Murmurs have already begun and barbs are already being pointed, if not hurled, at some of the recipients of the 67th National Awards. As a rule, the National Awards are considered the ultimate badge of honour, a true hallmark of cinematic talent celebrating excellence in Indian cinema. Of late, alas, the prestigious awards have been losing their sheen and the announcements are invariably followed by controversies. Aspersions are already being cast on the Best Actor Award for Kangana Ranaut, who has in the recent past transformed into an unofficial spokesperson of the ruling party at the Centre. As she picks up her fourth National Award, more than eyebrows are being raised.
Most of the jury’s choices can be faulted. Despite the rich haul of Malayalam cinema, the Best Feature Film award for Priyadarshan’s Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham is a reminder that the country’s top awards recognise cinema that apes Baahubali-kind of historicals, if not outright Bollywood masala. Moreover, Manoj Bajpayee, an actor par excellence, and gifted actor Dhanush deserve the Best Actor Award. Even in the case of Kangana, beyond her party affiliations, she remains a talented actor. Yet, the National Awards can’t be seen as a reward for party loyalists. Nor should these be handed out to appease certain sections of fans, as the award to Sushant Singh Rajput starrer Chhichhore in the Best Hindi Film category is being read by many sceptics.
Undeniably, no award jury can ever arrive at a ‘please-all’ formula and as veteran director Shyam Benegal once said, ‘another jury will come out with a different set of winners.’ Yet those at the helm of saluting the best must not only be fair but like Caesar’s wife be above suspicion. The National Awards are far too prestigious to come under the shadow of censure. Amidst the circus which other award shows have become, the National Awards must stand tall. These should neither fall prey to increasing Bollywoodisation nor to partisan selections.