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|March 30, 2001||
'The verdict stands, like it or not!'
Ronjita Das and Nidhi Taparia
Did Raveena Tandon deserve to be Best Actress for her performance in Daman at the National Film Awards 2000?
Did Anil Kapoor for Pukar?
Why were both the films, which were unanimously rejected at the elimination stage of the awards, recalled and then go on to win best actor and actress awards?
His resignation from the awards jury has filmmaker Pradip Krishen ruefully saying that these films got in through the back door for reasons that had nothing to do with merit, alleging that some members of the jury had links with the BJP.
Our concern here is a little more basic. Has the pleasure gone out of winning a National Award? In the light of the recent controversy, is it ever possible to have an impartial jury? Are our National awards just another sham?
Kalpana Lajmi, director of Daman, feels that the media is to blame for the controversy being blown out of proportion: "The media should get their facts right before they publish their articles. No one has the right to rob Raveena (Tandon) of her merit!
"In fact, her uncle (Macmohan, who was on the jury) was asked not to vote. The jury members appeared on Zee Television Network and in newspapers and clarified the issue. The jury can never be unanimous on any issue. But they shouldn't make such issues public."
Senior filmmaker and director Shyam Benegal, who won the award for Best Hindi film, (Zubeidaa), is saddened by the controversy, "I think it mars the credibility of the awards.
"It takes away the pleasure of winning that award. I think it calls for some damage control and some repair on part of the film committee."
Anupama Chopra, a first time National Award winner for her book, The Making Of Sholay, agrees that the controversy threatens to overshadow the awards this year. "Controversy and the National Awards are inseparable, and have been so for years. But this year, it might devalue the awards in the layman's eyes. There will always be the question whether the person won due to politics or merit."
Counters Lajmi, "You can't deny the stature of National Awards because of a few people. It is the highest award in the country, on par with the Padmabhushan, Bharat Ratna, Paramveer Chakra, etc. It is the ultimate award for films. The jury might be questionable, not the Award."
Filmmaker and winner of National Award for the Best Director (Utsav) Rituparno Ghosh looks at the controversy very matter-of-factly and is quite unfrazzled: "Despite the controversy, this is a very special award for me. My personal contribution to the film has been recognised.
"Controversies are bound to happen in any creative field. In fact, they help to let creativity prosper. But of course, quality controversy should be maintained. A unanimous decision tends to get monotonous and kills creativity. Democracy is controversy."
Is an unbiased jury just a dream then? Having chaired the National Jury in 1988, Shyam Benegal thinks it is difficult to be impartial. "But a jury must be selected in such a way that they cancel each other's biases out. Which also means looking into the procedure in which the jury judges a film.
"As it stands, the jury comprises a bunch of filmmakers and film professionals who are expected to give up three weeks of their time to review a plethora of films. These people are divided into groups where each group gets to see only a particular set of films. So not every member gets to see every film, which does create a certain conflict."
Lajmi insists, "The jury must accept the majority vote, not consider every single opinion. No one can put a gun to your head and force you to put the rubber stamp, after all."
The measures? Manifold.
Lajmi is all for the selection process followed by the Oscars, where a large number of jury members view the films over a period of six months, individually, as well as send in their votes by secret ballot.
"But for our National Awards, the procedure is very different. An electorate makes a long list of people for the jury. The list is given to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, which then adds or subtracts from the list, and whittles the number down to 16 members plus a chairperson.
"These people then have to view 120 films in just three weeks. Where is the scope for an impartial, unbiased or correct judgement?
"The jury must consist of cinema-literate, impartial people -- not necessarily film personalities -- who are mature enough not to let personal problems and conflicts between colleagues affect their judgement. This way, the selection can be carried out with dignity.
"For that, a lot of homework and thought must go into the selection process. The current process of selecting the jury must change."
For Shyam Benegal, the chairperson of the jury must set firm guidelines on the basis of which the Awards will be judged. "When I was chairperson of the National Jury, we, as a committee, decided well before the judging process began, the parameters on which to judge the films: Aesthetics, narrative, script, performances... all the elements that constitute a good film should be considered in the right perspective."
Rituparno Ghosh feels that the credentials of the jury must be checked. "Once a jury is decided, it should be publicly announced, the better to check the credentials of the jury. Let public opinion be formed before the ballot is cast."
In spite of the controversy, Lajmi is very happy. "I am very proud of Raveena. The award will help her a lot. She will be recognised as an actress of calibre. For me, the film will have a wider audience, as people will want to see her in the film."
But it is Benegal who says, in parting, "You have to accept the verdict of the jury, whether you like it or not!"
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