By now, India's President APJ Abdul Kalam should have handed over the country's most prestigious film honours. But no. Beset by a complicated controversy, the event has been delayed for months and there are no indications of a solution yet. Amitabh Parashar, in New Delhi, investigates
On a rain-sprinkled afternoon, the various National Film Award juries - for feature films, documentaries and film criticism - had gathered at the Siri Fort in July last year. Behind closed doors of the sprawling complex, the high-tension atmosphere could have been sliced with a knife.
A dekko at the award list
Best first film by a director
Best Supporting Actor
Jury's special award
Best Social Film
Best Singer (Male)
Best Singer( Female)
Best Art Direction
Best Hindi Film
Best English Film
The list of the 53rd National Film Awards could not be announced at a press meeting, as is the custom, because of another reason. Noted documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan's legal case on the matter of films that had not been censored was pending. Once that issue was sorted, a jury member put a spanner in the works, by protesting legally against the final decisions of the jury .
Earlier, several controversies have surrounded the awards, the most glaring one being the Best Actress Award given to Raveena Tandon for Daman. Some of the jury members expressed strong objections to the decision but the matter was sorted after a widely-debated nationwide flare-up.
In the case of the held-back National Film Awards for 2006, it is being asked within the film related circles, if the Best Actor Award for Amitabh Bachchan for Black is the "hurdle."
This is his third National Award, incidentally the first one being for the Best Newcomer for Saat Hindustani and then the Best Actor for Agneepath. It is being wondered if the award stonewalling has political connotations.
Be that as it may, Shyamali Dev Banerjee, jury member from Kolkata, has made it known that she will appeal to the Supreme Court if necessary .
Considering her petition, the Delhi High Court had put a stay on the announcement of the awards and told the government to look into the allegations made by the jury member. July 26 is the next date when the government has to give their clarification before the court.
In her earlier petition, Banerjee had contended that Black, "a film which is an adaptation of a foreign film (The Miracle Worker), should not be considered for an award meant for any original work."
She has now written another letter (a copy of which is in the possession of this reporter) to the I and B Ministry In the eight-page letter to V B Pyarelal, joint secretary (films), Banerjee states, "Amitabh Bachchan's selection as Best Actor for this particular film (Black) was absolutely unjustified. If any award was to be given to anyone for this film (Black), it should have gone to Rani Mukherji."
Further, she writes, "The day before the deliberation (for the awards), a whisper campaign was underway.. and the juries and some of the DFF (Directorate of Film Festivals) officials started pleading for Amitabh Bachchan. Sources say that one call from some influential source instigated this advocacy for Amitabh Bachchan."
The jury was chaired by the veteran actress B Saroja Devi. Jury member, filmmaker Ashok Saran, said, "Look, there were 15 jury members. It is inevitable that there would be differences of opinion. The majority decision has to prevail. When there were 13 in favour, how can anyone not honour the majority vote?"
Talking to HT Cafe from Kolkata, Banerjee said that she is totally dissatisfied with the clarifications given by Pyarelal on her dissent note sent to the ministry on the 53rd National Awards.
She added that she has sent her demands to the ministry. If her demands are not fulfilled, she would go in to seek justice in the highest court (read Supreme Court).