Filmmaker Pradip Krishen is in the hot seat in more ways than one.
Member of the jury at the 48th National Film Awards, he resigned in disgust, alleging interference by a "cynical political cartel" turning the whole affair "into a farce".
He also came in for some flak from actress Raveena Tandon for accusing her of campaigning for the Best Actress award, and that her uncle was a jury member.
He was, however, quick to apologise to her, realising that he had been misled by reports in a section of the press.
Apologies apart, it was a cynical and disillusioned Krishen that Basharat Peer met. Excerpts from the conversation:
Why were both the films that got Anil Kapoor and Raveena Tandon the National Film Awards first rejected by the jury only to be called back later? Did this have anything to do with your resignation?
The two awards have drawn a lot of attention because it concerns two popular stars. But my resignation had nothing to do with these individual awards.
It was not to protest against Anil Kapoor or Raveena Tandon winning the awards.
Let me explain. You see, there were 129 films in the first round. That's a large number; it would have taken us weeks to watch all those films. So the chairman of the jury decided to form four panels with four members each.
They would then whittle down the number. This took around ten days, until we had some 40-45 films for contention. When the shortlist was finalised, people kept wanting to recall one film or the other.
Many of us felt it was a dangerous move: films getting in through the back door for reasons that had nothing to do with merit.
I thought we should have a minimum basis for recall. At least one panel member who has watched the film (being recalled) should say that it is worth the jury's while to watch it. But if the panel has unanimously rejected a film and said it stinks, it must obviously be disqualified.
Some backed me. But we were voted down. The chairman disagreed. We did not suspect then that there were sinister motives at work.
Later, we found that four of the films which were unanimously rejected at the outset went on to win major awards. Some of those who had voted against those films initially voted for them at the last stage .
What the hell was happening? Clearly, some sort of whip was being cracked; people were being instructed to vote for some films. At what stage it had happened, I do not know. Nobody approached me.
Eventually, some jury members insisted on recalling a film like Anil Kapoor's Pukar. It was not even screened properly. Less than half of the film was seen. And it won the best film award for National Integration?!
How can people who haven't seen the film recommend it for a National Award?
That is what I want to know, too. Perhaps some of them saw it when it was released commercially. But the jury was not allowed to see it. I began to feel uneasy.
When you have a group of people bent on doing everything they can to get awards, it leaves you in a humiliating position. You are just a rubber stamp, a token presence.
It was only a matter of time before I resigned.
As for the Raveena Tandon award, four of the panel members recalled the film (Daman). They saw it. They were disappointed. They were looking forward to watching the film since it had a reputed director at its helm.
The opinion was that Raveena Tandon is a glamorous-looking woman from Bombay playing at being a middle class woman. It was felt that the social message being conveyed through the film is dangerous -- domestic violence or Indian male thinking it's his prerogative to beat his wife.
We are talking about ordinary people, not monsters. In this film, the husband is blown out of proportion into this psychopath. So the message was distorted, in bad taste.
It happened to two other films as well: Bharati was unanimously rejected in the first stage. It won three awards. We now realise that the chairman of the jury was actively canvassing for the film.
Some believe that winning awards justifies their being recalled. Do you agree?
That a film eventually won an award is no justification for recalling it.
The point is, how could a film that was unanimously rejected by the jury go on to win an award, unless there was this tight understanding: "Isko to dena hi dena hai" (We HAVE to give this film an award)?
Did you have any problems with the composition of the jury?
Actually, I didn't know some of the jury members. I had no idea, for example, that Shashi Ranjan was once Shatrughan Sinha's PA; nor that he had produced The Shotgun Show.
I did not have any problems with being on the jury until the voting began. Now that was when the sinister designs of the group became clear. Until then, I just assumed that everyone would vote according to their conscience.
Do you mean the group that has links with the BJP ?
Well, the very same.
You see, horse trading on an awards jury is slightly complicated. Suppose I hail from, say, Karnataka, I am decided that a Kannada film will win an award in its category. I will forge an alliance with the majority group within the jury and do a quid pro quo: I will support you on everything else, but you have ensure that my candidate gets the award in his category.
It does not mean that every person who voted the way they did was necessarily a BJP supporter. But it was an unholy alliance. This group had people with links to the BJP.
But it must be said here that Madhumita Raut, who was there just because she is Sushma Swaraj's daughter's dance teacher, followed her conscience and resigned. Even Indu Shekhar did not always work with the group.
Do you believe that members of the National Film Awards jury should have an in depth understanding of cinema?
The regulation for the National Awards clause 19 (b) states: "The jury for feature films will comprise a chairman and not more than 16 members distinguished in the fields of cinema, literature, other allied arts and humanities." Nothing can be clearer than this.
I don't believe that only cinema personalities are eligible for a position on the jury. There are many others who are cinema literate, cinema sensitive.
My point here is that it is not difficult to find a good jury -- if you want to -- clause or no clause.
The situation here is that the government has decided to be utterly cynical about it and say, "Well, we do not want a good jury." Then they throw in two or three token people as window-dressing. And that is sad. To see the way they are devaluing the most prestigious film awards in the country.
The loser is Indian cinema; the loser is Indian society.
Some jury members were not well-versed with cinema or allied arts as per the regulations. What do you think?
I think it reflects badly on the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, which has cynically manipulated the list of the jurors. They will have to answer to this.
You see, the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) sends a list of probable jurors to the Ministry. This list is rather extensive, since the DFF is in touch with people from cinema and allied arts on a professional and day-to-day basis. It would be interesting to compare that list with the final one that the Ministry made.
I hope someone demands to see the list. I am pretty certain that the Ministry interfered with the list such that it completely vitiated the intention of having a decent jury.
If films are not judged by the right people, wouldn't the deserving ones be ignored and thus possibly affect the quality of cinema?
True. However, one must remember not to overemphasise the role that the National Film Awards have played in cinema.
There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s when you had new cinema emerging in Hindi and regional languages. Later, the National Awards and the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) came into prominence.
It's erroneous to say that the National Awards are linked directly to the quality of films, but to devalue the awards is unfortunate.
Whether people are encouraged or not by the awards is debatable. True, the morale of the filmmakers will dip. But awards are not the be-all and end-all of filmmaking. Films shouldn't be made for awards.
In fact, some of those who have won awards this year are seriously considering not accepting the awards as a protest against the happenings.
Here, I would like to appeal to people like Anil Kapoor and Raveena Tandon to give up the awards. It would lend them immense credibility if they had the honesty to say, "Look, we refuse the awards. They have not been given in the right spirit."
Do you see this as an art cinema versus commercial cinema conflict?
Many perceive it as such. Like Mahesh (Bhatt) was thundering on a TV channel. He is firing his canon at the wrong hill and needs to realign it. He is missing the point.
The fact is this has nothing to do with the art and commercial cinema divide. For one, the other contenders for Best Actress were mainstream Bollywood actresses. For another, the divide between art and commercial has really blurred now. Where, for instance, will you slot Shyam Benegal's Zubeidaa?
Some others (not part of the group) and I had no problem with recognising excellence in the films viewed by the jury.
In fact, one of the films that came in for a lot of attention was the Malayalam Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal -- an out-and-out commercial film, very well made, offering wholesome entertainment. Bharati Raja's Kaadalpukal, too, was a commercial film with excellent values.
Were you approached to return after you resigned?
Yes, a day after I resigned, by the director of the festival. Someone from the group had asked her to contact me. She said some members of the clique had agreed to reconsider the Raveena Tandon award and sincerely regretted the way they voted.
She assured me, "From now on, our conscience will dictate our votes."
I wanted to know whether it was an admission that they hadn't been acting according to their conscience until then.
She said, "Come on, don't be difficult. They are offering an olive branch. Why don't you come back to the jury?"
I said, "You can't suddenly say we are going to be honest. My problem was not with one particular award; it was with the way the voting was done for all of them. So either you will have to reconsider all the awards or none."
What did you achieve by your resignation?
When I heard about the awards that were given after I resigned, I found they were actually pretty decent awards.
When I resigned, this particular group was shaken. They must have thought, better not bully everybody else. Obviously, they did not want the others to walk out .
I would like to believe that my resignation made it difficult for this group to insist that every award go its way.
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