The National Awards came and went again. What was most apparent this year was that the national awards are not treated as national awards any more. The more and more you look into regional media, you will find that it tends to highlight only the achievements of its own regional film industry. The Tamil media said that Tamil cinema left a deep impression at the National Awards, Malayalam media chose to highlight only the achievements of the Malayalam film industry, Bollywood was talking only about Vidya Balan; one’s best guess is that almost all regional media did the same. It is not that Tamil or Malayalam or Hindi media completely overlooked other awards; but they featured only as footnotes in otherwise glowing accounts of their own victories. This makes us think; why have National Awards at all?
Let’s leave that; that’s the way things are going to be. But, the awards of 2012 chose to honor some unsung heroes of cinema. The phrase ‘unsung hero’ is actually ironic in the way that once you call someone an unsung hero, he no longer remains one because he has been recognized. One would have scarcely imagined that Appukutty would rise to such great heights in a matter of just years. Normally, such actors who do the fringe and supporting characters have to devote a lifetime to cinema before their talents are duly recognized. But, destiny and that wonderfully gifted director Suseenthiran, escalated that process, bringing recognition swiftly. But, the award leaves only one question? What is the difference between being the lead actor and the support actor? For all those who watched the film, Appukutty (his real name is Sivabalan) was definitely the lead actor. How come then, was he considered for the supporting actor honor? That is a bit perplexing; who was the lead actor in Azhagarsaamiyin Kuthirai – the kuthirai? We would like to know the criteria that determines who is a lead actor and who is a supporting actor. But, however it happened, we are happy that Appukutty got the award. It somehow vindicates what Ilaiyaraja said during the audio launch of Azhagarsaamiyin Kuthirai. He had said that Appukutty can do things that even Rajinikanth can’t; (he had meant playing such simple and humor laden characters). Now, it has turned true; Appukutty has won the National Award; something that has evaded Superstar – not that he needs one to prove anything to anyone.
Another awardee with very strong connections to Tamil cinema who got almost no video coverage is Mallika. Don’t know Mallika? Think of Vijay’s sister in Thirupachi. Yes, her name is Mallika and she is one of the actors to be honoured at the National Awards; a special jury commendation for her performance in Byari. The film Byari is something great in itself because it has made us all aware of a language that we never knew about. Byari is a language that continues to exist somewhere on the Kerala-Karnataka border; a language fighting for existence without a script of its own.
Byari is a film that has shown us the power of the medium called cinema. What years of television programs about the cultural and linguistic diversity of India could not do, the film did. Till the film released and till it won an award, one can vouch that a great majority of India was oblivious to the existence of such a language and culture. Byari the film has put the language on the map of India and in the minds of its people. It only needed a push from all regional media to complete its impact. But, regional media being regional shines its spotlights only on its own victors. Byari, sharing the National Award for the best film, gets two lines, almost as an afterthought. Just ask yourself – which other film shared the award for best feature film with Byari this year? If you don’t know the answer, then ask, do we really need National Awards or can we just cocoon ourselves in the warmth of regional victories?
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