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The National Awards continue to confound

April 21, 2014 15:11 IST

Rajkummar Rao in ShahidIn a year where we can find positives in wins for the great Gulabi Gang documentary and ace cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, the silver lining doesn’t seem as wide if our priorities remain as skewed.

There are few awards as consistently confounding as the National Awards, where films seem picked neither by artistic quality or box office barometer, but rather as if several movie-names were put up on a dartboard and a blindfolded jury went ahead and did its thing.

Occasionally, despite the blindfolded, chancy format, the right films are rewarded and we all applaud; the rest of the time we shake our heads and wished we had one award ceremony in this country -- one jury, across all the awards and festivals we have in India -- that even came close to rewarding the right people for the right films. 

Click here for a complete list of winners at the 61st National Awards. 

This year, for example, three films won bigger than the others: Ship Of Theseus, Shahid and Jolly LLB. 

Congratulations, then, to Hansal Mehta, the Best Director winner (Shahid), for having triumphed in most cinematically underdog fashion: Mehta’s story -- that of an envelope-pushing director mired into mediocrity by producers and circumstances, beaten up by political goons and then, after many years on the sidelines, getting the chance to tell the inspiring tale of slain human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi, a sincere film that turned his life around -- is one that should be made into a movie, and I’m wondering which of our actors could pull off that striking silver mane.

Well done, sir, and kudos also to his leading man Rajkummar Rao, who is one of the finest in our current lot and deserves every nod he gets.

Rao shared the Best Actor award with Suraj Venjaramoodu, who is apparently stunning in the Malayalam film Perariyathavar.

This was the good bit.

What happened with Ship Of Theseus is flummoxing.

It isn’t surprising that such a huge critical darling -- a film more people read layers into than actually exist, a film everyone wants to say they get, and most importantly, as fellow critic Sudhish Kamath astutely summed up, a film that makes a less-evolved audience feel more intelligent by dint of extreme accessibility -- would be singled out for praise, but what prizes?

Instead of rewarding the remarkable Neeraj Kabi with a Best Actor trophy or hailing Pankaj Kumar’s sublime work with a Best Cinematographer award, they gave it Best Feature Film and, bizarrely, Best Supporting Actress for Aida El-Kashef, who was unquestionably that film’s weakest link. 

I was amused with some parts of Jolly LLB and remember saluting Saurabh Shukla’s work in my review, and while that Best Supporting Actor award is all very well, calling a slapdash, amateurish, poorly written, preachy film like Jolly LLB the Best Hindi Film of the year is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

The mere existence of broadly-drawn satire doesn’t make the film good or relevant, and this is a significant step backward for our cinema, the sort that encourages hacky writers and filmmakers with an aversion to subtlety. God save us.

As for the film rewarded for Wholesome Entertainment (a prize that has also been won most notably by Dabangg in recent years), Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag seems to have won (aside for Farhan Akhtar’s stellar cardiovascular work) for thumbing its nose rather needlessly at Pakistan. Sigh.

In a year where we can find positives in wins for the great Gulabi Gang documentary and ace cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, the silver lining doesn’t seem as wide if our priorities remain as skewed.

Raja Sen/Rediff.com in Mumbai