Following reports that President Ram Nath Kovind will only present 11 of about 140 National Film Awards this year, several artistes took to social media on Thursday to express their disappointment. Nearly 70 recipients have reportedly skipped the ongoing ceremony at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi. Minister for Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani gave away the other awards.
This is a departure from the tradition of the president presenting the award every year in the presence of the information and broadcasting minister. The Rashtrapati Bhavan expressed its surprise at being questioned at the “eleventh hour” about the ceremony.
“The fact that the president will be available at the awards function for one hour was communicated to the organisers weeks in advance,” Kovind’s press secretary Ashok Malik said. “It has been the practice ever since the president took over that except for Republic Day or very important meetings, he will spend up to an hour at all other functions.”
While some recipients such as Baahubali producer Prasad Devineni and musician AR Rahman said they did not want to “insult the awards” by not taking them or that they were not sure about “whose side to take”, several filmmakers and other film personalities pointed out that the National Awards were only prestigious because they were awarded by the president.
Best Playback Singer awardee Shashaa Tirupati said she was disappointed and felt “terribly disrespected” about not receiving the award from the president, according to IANS. “It’s like the thrill of it is gone now. I was so excited,” she said. “My father was going to fly down from Vancouver. I am thanking my stars that he didn’t.” She attended the ceremony with her mother.
Tirupati added: “National Awards and the president go hand-in-hand. For 64 years, they have been given by the president. When you speak of the National Award, automatically people visualise the president handing over the award to the recipient.”
Director Hansal Mehta, who won the National Film Award for Best Direction for Shahid in 2014, told The Indian Express that this was not only disappointing but also humiliating and unfair to the winners. “Not to undermine any minister but it’s the biggest recognition that an artiste gets from his or her nation and it’s given by the president,” Mehta said. “These winners had already reached Delhi and they were in the middle of their rehearsals when they were informed. That’s humiliating.”
Film editor and screenwriter Apurva Asrani, who won a National Film Award in 2001, claimed the awards have lost credibility these days. “Politics and star power rule over truly deserving artists,” he said. “I don’t care who hands out the awards. I care more about why Akshay Kumar was conferred Best Actor last year and not Manoj Bajpayee for the performance of a lifetime for Aligarh.”
Here are some other reactions: