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A monumental task

A monumental task
Highlights

The just-earned freedom on the social media, thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment allowing almost –well, almost – a free exchange of ideas, howsoever controversial or outlandish, is best exemplified by the response to the National film Awards that have been announced.

The response to individual film awards remains on the usual Bollywood-versus-regional cinema and ‘commercial’ versus ‘art’ cinema lines

The just-earned freedom on the social media, thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment allowing almost –well, almost – a free exchange of ideas, howsoever controversial or outlandish, is best exemplified by the response to the National film Awards that have been announced.

Sections of media that are already in the game of organising their own awards have sought to play down the ‘government’ awards, not without subjecting them to the usual controversies. There is always the ‘why’ and “why not me” to any decision – give it to the “argumentative Indian” with free-wheeling views on three subjects in particular – cinema, cricket and politics.

One would have thought a person as genial as Shashi Kapoor would meet universal applause on receiving the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, but no. People have jumped into the fray, through their proxies. But “Why Shashi now” is a valid point. He is already on wheelchair, like B R Chopra did for receiving his Phalke and Pran, at 90-plus died the same year he was given Phalke. The long forgotten cinematographer V K Murthy was pulled out of his retirement when he undoubtedly deserved it much earlier.

Acknowledging that the list of ‘outstanding’ contributors to cinema is bound to be long in the world’s largest cinematography, can there not be a sense of urgency since it is an annual exercise? The “why not me” question seems asked anywhere you go. Shah Rukh Khan, the more popular of Bollywood’s Khans and Kumars, generated controversy when the Sultan of Melaka in Malaysia chose to confer him with ‘Datuk’, akin to British knighthood or Indian ‘Padmas’.

Malaysian film-makers chaffed at an ‘outsider’ being picked till they received a lesson in practical business strategy. Shah Rukh had shot three films in Malaysia and that is free publicity for Malaysia – so, why not? The response to individual film awards remains on the usual Bollywood-versus-regional cinema and ‘commercial’ versus ‘art’ cinema lines. Indeed, the quality of films and their commercial value varies widely and the gap cannot be filled just by wishing. No other nation makes films in a score of languages in as many states, each reflecting its unique cultural ethos.

This makes the task of any government, any jury, difficult. To expect the jury to decide on the basis of language, region or the market reach of the competing films is unfair. Bollywood, the villain, has been applauded for promoting woman power in ‘Queen’. But more awards have gone to the critically acclaimed ‘Haider,’ with (or despite) its controversial take on militancy in Jammu & Kashmir. The jury’s verdict needs applauding as much as the peoples’ verdict in that state’s elections, leading to a unique political experiment that is now underway. Politics and cinema are, after all, harbinger of ideas, whether or not their time has come. The State’s task is to let them/make them work.

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