years after receiving it, he is still working and is high on energy in terms of both his artistic creation and work for Assam."

Sulochana, whose real name was Ruby Mayers and who was one of the old Jewish artists in Hindi cinema, got the award when she turned into a nobody. "When Sulochna was given the award (in 1973), she had completely disappeared from the scene. She was living as a destitute in one corner of Mumbai on crumbs by old friends and neighbours," said Kaul.

"When someone noticed this artist of silent cinema, she was given the award and suddenly the film industry rediscovered her as the Aunt Ruby of "Julie". The first thing she did after receiving the money she got with the award was to pay off a debt she owed to someone in Mumbai. And when she died, she was in a position to be looked after even when she was alone."

Devika Rani was the first recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke award. She was 61 and completely out of action when she got the honour in 1969. Initially, the honour was given to only actors and filmmakers, but the trend was broken in 1981 when music composer Naushad Ali got it.

"It was Naushad who broke this tradition of the Dada Saheb Phalke being given only to heroes and villains until the time he was the first lyricist to receive it. "In V.K. Murthy's case, he is one of the rare cameramen of the black and white medium and one of the last freedom fighters known and he now becomes one of the first cinematographers to be recognised," said Kaul.

One of the conditions of the Dada Saheb Phalke Award is that it is to be handed over to the recipient. But if the the trend continues, it won't be surprising if the recipients are not there to accept it. "Suchitra Sen was the only case when the award was bypassed to someone else because she did not receive it. She was considered for the award three years ago, but she laid two conditions - she would not come out in public to receive it and she would not receive anybody outside her family or get herself photographed," said Kaul.