The National Awards have brought in some much needed encouragement to the regional film industries, thanks to its jury led by Shekhar Kapur, which has proven it is genuinely appreciative of good cinema.
I guess it's only expected from a man who gave us the sensitive Masoom, the entertaining Mr India and the hard-hitting Bandit Queen before he left Indian shores to chronicle the life of the erstwhile Queen of England.
Notwithstanding the posthumous Best Actress award to Sridevi for her stellar performance in Mom which, to me, ranks second to Parvathy’s brilliant portrayal of a nurse in the Malayalam film, Take Off, this bunch of awards which has Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada languages at the forefront, makes me wish Shekhar Kapur continues as the head of the jury.
Perhaps for the first time since the 80s, the National awards reflect audience's verdict. Movies like Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum have had a great run even outside Kerala, and recognising an actor par excellence like Fahadh Faasil (Best Supporting Actor) shows that the jury has indeed displayed enough patience to dig deep into last year’s films.
Growing up, a National Award-winning film to me meant one that is slow-paced, and one that is almost always a sad story, with painfully long shots of the mundane -- like a person walking in a room. Well, that’s how my tiny brain saw cinema, which was not song and dance. My perception of what the National awards meant changed first when Kamal Haasan, Ilaiyaraaja, SP Balasubrahmanyam, K Balachander, K Viswanath, Mammooty or Mohanlal began winning them.
That’s when I realised mainstream films -- the ones I loved -- were also a huge part of cinematic excellence. That's when I realised that art has no limits, no dos and donts. A close-up shot of a man sipping tea for eighty seconds in the context of the story is as much a good shot as Velu Nayakar dramatically wailing at the sight of his dead son. A film in its totality must stay true to the premise of its story right till the end. That is the sole purpose which, when accomplished, makes for a winning film. Be it Baahubali or Village Rockstars (which I look forward to catching), this single rule -- which differentiates good films from the rest -- is to be met.
Meanwhile, I also wonder about the lack of recognition for great talents we have had in the south industry like Savitri, Ranga Rao, MR Radha, and MS Viswanathan -- people who have never won a National Award. The splendour of Sivaji Ganesan was first noticed in foreign shores before he got awarded in India for Thevar Magan and thereafter, with the highest cinematic honour this country is known for - the Dadasaheb Phalke.
Guess this year's win for regional cinema talents is, in a sense, compensation for all those losses? AR Rahman’s sensitive score for Mani Ratnam's Kaatru Veliyidai is his sixth National Award, thus making his count one more than Ilaiyaraaja. When the sound track released last year I had selected Vaan Varuvaan and Nallai Allai as two gems from Rahman in this same column.
The musical beauty of the two songs which has the essence of the film’s diabolic story woven in it, stands proof of Rahman’s long-standing adaptability to changing times.
That such versatile talents like Rahman and KJ Yesudas (who won the Best Singer award this year) are still giving younger aspirants a run for their money and are being recognised in this country’s most prestigious award platform is heartwarming.
Listen to Urvasi Urvasi from Kaadhalan or Chinna Chinna Aasai from Roja again, and I bet that if we didn’t know they were from films made two decades ago, we would think they were composed for a film being made today. Staying relevant, is the key.