He shared the honour with Hindi actor Rajkumar Rao (Shahid).

It was left to a man known mainly for doing comic roles to ensure that the 61st National Film Awards, which were announced in New Delhi on Wednesday, did not end up on a tragic note for Malayalam cinema. Suraj Venjaramoodu saved the blushes for Malayalam, by winning the Best Actor award for Perariyathavar. He shared the honour with Hindi actor Rajkumar Rao (Shahid).

Suraj turned out to be the only major award winner for Malayalam. In fact, Malayalam won just two more awards in the features section, making one of the smallest gains ever for the language. Even last year, Malayalam had walked away with a dozen awards.

This time around, only Dr. Biju, who directed Perariyathavar and sound recordist D. Yuvaraj were the winners for Malayalam cinema, besides Suraj. Biju’s film was adjudged as the best in the category of environment/ conservation/ preservation, while Yuvaraj was honoured for the final mixing of the track in Swapaanam, directed by Shaji N. Karun, a winner of the award for the best film on three occasions. Between 1999, when Shaji won the second of those three awards (for Vanaprastham), and 2010, Malayalam had won it five times. In 2000 too, India’s best film had spoken in Malayalam, with Shantham, directed by Jayaraj, winning the award. “It is disappointing to see that Malayalam cinema is not the force it was in Indian cinema,” Jayaraj, who was a member of the jury that decided the National Awards last year, said.

“Our films are clearly on the decline and a main reason for that is that our films are moving away from our culture and language, unlike films of other languages, such as Marathi. Malayalam cinema has been making rapid strides technically, but it is time we focussed more on the content of our films.”

As if to prove that point, technicians from Malayalam cinema picked up awards for their works in other languages. Rajeev Ravi won the award for the best cinematography for Liar’s Dice, a Hindi film, which was directed by his wife Geetu Mohandas, who has also been a popular actress in Malayalam cinema.

In the non-features section, Christo Tomy won the award for the best debutant director (Kanyaka), while Gautam Nair won the award for the best audiography for Chidhiya Udh. Anil Radhakrishnan Menon was one of the few Malayalis who could afford a smile on Wednesday, as his debut feature, North 24 Kaatham, was adjudged the best Malayalam film.