The National Film Awards can help film-makers narrating stories from remote corners
The announcement of the 67th National Film Awards on Monday, to recognise films certified in 2019, quite predictably drew its share of controversies. While some attributed a few of the awards to the political alignment of the personalities and films concerned, there were others who thought that deserving candidates were overlooked. However, there was no disputing the fact that the awards acknowledged both well known and less known films from different pockets of the country. Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali films have always had their fair share of recognition, winning a clutch of awards. Thanks to the blurring of regional and language boundaries in cinema in recent years, a Tamil or a Telugu film, for instance, now stands a better chance at enjoying a pan-Indian theatrical release with subtitles, and thereafter reaching wider audiences through digital platforms. Dhanush, Vetri Maaran and Vijay Sethupathi are names that are recognised well beyond the boundaries of Tamil cinema, appreciated for projects that have smudged the line between art house and mainstream cinema. Dhanush being declared the Best Actor for Asuran, which was also acknowledged the Best Tamil Film, and Sethupathi winning Best Supporting Actor for Super Deluxe, have been lauded widely. Sharing the Best Actor honours with Dhanush is Manoj Bajpayee for his internalised performance in Bhonsle. The Kannada film Avane Srimannarayana was chosen for Best Action Direction. The Malayalam period magnum opus Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea bagged Best Feature Film.
The award that drew the fiercest criticism was that of Kangana Ranaut for being declared Best Actress for Panga and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi . Whether or not her politics was a factor in the choice, there is no doubting Kangana’s talent. Look beyond the noise surrounding this recognition, and the National Awards also put the spotlight on films from the Northeast region — the Khasi film Iewduh for Best Audiography (Location Sound Recordist) and Water Burial, in Arunachal Pradesh’s tribal Monpa language, for Best Film for Environment Conservation. For film industries that rarely enjoy their place in the sun, a National Award should ideally help winning films find a wider audience. It has not always been the case, but there is hope, in a world where cinema may increasingly be consumed on digital platforms. Perhaps, brushing aside the high-pitched debates, it is imperative to look at how some of these less known feature films, and award-winning non-feature films, can find their target audience, without having to rely on marketing muscle. A framework to bring these films to limelight, with the help of digital platforms, will be an incentive to film-makers striving to narrate stories from the remote corners of the country.