The Triumphs And Travails Of An Award

It was an honor to receive the Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) Award for the Best Children’s Film from the President of India at the 57th National Film Awards Ceremony that was recently held in New Delhi.  On the previous day, guided by the irresistible and energetic Director of National Film Awards, Shri Bhupendra Kainthola,  we had a rehearsal were we were told not to give any petition to the President, not to shake the President’s hands and to look into the cameras as we received the award. Well, I forgot to look into the camera at the right moment. The President wisely reminded me to do so as she handed me the medal. I obliged and grinned before scuttling away from the stage.

Incidentally, the award almost did not happen. Two days before the ceremony my cameraman called me up to inform me about a stay order on the award issued by the Kerala High Court through an interim judgment. My film Putaani Party had been jointly declared the winner of the award with a Malayalam language film called Keshu. The politics of the Kerala Film world ensured that someone had filed a case against the granting of the award to Keshu. I called up Bhupendraji’s office, “Should I come tomorrow?” They said “We have no information”. Later on in the day, I got an e-mail – “Your award is on, the stay is only for Keshu.” I felt honored by the interim judgment awarded by the Kerala High Court Judge.

A few years back, I made a film called Suddha. It was shot on standard definition digital video. I did not mind the glitches that a digital projection system for such a film would throw up and I was sure that my audience too would not mind it if I explained to them the context well enough. But I was deprived of the digital projection technology by a reputed company that provides such services.  The Censor Certificate for the film screamed that it was a Feature Film. I could not send it to the National Film Awards for it was not a film shot on celluloid. Before going to the award function I carefully studied the rules & regulations of the present National Film Awards and pleasantly found that digital films are also now allowed to compete in the feature film category. I felt vindicated and of course, honored by the committee that recommended such a change.

Immediately after the awards, a preview of Putaani Party was held in a Tiptur, a small town in Central Karnataka. This was the first time that a preview was being held for the Kannada language speaking children of Karnataka. The show was arranged in a conference hall, the images beamed on a make shift white cloth. There is some sort of GR (Government Rule) at CFSI that all films that it produces should be shown to the children free of charge or for a minimal amount of five rupees – or something to this effect. So, it is quite obvious that no private film distributor would touch these films. The grouse is that these films don’t do well. But at the preview screening at Tiptur, judging by the comments that the kids made in an interaction after the film and by the number of autographs that I had signed on their note books and text books, I am confident that my film has a fan following. I am humbled and needless to say, honored by the way the kids took to the film.

Three days later, there was another preview of the film in Udupi, my home town; in the premises of the Kannarpady temple. In the home town felicitation function, before the show, there were ferocious speakers who unmindful of the frequent power cuts and the context of the function, spoke in length about the niceties of the upcoming Deepavali festival and about a massive event that would happen the next month; the guest list of which included among others Shree Lal Kirshna Advani and Smt. Sushma Swaraj. The local politician who used to pluck flowers from our compound more than twenty years back for the pooja at his house, was powerful enough to call up the Electricity Department and order them not to switch off the Kannarpady line. So, while the entire town was in dark, the preview show went on; images beamed on a wall of the temple stage. There were around fifteen dedicated people watching the film; the rest of the chairs were empty. Taking advantage of the empowered power situation the organizers took an instant decision to serve the promised food simultaneously with the screening.  Before I took my train to Vasai Road, I shook hands with the president of the organistion and thanked him for the honor that his organization had bestowed upon me.

Oh, I almost forgot. An event the day before the Kannarpady temple screening ensured that I was the 1501st name on the guest list. The Udupi Shri Krishna Temple had decided to donate pants and shirts pieces to 1500 needy school children that day, thanks to an pious donor industrialist from Mumbai. There wasn’t a better day to felicitate the national award winner for the best children’s film.  I wished that they had a preview screening of the film for these kids. But I felt blessed and honored when I was bestowed the title called ‘Srikrishna Anugraha’ (Blessed By Lord Krishna). “Now that you have this title, you will defiantly win the Oscars”, whispered a volunteer.

I am back in Mumbai and I would really be honored if I get back into film making now, for amidst the business of being honored I had almost but forgotten about it.

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  1. That was a super peice Ram.Am really really happy about the award. It’s a disgrace that the film is not reaching out to the lakhs of kannnada speaking kids ( at least), with proper projection and seating arrangements.

    Talking of the Shri Krishna temple in Udupi, my father was born and raised there. My grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousins lived bang across the temple. That house does not exist anymore.
    Would love to see the film if you are ever screening in Mumbai.

  2. Cubbu, the guys at tiptur have a digital projector. When they get bored any evening, they go to any village that comes in their mind, any village that does not have a scheduled power cut on that day, befriend the sarpanch, tie the white cloth that they carry along with them and show the kannada version of ‘Inconvenient Truth’. They argue and fight with the villagers about the unsustainable practices that they are having, later have dinner with them at any house and come back. A slice of life outside the dark confines of a theater.

  3. Please accept my belated congratulations on your wonderful National Award for the Best Children’s Film this year. Few directors venture into children’s films for the reasons you have already mentioned. Yet, there are enterprising people like you who never give up. A friend of mine who made a children’s film produced by the CFSI had to wait so long for the public release of the film in Kolkata that the print had got jaded and the projection quality at Nandan II – if you have been there – is horrific for any filmmaker. The film was not very well-made though the story was really very good. But that was not the fault of the director but his choice of the main character drawn from television and theatre who has degenerated to bad overacting.

    I really do not understand when we have such a wonderful audience comprised of children, the I & B Ministry does not take care about distributing and exhibiting these films. The CFSI also seems to be least bothered once the film is over except taking it to film festivals abroad for which the top brass get a free junket for shopping.

    I suggest you contact Gaurang Jalan of Jalan Films in Kolkata who chooses children’s films for the annual children’s festival in Cairo held in March 2010. I can give you the contacts if you do not already have them. And here is wishing you the best for your next film. I won the National Award twice for Best Writing in Cinema. But I still get berated, once publicly by another renowned Kolkata critic while he was addressing an audience on the public platform when he went on about how “some critics try to elevate Hindi cinema to a higher platform by doing their Ph.D. in it” obviously referring to mine which I did in Hindi cinema, the only one to have done so in Kolkata. But that is how the world moves. You win some, you lose some. Incidentally, this guy was part of the Writing Jury this year!

  4. @Shomadi, thanks for the kind words. The film was screened at Cairo, where i did meet Mr Jalan very briefly. Apart from being screened at the main venue, it was also scheduled to be screened at a mainstream theater in a suburb in Cairo as a part of the festival. They had an early morning show. The rest of the day they showed thier regular film which was a Sharukh film. I work up early in the morning found my way to the theater and was greeted by the sweeper. Half an hour after the scheduled time the manager came and the screening got started. I was the only audience!!! He showed the film only because the maker was there. The screening facilities at the main venue was superb, but this was the additional screening for the general public. So, i guess it is the same the world over.

    Just stumbled on this. In 2008-09 CFSI claims it has shown its films at film festivals covering zilla and district panchayat schools for around 34 lakh children. Even if we take an average seating capacity of a theater of 500 it is 6800 shows. If we take an average of 10 films a package each film would have had 680 shows. At 3 shows a day, each film would have run to 226 days!! that’s an amazing number. The potential of these films have never been fully recognized b the mainstream distributors.

    The politics of the National Awards is a different matter.. that is for some other day…

  5. Ram: It’s really great that your film deservedly won the National Awards despite the dirty politics that we all know is associated with it. I guess, they just can’t ignore quality at all times. The problem of screening of films for children mirrors the distribution of meaningful and creative cinema in India versus the big-budget popular films. Have heard pious talks about ‘alternative distribution channels’ for the last two decades or so but sadly very little concrete steps have materialized 🙁
    Very impressed by the efforts of the guys at Tiptur – they seem to have real ‘passion for cinema’!

  6. Super piece, Ram. It is sad that mainstream distributors don’t realize the wealth that CFSI has in its films, and CFSI does not do more to sell them. I completely agree with you that the children if given a chance to see your film, respond in such an overwhelming way. Then why deprive them? Anyway, it’s all such a complicated story.

    Congratulations again on the award. And you did manage to grin well. 🙂

  7. @ Monish – Well known names having quality films under their names don’t get theaters.. forget the likes of us.
    @ Banno. thanks again. I wish more people saw Lilki. I’ll grin harder if that happens.

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