One of the biggest criticisms of the National Awards this year is that it has a large Bollywood presence in its awardee list. Not just that, there seem to be many popular films winning awards: Bajranji Bhaijaan, Tanu Weds Manu Returns to name a few.
However, one of the most polarising debates pertaining to the awards this year is whether or not SS Rajamouli's magnum opus Baahubali: The Beginning should have won the National Award for the Best Feature Film.
Many filmmakers have lamented that the National Awards have awarded only commercial films (a feat unlike them). Gurvinder Singh, the director of Chauthi Koot says in this Hindustan Times article, "I don’t think any sane jury will give an award to a film such as Baahubali. It’s full of populous Hindutva iconography. It’s just a bad calender art film.”
And now, veteran filmmaker and four-time National Award-winner Girish Kasaravalli has a pertinent point to make about why Baahubali should not have won the Best Feature Film award.
According to this report in The Hindu, at an event in Bengaluru, Kasaravalli said, "The award given to Baahubali has already triggered a big debate in the social networking arena." Kasaravalli has no problem with popular films being chosen for the award as earlier winners have touched upon some social issues. His reason is that in picking Baahubali, the jury has ignored many regional films,"which touched upon issues plaguing society”. Apart from this, he also criticised the film for for its “insensitive portrayal of the subaltern communities".
Truth be told, this could just be the first time a popular, mainstream film is winning the Best Feature Film award. But popularity isn't something we should be bothered about. While films like Dabangg, Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and Veer Zara have previously won Best Popular Film awards, this year Bajrangi Bhaijaan was picked for Best Popular film. Fair enough.
However, the last couple of years, here are the films that have won Best Feature Film: Court, Ship of Theseus, Paan Singh Tomar, to name a few. Socially-relevant regional films like Deool, Kanjivaram, Adaminte Makan Abu and Kasaravalli's Dweepa have also been given the award. There are a handful of Hindi films in this list. Perhaps the most mainstream of them would be Page 3, which won the Best Feature Film award in 2004.
Dweepa was released in 2001 and deals with the issue of building dams regardless of the dangerous displacement of natives/locals. 2007 winner Kanjivaram is a perfect example of a mainstream film that dealt with a pressing social issue. The Priyadarshan film revolves around the pitiful state of silk weavers from Kanjivaram in Tamil Nadu. Marathi film Deool, which won the Best Feature film award in 2011 discusses the globalisation and politicisation of India's villages.
"Except technical excellence, what is the qualification of Baahubali in terms of social and cultural relevance?” asked P Sheshadri, a filmmaker working in Kannada films, in the same event that Kasaravalli was present.
Valid point. More so, the pressing question to ask would be: Why wasn't Baahubali chosen to be awarded the Best Popular Film this year at the National Awards?