Many film artistes who made unequalled contributed to their field have not been recognised. Why so?

When the National Awards were conceptualized in 1954, the motivation was to honour meritorious artistes for outstanding contribution to their respective areas of work. Initially, the prizes may have been “owners’ pride” but they lost much of their sheen with inclusion of many ‘ineligible’ or controversial personalities who had no achievements to back their credentials. In fact, the annual ritual of gleaning through the list of awardees has died out primarily because the National Awards have acquired an inglorious reputation with political and bureaucratic prejudices dictating choice of winners.

Go through the list of prize winners of last six decades and you find many distinguished names left out clearly for reasons other than merit. And one has to agree with noted historian-scholar Romila Thapar who declined honours by saying “National Awards don’t come without Government’s patronage and I would not like to be tainted with these controversial awards”. While complaints about manner of selections and quality of recipients can entail a thesis but here we would focus on the gross incongruities in honouring film greats whereby many seasoned artistes were left out with complete disregard of their creative and artistic prowess.

People are aghast as to why greats like Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Sadhana, O. P. Nayyar, Mehboob Khan, Vijay Anand, Suraiya, Abrar Alvi, Madan Mohan and Kishore Kumar were never bestowed even with a Padma Shri even though many ordinary performers like Asha Parekh, Aishwarya Rai, Udit Narayan and Kavita Krishnamurthy were conferred the same. What offends most is why giants like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Pran, though later awarded Padma Bhushan, were denied the Padma Shri awards when even juniors like Om Puri, Danny and Shekhar Kapoor were conferred the same without any reasonable body of work to their credit!

Strangely, while these seniors received their Padma Bhushans after almost four decades of hard grind, artistes like Aamir Khan were decorated after less than two decades of work! What is worse is that till date a complete artiste like Kamal Haasan enjoys only a Padma Shri while many others like P. Susheela, Girish Karnad and Shabana Azmi were felicitated with Padma Bhushan! Shabana would herself deem the awards process as flawed especially when her much venerated writer-father Kaifi Azmi was only decorated with a Padma Shri while she was conferred with both the Padma Shri as well as the Padma Bhushan!

The absurdity of our National Awards process is best exemplified by the fact that not only music composer Ilayaraja was decorated the same year as his disciple A.R. Rahman but also that Dilip Kumar has been placed in the same league as Naseeruddin Shah and Aamir Khan!

Domination by civil servants and politicians in the awards list leaves you in no doubt that many fine artistes cannot win if they are apolitical or devoted only to their art. Probably, for this reason Mohammed Rafi and Dilip Kumar have been denied the Bharat Ratna despite their shining credentials whereas M.G. Ramachandran, M.S. Subulakshmi and Lata Mangeshkar got it easily. History is replete with instances where ‘singing odes of political masters’ (pun intended) have always paid rich dividends and present times are no different and many observers feel the chosen three would have been ignored had it not been for the political climate of the country at that time. The three as also V.V. Giri and Rajiv Gandhi would surely nod in agreement with the observation as, despite their obvious talents, helpful regimes alone put them on their high and exclusive pedestal where many others had equal, if not better, claims.