The National Film Awards on Thursday went off script as over 50 winners skipped the ceremony in Delhi, upset that they would not receive the honour from the President. In a break from 65-year-old tradition, President Ram Nath Kovind only handed out the award to 11 of the 137 winners. The rest received it from Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. At Vigyan Bhawan in the capital, many name plates faced down as the recipients were absent.

Jury head Shekhar Kapur tried to convince artistes that they were trying their best to get their demands met after he had a closed-door meeting with jury members. Irani too spoke to filmmakers on Wednesday, trying to assuage their feelings. Several filmmakers said the issue involved prestige.

Officials said the ministry was informed about the President’s programme almost three weeks ago. It is however not clear why the ministry did not inform the award recipients well in advance about it. It is learnt that they got to know that the winners would be given awards by the minister, not the president, only a day before the actual event during the rehearsal which added to their disappointment.

Among the awards that the president handed out were those honouring actors Vinod Khanna and Sridevi, both posthumously. Vinod Khanna’s family accepted the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest film honour in India. Sridevi’s husband and daughters went to the stage to accept her award for the film “Mom”, in a poignant moment in the ceremony.

Taking to social media, Oscar winning sound artiste Resul Pookutty felt that those from the creative world who are often behind the camera, were disrespected. He felt that even though the President said that the awards were very special for 125 winners, Pookutty was of the opinion that not all of them would have felt so special on Thursday evening. As many as 66 awardees signed a letter of protest saying there should be no distinction between the award winners. Many stayed away from the ceremony in protest and Vigyan Bhavan saw a lot of empty chairs as the ceremony started. Pookutty says that if the true feeling was one of honouring the artistes for their contribution, and the President was so pressed for time, the awardees would have been more than happy to re-schedule and make it to the ceremony at the own expense.

Getting awarded by the President of India is a huge part of the ‘prestige’ and the ‘honour’ that comes with the national award. A lot of it gets lost when one isn’t felicitated by the President himself. Not to offend the I&B ministry who gave away the award instead of the President, but he should’ve been there to award all the winners and not a just 11 or so out of 130 odd winners, specially a lot of them being the technicians who play a huge part of the film making process. It would’ve been a real honour for everyone, getting awarded by the president, having a picture clicked and then hanging it on the walls of their houses with pride. A lot of people didn’t turn up where they should’ve had. But the President should also understand why they didn’t turn up and why just awarding a few and not the rest will make the rest feel, rather insignificant; at least in the eyes of the President. Trade Magazine