Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose 'Black' won three National Awards - best Hindi film, best costumes and best actor award for Amitabh Bachchan - feels Rani Mukerji too deserved the honour for essaying the role of a deaf, dumb and blind girl in the film.
"I'd have liked Rani to win a National Award also. For the first time, I think an Indian actor has played a deaf and blind... and with such captivating conviction," said Bhansali.
"She delivered the entire performance through her silences. If my film has got an award for Best Hindi Film, then our entire team owes a lot of it to Rani's performance," he added.
Personally, Bhansali has been unlucky with the National Awards.
"I have never received a National Award for direction. Maybe the criterion for getting one is to design a film that isn't in the popular format," said Bhansali whose films 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' and 'Devdas' have received the coveted award in different categories.
Do you think the National Awards this year have been fair?
Oh, yes, it all depends on the individual jury member's discretion and then there's a collective opinion taken on films. Since the National Awards take into view films from all over the country, they're very important. I'm very happy for Amitji. He deserves the National Award richly for 'Black'. But along with Amitji I'd have liked Rani to win a National Award also.
Why do you feel that way?
For the first time, I think an Indian actor has played a deaf and blind... and with such captivating conviction. She delivered the entire performance through her silences. If my film has got an award for Best Hindi Film, then our entire team owes a lot of it to Rani's performance.
Do you feel Rani should've shared the best actress award with Sarika?
It's very nice to see Sarika being acknowledged. I'm very fond of her acting and I think her performance in 'Parzania' is also very vital. It addresses itself to communal riots and that makes her performance exceptionally relevant. At the same time, Rani represents a small neglected section of society.
Being physically handicapped isn't as in-your-face unjust as riots. But does the average man know what it means to not being able to hear or see? I think Rani portrayed the anguish of the warrior of darkness brilliantly. I think her performance of a physically handicapped person is as socially crucial as the portrayal of a riot victim.
Do you think Rani has been unjustly treated?
I wouldn't like to question the jury's decision at all. But many years ago Jennifer Kapoor didn't get the National Award for '36 Chowringhee Lane'. That still hurts. It was an exceptional performance.
I'd equate Rani's performance in 'Black' with Jennifer Kapoor in '36 Chowringhee Lane', Nargis in 'Mother India' or Seema Biswas in 'Bandit Queen'. Just like them, Rani's performance brings to the forefront the acute hardships of an isolated woman. At the height of her superstardom Rani shed her glamour and gave her all to Michelle's performance in 'Black'.
Maybe she could've shared the National Award with Sarikaji. I want to tell Rani that 'Black' has got a standing ovation in every corner of the country. And that's the biggest award.
You've been singularly unlucky with the National Awards?
That's true. For my first film 'Khamoshi: The Musical' I submitted my papers on time for the award but somehow the print never reached. Then for 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam', the Film Federation decided it wasn't wholesome entertainment. But it did win five National Awards. 'Devdas' too got a National Award.
Personally, I have never received a National Award for direction... Maybe one day in the future. Maybe the criterion for getting one is to design a film that isn't in the popular format.
Your next film 'Saawariya' is in the popular format. Given a choice, would you like it to win popular or National awards?
My first concern is that people should go to see 'Saawariya' and they should like it. If audiences don't come to see my film, there's no point in making it.