'No small artistic film can even hope to win, except, maybe, as random tokenism,' asserts Deepa Gahlot.
Over the last few years, the credibility of the National Film Awards has been eroding.
There is always a controversy over the winners' list. That is to be expected, taking subjectivity into account, and also the various regional cinema lobbies that have to be satisfied.
There should be no connection of a jury member to any of the entries (tough that one!) but the the lobbying begins right from the selection of the jury, representation to various film-making centres, levels of malleability, and so on. Still, it is accepted that the awards are given for cinematic excellence, and not political affiliation.
Film-makers have to enter their films in the categories in which they are seeking awards. Unlike the popular awards, films do not automatically become eligible for consideration.
It has happened in the past that a film has missed out because the producer did not bother to send an entry.
But it should be non-negotiable, that from among the entries, the best film, director or actor should win.
When The Kashmir Files, a film that has been universally criticised for its strident propagandist tone, wins the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration, it brings down the trustworthiness of the selection process.
The film also won for Pallavi Joshi the Best Supporting Actor Award.
How could Jury Chairman Ketan Mehta even announce this with a straight face!
It is a shame that in the line-up of far superior films from across the country, R Madhavan's Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is picked as the Best Film.
That is the only award it wins because Best Director goes to Nikhil Mahajan for the Marathi film Godavari, and other major technical awards are shared between Gangubai Kathiawadi, Sardar Uddham and RRR.
So it is commercial success and Bollywood clout at work here. No small artistic film can even hope to win, except, maybe, as random tokenism.
Stars have consistently been winning National Awards, when really great performances might be found in non-mainstream films.
Alia Bhatt's award is undoubtedly deserved, but Kriti Sanon for the very ordinary Mimi? It also won Best Supporting Actor for Pankaj Tripathi for a routine role.
After its enthusiastic international reception, RRR winning for Wholesome Entertainment and for its music, dance and special effects, is fair, but to appease the increasingly influential Southern film industry, giving Allu Arjun the Best Actor Award for a macho show-offy performance in Pushpa: The Rise is debatable.
Surprising that, Chello Show, the film India thought was worth entering for the Academy Awards, won just for Best Gujarati Film and Best Child Actor for Bhavin Rabari.
The major awards are skewed towards mainstream cinema, though some of the films winning in their respective languages, are deserving of the awards.
However, the films that get media attention are the commercial hits or Bollywood entries and the small film can just hope for some reflected glory.
The offbeat artistic film cannot get a theatre release, an OTT release is also a struggle. The only hope for them is film festival exposure and awards, and the mainstream has muscled in there as well.
The biggest setback for the small film is that if there is a controversy over some of the winners, their awards get somewhat devalued too.
Politics and populism have entered every sphere; cinema, art and culture could not expect to be spared.
In an ideal scenario, there should be no other yardstick but merit, and certainly not commercial success and patriotism, or Gods of cinema forbid, Gadar 2 may end up sweeping the National Awards next year!