commentWhy do the highest honours conferred on the film industry by the nation seem little more than regional recognitions?
Every year, a filmmaker in a north-eastern state wakes up to the news that his film has won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Assamese. He erupts with joy. His family erupts with joy. His circle of friends erupts with joy. His cast, his crew, his financiers, his on-set caterers erupt with joy. The local newspapers erupt with joy. The rest of the country, however, goes about making breakfast and going to work and returning from work, navigating the evening's traffic with practised nonchalance, unaware that there is, at that moment, in that corner of Assam, an extraordinary eruption of joy. They aren't aware, either, that in the midst of their utterly ordinary day, a Konkani filmmaker has been similarly roused to exhilaration, along with his colleagues making films in Manipuri, Tulu, Monpa and Kokborok. The latter is the language of the residents of Tripura. Who knew they made movies? There is, in the name of the recognition, the suggestion of far-flung inclusiveness — they are, after all, theNationalAwards, awarded by thenation. Why, then, this sobering reality of celebrations in localised pockets? The days after the awards were announced, you could not run across a Chennai newspaper that did not gloat, good-naturedly, about Tamil cinema's handsome harvest, the way we swell with pride with each win by Chennai Super Kings. That is a local team, the fount of local pride — and yet its achievements would have been recorded by newspapers from other states too, northern and southern, eastern and western, if not quite with a similar spirit of chest-thumping. The way this local team plays is relevant to the nation, the championship is a national event. But scan these same newspapers, the ones from outside the state, and how much coverage of Dhanush (Best Actor) or Vetrimaran (Best Director) or Saranya (Best Actress) are you likely to find? Very little. If tradition is any indication, the Kerala papers would have gone on to celebrate “Adaminte Makan Abu” (Best Feature Film), the Kannada press would have shone a spotlight on “Hejjegalu” (Best Children's Film), and the media in Maharashtra would have put on its front page the alliteratively named “Baboo Band Baaja” (Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film of a Director). The other winners would have found mention in a dry report, alongside the mandatory listing of every award awarded, from the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration to the Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation. And this leads to the question, every year, about what, really, is sonational about the National Awards. In the sense of a prize being presented by the nation, the name certainly fits — but twelve months later, who really remembers who, last year, was declared the nation's best actor? No one remembers who film magazines choose to award. But, then, no one takes these awards too seriously. Those with the sweet tooth for the kind of candied live entertainment these awards shows are built on take pleasure in the song and dance, in the rare flash of wit from the presenter, in the summoning of memories by a lifetime-achievement winner. The awards themselves are mere metal, a tchotchke on a table, the other end of the spectrum from the National Awards, which are wreathed in a nimbus. Creators yearn for them with the profound passion of sages standing on anthills on a single leg, arms propitiating the heavens. The attainment of one during one's career is nothing less than a divine visitation. Isn't there something strange, then, that an attainment of such grandeur is accompanied by so little glory, at least outside the achiever's neighbourhood?
A contrasting situation
In an ideal scenario, film lovers in Gujarat would be able to watch “Aadukalam” (winner for Best Actor, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing) at a local multiplex, or at least rent a felicitously subtitled DVD, and we in Chennai should be able to make weekend plans for “Mee Sindhutai Sapkal” (Best Adapted Screenplay). But even after being awarded the nation's highest honours, these films play nowhere else in the nation. It's impossible not to contrast this situation with the Oscars, Hollywood's highest honours. We wait breathlessly for the ceremony. We stay invested in who won, who should have won. And the awards themselves, once bestowed, either add to box-office earnings (if the film is still in release) or legitimatise the film through generations (“Ben-Hur... the winner ofeleven Academy Awards!”). Will anyone, twenty years hence, recall “Aadukalam” as the winner of six National Awards?