Controversy clouds 65th National Film Awards as President limits presence at presentation ceremony
More than 50 award winners did not turn up at the 65th National Film Awards presentation ceremony on Thursday to protest against a departure from the past, when the President used to hand over all the prizes himself.
President Ram Nath Kovind gave away just 11 of the 137 awards, including the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award for lifetime achievement. Minister for information and broadcasting Smriti Irani and minister of state Rajyavardhan Rathore presented the remaining awards.
Absentees said they skipped the ceremony because they wouldn’t have received the awards from the president due to departure from convention. Rashtrapati Bhavan insisted that the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) had been informed weeks in advance of the ceremony that the president would spare only an hour for the function, restricting the number of people who would be able to receive an award from him.
An MIB official said “a few disgruntled elements” were responsible for the non-appearance. “The ministry tried to reason with them and even sent film maker Shekhar Kapur, who chaired the jury that picked the films, to speak to them. Eventually, the solemnity of the occasion was preserved and 78 awardees were present,” added this person who asked not to be identified.
Earlier, 70 award recipients had announced in an open letter that they would not attend the function to protest the departure in the award presentation. Several recipients who had signed the letter, such as singer KJ Yesudas and film maker Prasad Oak, later turned up. In the letter, the awardees specified that their move did not constitute a “boycott”, but was merely an expression of their disappointment over the President’s decision.
The awardees also complained that they hadn’t been informed of the President’s decision till the day of the rehearsal, on the eve of the presentation ceremony. The President’s office said the ministry had been informed of the decision weeks in advance.
“President attends all award functions and convocations for a maximum of one hour. This has been the protocol since he took office. It was conveyed to the MIB several weeks ago and the Ministry knew this all along. Rashtrapati Bhavan is surprised by the 11th hour questions that have been raised,” said Ashok Mallik, press secretary to the President.
When the MIB official cited above was asked why the ministry chose not to convey the message to award winners in time, he said: “Even if the decision had been conveyed earlier, the threat of boycott would still have persisted. There are some disgruntled elements and trouble makers who would have still created problems.”
The widow and a son of actor and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Vinod Khanna received the Dada Saheb Phalke award posthumously; the family of actor Sridevi collected the best actress award given to her for the movie Mom, also posthumously.
Bengali actor Riddhi Sen got the Best Actor award for Nagar Kirtan and the Best Feature Film award went to Assamese film Village Rockstars. The National Awards have been an annual event since 1954. The awards are given in three sections – feature films, non-feature films and best writing on cinema.