Malayalam cinema held the banner of the South Indian film industry aloft at the recently announced National Awards, winning in as many as 13 categories, including a couple of jury mentions, sharing four of these awards with other films.
The industry, where the economic viability of films continues to be a big question mark, has in the recent past shown a penchant for films on offbeat themes and this has caught the jury’s eye. Tamil cinema won five awards, four of which were shared by two films, Telugu had just one film winning two awards and Kannada cinema netted just one award for the Best Kannada film apart from a Special Jury mention.
The Malayalam film Thanichalla Njan directed by Babu Thiruvalla, which won the Nargis Dutt Award for the Best Film on National Integration, was based on communal harmony, with the film focusing on the abiding friendship between a septuagenarian matriarch belonging to a Namboodiri family and a Muslim local body member. Memorable performances by veteran K P A C Lalitha as the Hindu woman and comedienne Kalpana as her Muslim friend, were the highlights of the film. Kalpana won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Award. Spirit, in which ace scriptwriter-turned-director Ranjit, touched on one of the most pressing problems in Kerala, rampant alcoholism, won the award for the Best Film on Social Issues.
Meanwhile, Black Forest, which snapped up the award for ‘Best Film on Environmental Conservation’ directed by Joshy Mathew, was intended to be a humorous entertainer shot extensively in forests around Kerala. Ustad Hotel, one of the last films of the late thespian Thilakan, who won a Special Jury Mention for his role of a Sufi poet and old world hotelier, was helmed by Anwar Rashid, and had Mammootty’s son Dulquer Salman essaying the role of a chef who returns to his roots and to his grandfather’s small hotel. Ustad Hotel shared the award for the Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment with the Hindi film Vicky Donor.
Young director Anjali Menon was a deserving winner of the Best Dialogue Award for Ustad Hotel. Siddhartha Siva’s 101 Chodiyangal, a family drama on a school kid who is asked to frame 101 questions, picked up a couple of awards, the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film of a Director and the Best Child Artist Award for the impish Minon, who acted in the pivotal role with Indrajit as his father.
Music director Bijbal’s background score for the film Kaliyachan, which had a Kathakali backdrop, was adjudged the Best Background Score. Actor-director Lal had the consolation of winning a Special Jury Mention for another outstanding portrayal of a senior citizen fighting odds in the same director’s Ozhimuri.
Well, Vishwaroopam is one film that its actor-director Kamal Haasan will not forget in a hurry. His magnum opus ran into serious trouble with minority groups and Kamal had to move heaven and earth to get it released in theatres. The film, a commercial hit rumoured to have collected two hundred crores worldwide has won two National Awards, one for Best Choreography for Kathak maestro Briju Maharaj and Best Production Design for Lalgudi N Ilayaraja. Vazhakku En 18/9, directed by Balaji Sakthivel, was selected as the Best Film in Tamil by the National awards jury.
Telugu films had never swayed the National awards jury, but this time around, S S Rajamouli’s Eega that stormed the box-office has merited the Award for Best Special Effects and for the Best Telugu Film as well. Kannada film director Seshadri once again hit the bulls-eye with his Bharath Stores, winning the award for the Best Kannada Film. Veteran stage and screen actor H G Dattatreya got a Special Jury mention for his role.
All in all, the jury’s selections have come as a shot in the arm for small filmmakers whose work has been acknowledged at the national level.