New Delhi: A dangerously divided Indian film industry, with artistes campaigning for different political parties, a sudden spurt in biopics of politicians in the midst of the elections, and uncertainty over President Ram Nath Kovind’s presence at the ceremony have all contributed to the postponement of the 66th National Film Awards ceremony this year.
The awards ceremony is now expected to be held after 19 May, once the Lok Sabha elections end, but the exact date hasn’t been decided yet.
Since 2012, the ceremony has always been held on 3 May — a symbolic date as it commemorates the release of the first Indian feature film, Raja Harishchandra, directed by Dadasaheb Phalke. Even in 2014, the ceremony was held on 3 May after the I&B ministry secured permission from the Election Commission.
Around 145 awards across various categories are given out at the National Film Awards, and the winners are usually announced by the end of April. The winners are honoured by the President.
The I&B ministry officials first wrote to the EC to secure permission for this year’s event but later changed their minds sensing a possible controversy that the ceremony could get embroiled in because of the elections.
A divided industry
It is common knowledge that the ongoing Lok Sabha polls have widened the rift in the Indian film industry, particularly Bollywood.
Last month, over 100 artistes had issued an appeal urging Indians not to vote for the BJP in the elections, listing a host of reasons such as cow vigilantism and marginalisation of Dalits, Muslims and increasing censorship.
Within days, over 600 artistes, including film and theatre celebrities Amol Palekar, Naseeruddin Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma and Lillette Dubey, joined the anti-BJP front.
On 10 April, however, actor Vivek Oberoi, who played Modi in the Prime Minister’s biopic, classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj and music composer Shankar Mahadevan among others urged voters to support the BJP.
“In such a situation, if for instance, a particular artiste considered close or supportive of the ruling party gets an award, unnecessary aspersions will be cast on the prestigious awards,” a senior government official said. “The government wants to avoid that.
“For instance, after Akshay Kumar interviewed the PM, if he gets an award that is announced now, people are bound to wonder if the selection process has been influenced,” the official added.
The rise of biopics
Moreover, the film industry has been tapped by political parties, evident by the number of artistes openly campaigning for different parties. There has also been a rise in the number of biopics on political personalities in the last few weeks, which has also raised new concerns for the Election Commission.
“If any of those artistes involved in the biopics are awarded, it may lead to unnecessary speculation. Holding the film awards in such circumstances would have invariably lead to controversies,” said an official from the Directorate of Film Festivals — a media unit under the ministry of I&B that organises the National Film Awards.
“Moreover, I&B minister Rajyavardhan Rathore may not be available for the ceremony because he would be caught up with the polls,” the official said. “The awards also include a category for the best state, which would lead to speculation during elections.”
President may not give all awards
Last year, the film awards ceremony was mired in a massive controversy as several awardees boycotted the ceremony when then I&B minister Smriti Irani stepped in to give away the awards after President Kovind left midway. This was a departure because earlier presidents used to stay for the entire ceremony and give away all the awards themselves.
Those awards were then sent to the awardees’ addresses through post by the Directorate of Film Festivals.
Highly placed sources in the government told ThePrint that this time too, President Kovind has refused to give over 10 awards. Discussions to convince him are still ongoing, and the ministry is also considering the option of inviting Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu to give away all the awards this time. The awardees may get to meet the President, after the event.