Unlike other years in this decade, a majority of National Film Award winners this year are familiar. Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Paan Singh Tomar, Vicky Donor, Kahaani — these are all films and actors who, either by dint of reputation or viewership, are identifiable. While some circles might, of course, consider their success an unfortunate affirmation of the nation’s Hindi-centricity, it would be myopic to view their laurels as ill-deserved. Apart from Vidya Balan’s win for her performance in The Dirty Picture and a popular prize for Dabbang, Hindi cinema or Bollywood hasn’t had much to cheer about at the National Awards in recent years.
This latest round of accolades from the government’s kitty points sharply to a well-scripted Bollywood resurgence.
Previously, the Hindi films that won the coveted award have often not been easy to access. Biplab Roy Choudhary’s Shodh (1979), Prakash Jha’s Damul (1984) and Shyam Benegal’s Samar (1998) were all films that by virtue of belonging to a ‘parallel’ cinema, were always impossibly distant. Critical appreciation for Paan Singh Tomar apart, the film that was made on a shoestring budget of R8 crore, was able to multiply its earnings to all of R38.4 crore. Irrfan Khan, who will be felicitated by President Pranab Mukherjee for his performance in Paan Singh Tomar, is, on the face of it, just as comfortable playing a walk on-part in an inconsequential multi-starrer.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose performances in Kahaani and Gangs of Wasseypur earned him an acknowledgment from the special jury, was recently seen in a potboiler opposite Bipasha Basu. From the days when it gave its audience a rigid choice between mainstream and hard-hitting cinema, Bollywood appears to have moved to a point of grace where it gives its colleagues and their viewers the opportunity to have both, the recreational and the meaningful.
Even if the jury appointed by the Directorate of Film Festivals wasn’t interested in the evolution of the Hindi film industry, it does seem to have set a precedent of sorts by deciding on novelistic films like Paan Singh Tomar and Vicky Donor. In awarding these films the jury has helped give a slowly-maturing Bollywood the little push it needed while climbing up the progressive ladder.