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Devgan won fair and square

This time the National Film Award bagged by Ajay is well deserved, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2003 18:16 IST

It has never been particularly easy to keep the National Film Awards and controversies apart. Just when we had begun to wonder whether the latest 22-member jury has indeed managed to steer clear of imbroglios, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, one of India’s most admired living filmmakers, has ensured that things stay on the boil.

The Thiruvananthapuram-based director has questioned the very propriety of Prakash Jha’s chairmanship of the 2002 National Film Awards jury, besides suggesting that the Best Actor award went to Ajay Devgan on considerations other than merit.

Much as one respects Adoor and his cinema – his latest film, Nizhalkkuthu, has incidentally been adjudged the Best Malayalam Film of the year – it would be unfair not to put the facts in the right perspective. The thrust of Adoor’s allegation is that Jha had reason to favour Devgan because the Mumbai star is the lead actor of his upcoming film, Gangaajal.

The professional linkage between Devgan and Jha is undeniable – the latter even directed the star’s home production, Dil Kya Kare, a few years ago – but under the rules as they exist that did not disqualify Jha from chairing the feature films jury this year. Jha had no direct association with any of the 138 feature films entered for the National Awards this year

Under the clearly laid down film awards regulations, a jury member has to sign a declaration to the effect that he has no relatives or financial stakes in any of the films that are entered for the National Awards.

The rules say nothing about associations that may exist beyond the familial and the pecuniary. If they did, there would be nobody left in the film industry to man the jury.

The semantics apart, this year’s awards selection process, built upon a two-tier system, was absolutely transparent and democratic. In the first stage, members rated each of the short-listed films in the categories in which they had been entered on a scale of one to ten. The tabulation at the end of this round yielded the top five names in each category. The winner was then decided by an open vote.

On the final day of deliberations, in the Best Actor category, Devgan was the hot favourite from the very outset although he did have a couple of strong actors from down south to contend with.

When the category was put to vote, he won fair and square, bagging an overwhelming majority of the votes. Significantly, Jha himself did not cast his own vote in any of the categories bar one, when a tie had to be broken.

The question is: should Ajay Devgan have been penalised simply because the jury chairman happened to be the director of one of his many forthcoming films? That would have been a complete miscarriage of justice. Devgan’s interpretation of the legendary figure of a revered martyr in The Legend of Bhagat Singh was a demonstration of both skill and sensitivity.

It may be argued that the actor was far better as a brooding, ruthless underworld don in Ramgopal Varma’s Company, but unfortunately the film was not entered for the awards. The Best Actor award for Devgan is, in a way, a token of recognition for the sheer consistency of the work he did in 2002 and any insinuation that he isn’t a deserving winner would be blatantly unjust.

First Published: Aug 02, 2003 11:13 IST