Controversy could well be the second name of our National Film Awards. As the results of this year’s awards get entangled in a fresh round of arguments, we wonder what is it that makes these awards - the nation’s most sought after cinematic honour - court controversy so often?
Jury credibility: Popular notion is that anyone who can pull the right strings with the I&B ministry can get a berth in the jury.
However, former jury members say this is an exaggeration. "Many deserving people don’t want to be a part of the jury as you have to stay in New Delhi for a month and watch an average of five films every day. It’s a tedious job,” says filmmaker Ashok Pandit.
Another complaint is the jurors’ relationship with the contenders. Character actor MacMohan was on the jury in 2001 when his niece Raveena Tandon won for Daman. "It’s a question of integrity," says two-time jury member Rauf Ahmed. There have also been instances when Raza Murad and Anjan Srivastava walked out and Amol Palekar withdrew from the chairmanship, when their films entered the competition.
Winner’s worth: Terming the questioning of the worth of winners a below-the-belt attack by sore losers, Ahmed says, "Why pull down the winner for the jury’s decision?" It began when Rekha won the Best Actress Award for Umrao Jaan in 1982. Many felt that Jennifer Kapoor should have won for 36 Chowringhee Lane. Ever since, awards have courted controversy, especially when a performance from mainstream cinema has bagged an honour (remember Amitabh Bachchan’s Agneepath win in ’91?). Veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee refused his Special Jury Award in 2001 for Dekha, calling it an "insult vis-à-vis the choosing of unworthy actors for prestigious awards." (Anil Kapoor had won for Pukar). Saif Ali Khan’s win (Hum Tum) last year was also termed 'undeserving.' "Why are the awards questioned when they are given to commercial cinema?” asks a National Film Award winning Bollywood director, on condition of anonymity.
Lobby power: And every time a particular region sweeps the awards, allegations of lobbyism surface again. When Bengali and Malayalam cinema were at the forefront, insinuations were made about a Leftist lobby. In the BJP era, there were murmurs about a saffron-Bollywood lobby.
It took a nasty turn in 2001, when three members walked out alleging a "saffronisation of the awards" (courtesy the presence of Panchjanya editor Tarun Vijay, BJP MLA Nivedita Pradhan and the then I&B minister Sushma Swaraj’s campaign manager, Parvati Indusekhar).
The anonymous director sums up: "They are an institution that need to be preserved in an era where TV programmes are masquerading as award shows." Let’s see.