Why Vikram was not given a National Award?

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Why Vikram was not given a National Award?

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Awards are controversial. They evoke mixed public emotions. That’s not new. What’s new is that we, as audiences, have become more aware about the bias-fraught process that characterizes awards. What’s new is that we have started asking questions, forming and voicing our opinions and becoming more reluctant to blindly accept lame excuses that allow such inefficient processes to persist. Before you read any further, you must know what this article is not and what it is.


This article is not a sentimental tirade from an ardent fan supporting her beloved actor; neither is it an attempt to find out who must be the primary blame-recipient in this scenario nor is it meant to be disrespectful to those who were in fact selected by the jury to receive the prestigious National Film Award. On the contrary, this article is a call for more transparency in the nomination and selection process for the National Film Awards. It is a coherent account of why we, as audience, feel let down by the process and why we must conduct a deeper examination of this situation and think about what it means for those of us who care about films, fairness and more generally, practices in our country.

On March 28, 2016, the 63rd National Film Awards were announced. In the days that followed, several social media outlets became channels through which several members of the film fraternity and the audiences wondered, questioned and demanded why Vikram did not receive the National Award in the Best Actor category. Fair question. Setting aside all our positive emotions that we have toward Vikram, let’s just take a look at this question more logically. For his immensely powerful role in ‘I’, Vikram portrayed four completely different looks, lost over 25 kilograms in weight, spent 11 – 17 hours a day for several weeks to get his extravagantly difficult prosthetic make-up on, squeezed his throat to dub for the hunch-back character and that too in three languages and even went on to remove his own tooth for the role. These are facts. In addition to the physical transformation that Vikram went through, his gripping performance in each of the four avatars is also a fact.


Now that we have our facts in order, the only logical conclusion that we can come to is that the National Awards jury didn’t believe that this is the kind of hard work that is award-worthy. That conclusion is bound to make us all invariably very angry, disappointed and question the process. That is what we did. We are not clamoring for the award and nor are we disrespecting the people who did receive the award. We are becoming disbelievers in the validity of the process and questioning to understand how such an outstanding effort can go unnoticed. Of course, we can brace ourselves and say that we need not care about awards when Vikram’s effort did not go unnoticed by the audiences. That is objectively true. However, turning a blind eye only makes it okay for those in the system to solidify their bias-fraught selection process and be free of any moral dilemma. We, as audiences, cannot allow that.


In a recent interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaR0s0PKgUA), jury member Mr. Gangai Amaran, provided some clarity around what really transpired in the process. He said that ‘I’ was not in the short-list of films that made it to the final round, for various reasons known only to those involved in the screening process. He also admitted that he exercised his power as a member of the jury and asked to re-examine ‘I’ and another Tamil movie. This request was apparently countered by several requests from other members of the jury to re-examine two movies each from their regional languages. Ultimately, this led to a substantial list of movies that were requested re-examination. He said that because this process would take more time than initially planned, the jury decided to forgo re-examination and move forward with their existing list.

Do logistical issues and time limitations of the jury make it okay for a stellar performer’s hard work to go unnoticed? Shouldn’t jury members meet and start the process early so that there is enough time for re-examinations, if needed? Does this not make us want to dismiss the process? If Vikram did not receive the award because his incredible performance was remarkably trumped by another more incredible performance, that gives us reason to trust the process. But if regional politics and lack of time are the key drivers of this result, that is just deeply discouraging. We can gracefully turn the other way, but we shouldn’t. It would not be ethically right for us to turn away without seeking more transparency in the process.

Here is a question to begin this conversation on transparency in the National Awards selection process: What is the specific role of jury members in the National Awards Selection Committee? Are they there to: (a) vouch for and support their regional films, or (b) are they there to pick the most deserving candidate in each category, regardless of regional affiliations? If we find out that the role of jury members is to support their regional films, then we need people who can be the loudest champions of our films amidst other dominant voices. If it is as it should be, and we find out that members of the jury are there to pick the most deserving candidate, then we need to have members who strive for being ethically righteous enough to admit who deserves the award the most, without biases driven by regional loyalties. In any case, as audiences, we should be privy to what the responsibilities and guiding principles are for those who agree to be members of the jury members and how selections are made. That will allow for more public accountability – the real need of the hour in these award selection processes.

Roshni Raveendhran
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