If you are dying to know whether the sexagenarian Amitabh Bachchan, for the second time in his career, has won the Best Actor National Award (for his performance in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s melodramatic Black) in the face of competition from Kerala superstar Mohanlal and multi-faceted character actor Anupam Kher, you might have to wait a little while longer. Bachchan had won the award for the first time in 1990 for Agneepath.
While the awards winners have been identified, their names cannot be announced just as yet. This has added yet another convoluted chapter to the muddled saga that the National Awards have lately become.
Controversy and the National Film Awards usually go hand in hand. But never before have India’s annual state-sponsored awards for excellence in cinema been mired in as big a quagmire as they are this year.
The 53rd National Film Awards, decided at the end of a three-week-long exercise conducted by a 12-member feature films jury and a six-member non-features panel, have been sealed and delivered to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. But the names of the winners cannot be formally made public on legal grounds.
Last month, a division bench of the Bombay high court had ruled that uncensored digital format films could be entered for the national awards, opening the gates for a large number of independent entries that hadn’t been submitted for censorship.
A key clause of the National Film Awards rules and regulations stipulates that a film, fiction or non-fiction, has to have a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification in order to be eligible for entry. The Mumbai court order had reversed that rule.
However, the juries constituted by the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) went ahead with their deliberations, leaving uncensored non-feature films out of the purview of the selection process. In all 125 feature films and 160-odd non-feature films were in the running for the National Awards this year.
The ministry is understood to be seeking legal opinion on the Bombay High Court order as well as on the jury proceedings that have just been concluded in what could be construed as a contravention of the court ruling.
The members of the feature and non-feature juries, headed by veteran south Indian actress B Saroja Devi and television personality Siddharth Kak respectively, have done their job and returned to their home bases. The list of award winners is now with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in sealed envelopes, but the formal announcement has to be kept in abeyance until the legal grey areas are negotiated.
One possibility is that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry might appeal against the Bombay High Court order on uncensored films. In that eventuality, the announcement of the awards might get delayed even further.
Worse, if the ministry fails to have its way in spite of filing the appeal, the entire jury process would be at risk of becoming null and void.