It was an impressive debut for the Byari feature film industry with its initial product, simply titled Byari, sharing the top prize at the National Film Awards 2011.

The film, made in the dialect of the Byari Muslims of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, shared the Best Film Award with Marathi film Deool, which also snagged the Best Actor Award for its male lead Girish Kulkarni.

In the midst of a sweep for regional films, the only major prize won by a mainstream Bollywood movie went to actor Vidya Balan, who took the Best Actress Award, and even that was for her portrayal of a south Indian film siren in the biopic The Dirty Picture.

Regional wave

Surfing the crest of this regional wave is Byari, which explores the distress of a woman trapped within the rigidity of her community's religious and cultural traditions.

The Byari language, which linguistic experts describe as Malayalam idioms with Tulu phonology and grammar, heavily spiced with an Arabic influence, is usually written using Kannada letters as it does not have a written script of its own.

Well researched

This is the first ever feature film made in the language. Director K.P. Suveeran said he researched the society and its beliefs before making the limited-budget film, while most of the actors in the film are Malayalam or Tamil speakers.

Deool too explores the impact of religion — in this case, the issue of commercialisation of faith in a rural setting — as well as the impact of globalisation on village youth. When a local politician builds a huge temple instead of a hospital in his village, it brings prosperity, but at a cost.

The best popular film award went to Tamil film Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai, while Gurvinder Singh won the best director award for Punjabi film Anhe Ghorey Da Daan.