Over 60 National Film Awards recipients have decided to not attend the award distribution ceremony here on Thursday as President Ram Nath Kovind will be giving away only 11 awards, breaking from a long-held tradition, which they have condemned it as a "breach of trust".
The filmmakers and artistes from across the country have written a letter addressed to the Directorate of Film Festival, President's office,and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to express that they feel "dejected rather than honoured" for their work. Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani is slated to give away the remainder of the 137 awards.
It was on Wednesday that the awardees were informed that a large segment of the awards will not be presented by the President. They discussed the matter with Irani the same evening and were promised a reply.
"In the circumstance of not receiving a response for our grievance, we are left with no option but to be absent for the ceremony. We do not intend to boycott the award, but are not attending the ceremony to convey our discontent and are awaiting a more just solution," the letter read.
"It feels like a breach of trust when an institution/ceremony that abides by extreme protocol, fails to inform of such a vital aspect of the ceremony with prior notice. It seems unfortunate that 65 years of tradition are being overturned in a jiffy.
"...We are disheartened to know that we will be deprived of the honour of this appreciation of a once-in-a-lifetime moment of pride and glory that the National Film Awards had promised us," the letter added.
The undersigned awardees have urged that the dignity and eminence of the National Awards be maintained and there is no display of hierarchy at the event taking place at the Vigyan Bhawan here. Names like Riddhi Sen, Divya Dutta, Rima Das, Pankaj Tripathi, K.J. Yesudas, Jayaraj and Bhanita Das were seen taking early seats at the ceremony.
"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 read added.
The President will hand over the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Nargis Dutt Award for Feature Films on National Integration, Best Book on Cinema, Best Direction (non-feature film), Best Jasari Film, Best Male Playback Singer, Best Music Direction (songs and background music), Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Direction (feature film), Best Feature Film and Best Editing.
Singer Shashaa Tirupati feels "terribly disrespected".
Shashaa, who has bagged the best female playback singer for Vaan Varuvaan from Kaatru Veliyidai, told IANS: "It's like the thrill of it is gone now. I was so excited. My father was going to fly down from Vancouver. I am thanking my stars that he didn't. It would have been such an embarrassment because he would have flown down to see me getting the award from the President.
"National Awards and the President go hand-in-hand. For 64 years, they have been given by the President. When you speak of the National Award, automatically people visualise the President handing over the award to the recipient."
Actor Riddhi, the Best Actor winner for the film Nagarkirtan, will receive the honour from the President. But he finds the decision for others unfair.
"My award of Best Actor will be handed over by the President because it is coming under those 11 categories. There is no doubt about the fact that what is happening is wrong. This is discrimination and this is absolutely unfair."
Riddhi, 19, said "this has never happened in the history of the National Awards and is hence very shocking".
"It a matter of tradition which has been going on for years. This kind of discrimination is very wrong."
Nagarkirtan director Kaushik Ganguly said: "The National Award is a matter of passion for many as it is the President's Award. Even the newspaper advertisement clearly mentions that 'Awards will be handed over by honourable President'."
Ganguly pointed out that the National Awards are an "apolitical award".
"When ministers get involved, the essence of this award no longer remains the same. Dreams have been shattered and many recipients have felt very much insulted," Ganguly said.
"The President could not spare an hour or so for the deserving awardees of the mation. We haven't taken this change in a good light and have taken it as a disrespect," he added.