74 angry winners write letter of protest to govt body, say President’s decision to hand over just 11 of the hundreds of awards is ‘discrimination’.
New Delhi: More than 40 National Film Award winners boycotted the presentation ceremony Thursday after President Ram Nath Kovind decided to personally hand over awards to just 11 of the over hundred recipients, owing to a paucity of time.
On Thursday morning, 74 awardees signed a letter of protest addressed to Chaitanya Prasad, additional director general of the Directorate of Film Festivals, a media unit under the information and broadcasting ministry which organises the event, expressing their disappointment at the “discrimination” they were subjected to.
“It is only a day before the ceremony that we have learnt through Mr Chaitanya Prasad that a large segment of the awards will not be presented by the Hon’ble President of India. 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,” the letter said.
However, some of the 74 awardees who signed the letter did eventually attend the event, given that they had their family members along, and felt emotional pressure not to disappoint them.
The awardees reiterated that they were not against the awards or the President. “We have high respect for the President, it is only the decision to discriminate between award winners that is the point of contention,” an awardee said.
The ceremony was eventually organised in two phases. The first set of awards, beginning 4 pm, was given away by I&B minister Irani and minister of state (independent charge) Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. The President presented the second set of awards after 5.30pm.
Efforts to no avail
ThePrint had reported Wednesday that the awardees were contemplating boycotting the award ceremony after they were informed at the eleventh hour of the President’s decision. The press secretary to the President, however, confirmed that the organisers were informed about the President’s plan “well in advance”.
I&B minister Irani had to rush to Vigyan Bhavan, where the final rehearsal was taking place, to pacify the awardees Wednesday.
On Thursday, Shekhar Kapur, eminent filmmaker and the head of the jury for the 65th National Film Awards, along with another filmmaker and jury member Rahul Rawail, also met the awardees and tried to persuade them not to boycott the ceremony. Kapur reportedly told the awardees he would speak to government authorities about their demands, but no solution could be arrived at.
‘Deprived, deceived, disappointed’
R.C. Suresh, producer of Malayalam documentary Sword of Liberty, said the awardees felt deprived, deceived and disappointed at the way they had been treated by the organisers.
“We do not want to attend the ceremony at the cost of our self-respect,” he told ThePrint.
Suresh and Nilima Eriyat, whose Tokri won the award for best animation short film, also skipped the ceremony.
“We are not the against the President or the ministry. Our point of contention is about the last minute change of plan and us not having being informed when an official invitation letter was sent to us about 20 days ago. The letter clearly stated that the award would be presented by the President himself, as this has been the tradition last 64 years,” Nilima said.
Samarth Mahajan, who won the award for best on-location sound (non-feature) category for the film The Unreserved, said: “We are not rejecting the award, but skipping the ceremony because it is not being done the way it has been traditionally done in the last 64 years. It’s not a government award, it is a state award. It is supposed to be given out by the office of the President of India.
“We were informed yesterday that there is a ‘minor tweak’ in the programme. It took us a lot of time to process what had actually happened.”