The National Film Awards, ever since it was established in 1954, is regarded as the ultimate recognition of merit for an Indian cinema. These prestigious awards are administered by Directorate of Film Festivals, along with the International Film Festival of India and the Indian Panorama. Every year, a national panel is appointed by the Government of India, tasked to select winning entries from cinema across the country.
An 11-member central panel, headed by film-maker Rahul Rawail, was the jury responsible for the declaration of winners of 66th National Film Awards. On August 9, 2019, the awards were announced. The winner’s list took everyone by surprise and many even criticized that the decisions of the jury were politically motivated.
Tamil movie fans particularly slammed the jury for deliberately downsizing entries from their industry. Actor Mammootty’s towering performance in director Ram’s ‘Peranbu’ was highly anticipated to bag the actor his 4th National Award. The angry fans of the veteran actor took it up on the Facebook page of Jury Chairman, Rahul Rawail.
The ace filmmaker responded to this flak by openly posting a message that he had sent to Mammootty.
He wrote, “Hi, Mr. Mammooty. There has been a lot of hate mail’, that to extremely nasty, that I have been receiving from your fans, or so called fan clubs, as to why you were not given the National Award as Best Actor for the film Peranbo’. Let me set the record straight: Firstly, NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO QUESTION A JURY DECISION. Secondly, your film Peerambu’ had been REJECTED by the Regional Panel and hence did not contend in the Central Panel. Your fans and/or devotees should stop fighting a lost cause. Never question a Jury!“
Mammootty, like a gentleman he is known for, apparently apologised to Rahul Rawail, which the jury chairman then shared on his Facebook page. It read as “Sorry sir. I have no knowledge about it. Still, I apologise for what had happened.”
Things took an interesting turn as one of the jury members, Major Ravi had told in an interview, earlier that day, that actor Mammotty was a strong contestant till the final round for his performance in ‘Peranbu’.
“In the second half of the film (Peranbu), it was dragged too much. At that time, it felt like the concentration on the actor had moved away. This is what came up in the discussion and it stood there. Somewhere in the second half of this 2-2.5 hour film, it became dragged out and this is why Mammootty was moved to the side. Otherwise, he was on the rank. I had strongly spoken for him,” he had said. Further, he had also stated “His (Mammootty’s) name came to the final list. But by the time it came to the last deliberation, all their names were gone…Jayasurya, all of them were gone“
When Major Ravi was reached out to comment about the contradictory statement by a leading news media, all queries were dismissed without any proper answer. Also, the Facebook posts by Jury Chairman Rahul Rawail were deleted later.
Unraveling the mess
The logical thing to assume is that Major Ravi, who was well aware of the fan power of actor Mammootty, tried to please everyone by stating that the actor was considered until the very last. Later on, when he was asked for clarification on what he said, Major Ravi completely dismissed all questions and refused to comment.
But, it’s still not clear as to what happened to ‘Peranbu’, a film that had grabbed global attention when it was screened across several International Film Festivals. The movie was unanimously appreciated by the critics and audiences alike. ‘Peranbu’ had a path-breaking story, director Ram had crafted a masterpiece. Performances of Mammootty and Sadhana were simply unparalleled, Theni Easwar’s cinematography & music score by Yuvan Shankar Raja lifted the movie to a whole another level, and yet ‘Peranbu’ was rejected by the South Regional Jury?
This isn’t the first time for Mammootty to be disregarded similarly at the National Film Awards, and yet he has managed to win it, thrice. Surely, the veteran actor has nothing more to prove. He has been breaking his own milestones and I am sure he’ll still continue to do so. Personally, more than Mammootty, I was rooting for the performance of Sadhana. Her performance as a spastic child deserved to be recognised.
‘URI – The Surgical Strike’ had won 4 major awards at the National Film Festival, including, Best Actor and Best Director. ‘URI’ is inarguably a well-crafted movie. But that’s all it is. A subtle commercial entertainer. Vicky Kaushal’s performance was good and grounded, but how was it better than performances in ‘Peranbu’ or ‘Vada Chennai’ or ‘Pariyerum Perumal’?
It’s just not about ‘Peranbu’. Films like ‘Pariyerum Perumal’, ‘Vada Chennai’, ‘Ratsasan’, and ’96’ are some of the few in that list. Not every good film can get a National Award. Yes, absolutely. But at least shouldn’t it be a deserving film that wins the award? It’s about time that a more efficient and transparent system is introduced for the selection of winners for National Film Awards. This prestigious recognition of cinema at National Level should never be influenced or motivated by geo-political agendas, all that should matter is the art and passion of good cinema.
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A fanatic foraging for Good Cinema, a logophile too.