Not since Giani Zail Singh, President of India held centre stage three decades ago, no speaker  kept his audience enthralled and appreciative of the speech of the day as did Vice President Naidu last week in Vigyan Bhavan. It was a stellar performance and no script writer could have written this  work save for the speaker himself. A former Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Venkaiah Naidu was stalking familiar ground when he took hold of the microphone. It was a flying start when he wished his listeners Namaste in nine of the official languages, taking the audience by surprise. He chided the press cameramen from obstructing his view with the audience, and that gave him a round of applause. Thereafter there was hardly a moment when a round of applause would  signal the end of an idea or praise.

Naidu agreed with the verdict of the Jury that the best child actors’ award to four young under teens, was well merited. He  applauded the fact that Indian films were now more socially conscious in story narrative.

Naidu drew inspiration for his speech from his own experience of seeing Telugu films and showed pride in the achievements of this regional cinema. He said  film Bahubali showed to the world that Indian films were  world class  technology in cinematography. They were  big foreign exchange earner but more Indian cinema was now  greatly appreciated for   what it represented. He said Indian cuisine, films and yoga were now appreciated worldwide. Indian films were being seen because they represent models of joint family with grandparents,  families of brothers with their children all living together. Naidu said it was not Prime Minister Modi who had popularized yoga practices worldwide, but the Indian teachers who had travelled to teach yoga to the world and they had explained the necessity of good health. Maintaining good health has been an ancient objective of each Indian. He cited the example of Amitabh Bachchan who he said even at an age of 77 years, he showed a physique which the younger generation of his admirers wished to follow.

Naidu took his audience on a roller coaster ride from one aspect of cinema to another. He stopped to note the recreated role of the once famous actress Savitri of Telugu cinema, by the Malayalam actress, Keerthy Suresh, and the lady gushed a silent thank you as  Naidu went on to shower praise on her stellar role in the film. Naidu missed the presence of Amitabh Bachchan  in the function and showered praise on the veteran artist in his absence. It was quite a performance and I am sure Amit ji must be feeling embarrassed with all this praise for him which he could not reciprocate immediately.

Taking on a serious tone in his address, the Vice President said, cinema had an important role in molding public opinion and guide the audience to the correct path. He said the collective of films which have been recognized in the Award, indicated the concern of the film makers to the existence of social malaise, and how they could be corrected.  He added, that it was not the responsibility of the government alone to move against the ills of society but parents, teachers and social reformers all had equal stakes to fight against malpractices. Naidu said he was deeply saddened by the continued incidents of crime against women. He wanted  this evil to be curbed by all means. He recalled the murder and rape of the veterinary doctor in Hyderabad and said this should never have happened. The Vice President added that wherever he travelled in any part of the world, he noticed the presence of Indian cinema and its emerging influence in social thinking. He felt Indian cinema had a special responsibility to portrait all good things in our culture, be they food, customs and dresses. He said whenever he travelled abroad, he wore his traditional dresses when attending international meets and thereby got the focus of others to Indian things and on himself.

The Vice President for a moment wore his political garb, and deviated from his Ministry’s written speech and said, dissent was the essence of democracy and we all must  respect that in public utterances. He appealed to the people not to be destructive but to be constructive in their conduct. He said merely shouting Jai Hind, Vande Mataram, and Bharat Mata Ki Jai was not enough to show unity, he said true unity of purpose rose when we all worked together and shared company without caste, creed and religion. Cinema in the past  showed this thrust of purpose to  state that India was one nation.

Naidu, like Giani Zail Singh, set aside the  written official speech and took his theme off to a more hilarious and yet thought provoking journey. What was supposed to be a 10 minute talk to the nation through the Rajya Sabha TV  direct broadcast, moved on to be a 50 minutes affair, upsetting the TV channel’s programmes for the afternoon. This was one more departure  from the past and helped the press covering the event  to be more relaxed  from the usual rush to beat the evening deadlines in news reporting.

The audience may have been partly disappointed in not seeking their favourite Amitabh Bachchan receive his Dadasaheb Phalke Life Time Award, but Naidu’s own performance partly made up for this disappointment. One saw everyone carrying away a smile as he stepped out in the chilly afternoon of Delhi’ winter.

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