National awards have always been controversial.
However, the disputes over deciding on the film awards were less this time. The award ceremony could have hence been made a prestigious affair. But the event turned a lack lustre one. The incidents were such that the Minister and the authorities who organised the function seemed bent upon raking up a controversy. The film awards ceremony which has been taking place smoothly for the past 65 years without any major complaints has led to a huge protest and disheartenment this year. What kickstarted a protest was a change in the program schedule in such a way that President of India Ram Nath Kovind would present awards only to eleven out of the total 140 winners while Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of State, Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore would give away the awards to the remaining winners. Until last year, the President handed over the national film awards in all categories to the winners. The change in the program was a jolt to the filmmakers and artists who came to Delhi with much elation from different states across the country along with their families to receive the honour from the President. As collectively stated in their letter, the ceremony in Delhi felt like dejection rather than an honour for those who proved their talent in the field of film-making. When they came to know of change in program a day before the award ceremony, the filmmakers and artists expressed their disappointment and shared it with the I&B Minister Smriti Irani. However, with the authorities firm in their stance, about 70 awardees decided to boycott the award ceremony. A national event that should have been held smoothly and jubilantly thus turned topsy-turvy.
President Kovind has reportedly decided to allot only one hour to such programs because of his busy schedule. Minister Smriti Irani has also said that she could not make a change of schedule for thePresident. However, many have brushed aside this claim of hers. Also, question arises as to why the awardees were not informed beforehand if the President had informed earlier that he could allot only an hour for the event. The 65th National Film Awards were announced on April 13. In the invitation letters sent to the winners, it was stated that the awards would be presented by the President of India. It was amidst the rehearsals ahead of the ceremony that the awardees who reached Delhi with much elation came to know that it was not the President who would be handing over all the awards. Chaitanya Prasad, additional director general of the Directorate of Film Festivals, had initially informed the winners that the presentation of the awards would be held in two phases. Following this, it was only after they received the program schedule that the winners realized how big the change in plans was.
I&B Minister Smriti Irani who had agreed to intervene in the matter and resolve the issue when the controversy erupted, did not respond later. What was the need for this hide-and-seek? The awardees might have called it a ‘breach of trust’ due to their immense disheartenment. As a few said, it was the hope that they could receive their awards directly from the President which brought them to Delhi. Else, the prizes could have been sent home via post. There is also much dearth of clarity on the decision as to whom the eleven winners are, who are to receive the awards from the President. The authorities have sabotaged a pristine national ceremony which involved the country’s first citizen. We could not help but say that even the Rashtrapati Bhavan has made a flaw in this matter. The former Presidents even in their poor health had shown the zeal to honour the citizens who excelled at the national level.
Rashtrapati Bhavan clarifies that the ‘protocol’ since the President took office was that he would attend all functions only for one hour. Has the other ‘protocol’ of directly honouring those who have been invited on his behalf become outdated? Isn’t the fact that the Rashtrapati Bhavan being unaware of the fact that the invitation letters sent in name of the President misled the invitees, also a violation of ‘protocol’? One thing is certain; there has not been any flaw on part of the awardees. They blindly believed the invitation sent on behalf of the first citizen. And therefore, the decision taken by the majority of the winners to boycott the award ceremony cannot be blamed. They had repeatedly made clear that they do not intend to boycott the award but they are not attending the ceremony as they are left with no option. Some of the winners have expressed solidarity with those who have been ‘'discarded' and have signed the letter showing their decision to boycott the function. However, the act of a few of them despite signing the latter later receiving the awards forgetting their word, have also been noted. They have their own reasons. But the nation realizes this flaw, which could have been avoided, with much sorrow; with fury as well.