The juries deciding the National Film Awards this year checked their tendency to hold up Hindi cinema as the gold standard of excellence. But they seem to have relented in the best actor category. What else explains the award for Akshay Kumar in Rustom?
Kumar’s performance in Rustom, based on the sensational KM Nanavati murder trial of 1959, is one of his laziest. If the jury had to give the charming and audience-friendly star an award for his 2016 roles, it could have picked Airlift. Based on the government operation to rescue over one lakh Indians in 1990 from Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Raja Menon’s film features a career-best performance from Kumar.
But it’s still not good enough to be named as the best performance in a country with numerous cinemas in various languages. There were far stronger performances in the other movies that won national awards this year, especially from Malayalam cinema – such as Fahad Faasil in Maheshinte Prathikaram (it was named Best Malayalam Film) and Mohanlal in Janatha Garage (he got a special mention). From Bollywood itself, Aamir Khan was impressive in Dangal, but his drama had to be content with a much-deserved prize for Best Supporting Actress award for Zaira Wasim.
The juries for the feature film category, headed by Malayalam director Priyadarshan, spread the glory around this year after falling under Baahubali’s spell in 2015. In a more star-struck year, Ram Madhvani’s Neerja, based on the courage of Pan Am airhostess Neerja Bhanot, might have won the Best Feature Film award. It was given the prize in the Hindi film category, with the honours being reserved for the Marathi drama Kaasav.
Directed by veteran filmmakers Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar, Kaasav (Turtle) explores the relationship between a troubled woman and the suicidal young man whom she shelters. The movie stars Irawati Harshe and Alok Rajwade.
The staggering number of categories for ensures that everybody goes home happy. Do there need to be National Film Awards for visual effects (won by Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay) or action and stunts (bagged by Pulimurugan)? How many films qualify for Best Narration/Voiceover (for the documentary Makino)?
Separate awards for Best Feature, Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment (Telugu comedy Sathamanam Bhavathi) and Best Film on a Social Issue (the Hindi production Pink, about sexual assault) also ensure that movies that are populist as well as socially relevant don’t return empty-handed.
There were questionable choices, as always – cinematography and production design for the strictly average Tamil movie 24; a special mention for Sonam Kapoor’s ordinary performance in Neerja. The most eyebrow-raising choice was Akshay Kumar. The Bollywood star is going to appear in a series of socially themed films for the next couple of years (including Toilet Ek Prem Katha and Padman). This isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of him.