National film awards presented amid row, many winners stay away

New Delhi, May 3

President Ram Nath Kovind confers Dadasaheb Phalke Award on veteran actor Vinod Khanna (posthumously), being received by his son Akshay Khanna and wife Kavita Khanna, during the 65th National Film Awards function at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI

The National Film Awards were presented on Thursday but protests over the President handing over the honour to only a select set of winners cast a shadow over the 65th edition of the highest government recognition for the film industry with many of the recipients staying away.

In a departure from tradition, the function, held at Vigyan Bhavan, was divided into two phases. The first set of awards was conferred by Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and the Minister of State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

The second lot, which included posthumous recognitions for Vinod Khanna and Sridevi (Dadasaheb Phalke and Best Actress, respectively), was presented by President Ram Nath Kovind.

“We will miss them forever,” the President said in his speech.

The murmurs of discontent over the new practice under which the President was not going to present the awards to each of the winners began to gain ground during the rehearsal of the ceremony yesterday when the winners were informed about the change.

Traditionally, the President gives away all the National Film Awards.

In an open letter earlier in the day, marked to the Office of the President and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, over 70 artistes said they were skipping the ceremony as they “felt dejected rather than honoured” on being informed at the last minute that the President would give away only 11 awards.

More than 60 National Film Awards recipients skipped the ceremony as President Kovind presented only 11 awards

“It feels like a breach of trust when an institution/ceremony that abides by extreme protocol fails to inform us of such a vital aspect of the ceremony with a prior notice. It seems unfortunate that 65 years of tradition are being overturned in a jiffy,” read the letter, signed by prominent names such as director Kaushik Ganguly, best supporting actor award winner Fahadh Faasil and singer K J Yesudas.

Ganguly, whose film “Nagarkirtan” won multiple awards, including the best actor, special jury, makeup and costume, skipped the ceremony, even though the film’s lead Riddhi Sen, who won the best actor award, was present.

The names of some of the people who stayed away from the ceremony were not announced.

When contacted, Ganguly said he did not attend the event to support the fraternity.

“This does not mean that we are rejecting the awards. But the president is supposed to give us the award. It is something special that cannot be replaced and there was no information given to us,” Ganguly told PTI.
“He pointed out 65-70 people had decided not to attend the function.

“So, I decided to go with the fraternity,” he added.

Expressing “surprise” at the “11th hour questions”, Rashtrapati Bhavan today said in a statement that the President attends all award functions for a maximum of one hour.

“This has been the protocol since he took office. It was conveyed to Information and Broadcasting Ministry several weeks ago and the ministry knew this all along. Rashtrapati Bhavan is surprised by the 11th hour questions that have been raised,” said Ashok Malik, press secretary to the president.

Some of those who had signed the letter attended at the ceremony. Among them was Yesudas, the best playback singer award winner this year.

“I don’t want to comment on this,” he told PTI. “The President invited me so I’m here.” Sridevi’s daughters—Janhvi and Khushi—and husband Boney Kapoor attended the ceremony to receive her posthumous best actress award for her last release “Mom”.

“We feel proud of her achievements and we miss her today. We miss her very, very much,” Boney said.
Actor Akshaye Khanna and step-mother Kavita Khanna were here to receive Vinod Khanna’s posthumous Dadasaheb Phalke award.

“We are really proud as a family. It is a bittersweet moment for us. I wish my father was here to receive this award. I am missing him. It is an emotional day for us,” Akshaye said.

Divya Dutta, who won the best supporting actress award, said it was a huge honour for her. “It’s my first national award. My certificate will have the President’s stamp and it doesn’t matter if I get it from him or not,” she said. Dutta’s award was presented by Irani.

Kovind, who presided over the national film award ceremony for the first time, described it as a special moment.

“I must begin by congratulating each of the 125 award winners as well as the countless artistes who have worked on films that are being recognised today. This is a special moment,” he said.

Paying homage to the two late artistes, he recalled their “finest films”—Khanna’s “Mera Apne” and Sridevi’s “Lamhe”.

“They are more than just box office successes. They tug at our hearts,” Kovind said. Irani also paid warm tributes to Sridevi and Khanna.

“Today on this stage we also honoured a woman who is not among us anymore. It is her first win… I remember Sridevi, who not only left a great impression on the film world but on our lives as well,” she said.

Recalling the “calibre” of Khanna, she said: “The President today also honoured a personality who, on the basis of his calibre, created history not only in cinema but also in politics.”

Among those present at the ceremony were composer AR Rahman, best feature film director Rima Das, “Newton” director Amit Masurkar, best actor Ridhi Sen, best female singer Shasha Tirupati and best Assamese film director Utpal Borpujari.

Director Shekhar Kapur, who headed the jury for the feature films section, was also present for the ceremony at Vigyan Bhavan.

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