Jul 28, 2003

The biggest winners were traditional heavyweight Bengali cinema and the crew from the acclaimed films Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (English) and Kannathil Mutthamittal (Tamil). It's encouraging to see an English film win top honours, especially a film that is pan-Indian in its setting and characters (English films somehow seem to have stories that spread across the different sections, this film's varied cast bears this out). Aparna Sen always has had good stories that are meaningful but don't lapse into obscurity as one might've feared. It was interesting to watch an interview of her's where she mentioned how Konkana Sen Sharma (Best Actress) told her that she's won it for Jennifer Kendall, a reference to the glaring omission of Jennifer Kendall from the awards list for the pathbreaking 36 Chowringhee Lane that marked the debut of Aparna Sen.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen Kannathil Mutthamittal, but everyone who has seen this Mani Ratnam film tells me it is a classic Mani-saar creation. I have seen a few clippings, and can't wait for someone to get me a copy of the film to watch (hopefully, this will happen soon). I was also told that it is has probably the most realistic depiction of war in an Indian film (evoking analogies again with Spielberg and Saving Private Ryan in an Indian context), and Keerthana (who is the central character and is the daughter of Parthipan and Seetha, a couple who've worked in Tamil films too) has put in a standout performance as the child in search of her past. I was wondering who would win Best Child Actor this time: thankfully they gave it to both the top contenders Swetha Prasad (Makdee) and Keerthana.

KM also picked up Best Sound, Best Tamil Film, Best Lyricist and Best Music Director. I saw some conflicting reports as to whether it won Best Editing and if the Special Jury Award that Prakash Raj won was indeed for this film. If the latter is true, Prakash Raj's second National Award would again be from a Mani Ratnam film (Iruvar last time). The clutch of awards should hopefully perk up the recovering Mani Ratnam (he was admitted with chest pains after the Vivek Oberoi accident in Kolkata and his brother G.V recently committed suicide). The media didn't really follow his condition, in the blaze of the Vivek Oberoi story, which is a little bit of a shame, for he is one of India's best directors.

The combination of Vairamuthu and A.R.Rahman has been a very successful one in the past, and I don't know if this is the first time they've won the awards for Lyrics and Music in the same year. It comes at a time when there are rumours that they're no longer working with each other, the reasons not entirely known. KM was not really a commercial runaway success, but it did go down well with the critics. The songs were not meant to be crowd-pleasers, so it is a little pleasing to know that the film won these awards. I just missed the announcement in the live telecast, but did hear Prakash Jha (Chairman of the Jury) read out the citation that the songs rose "above the conventions of film songs to reach the realms of poetry". Vairamuthu's lyrics, especially those for Vidai Kodu Engal Naade (evoking the pain of the refugee, and voiced by Tamil Film Music legend M.S.Vishwanathan), were quite impressive.

Having missed the actual announcement as to which film Rahman had won, I was a little surprised to hear most channels (Hindi ones at least) claim it was for Saathiya. Of the three possibilities (KM, The Legend of Bhagat Singh) and Saathiya), that seemed the least likely. Thankfully, it was widely misreported and KM was the film. The KM songs ranging from the playful Signore, the more conversational and offbeat Sundari, the simple ode to peace to the accompaniment of a guitar Vellai Pookal, the two versions of the title song and the lament of the exile Vidai Kodu make up for a deserving collection. For those who might not entirely agree with the choice, I will agree that this album was not a choice that stood head-and-shoulders over the others, but it definitely was not undeserving of such an honour. Rahman's fourth award (previously Roja, Minsaara Kanavu, Lagaan) can be considered just reward for being overlooked for Dil Se, Alaipayuthey or Kandukondain Kandukondain.

A surprise was Udit Narayan winning for a not so well-known song from Zindagi Khuubsurat Hai, but Shreya Ghoshal (Devdas) and Saroj Khan (Devdas) were no surprises at all. I was not expecting Ajay Devgan for The Legend of Bhagat Singh, but as I have had noted before in these columns, his performance was very strong, consistent and competent. But I was a little surprised to find no other efforts surpassed his. Yet, there can be no doubting Devgan's claim to the award, and is another indication of the great leaps he has made in the last few years. I would normally disregard any Devgan films in the past, but I pay good attention to all his upcoming releases (however bad they may seem!). I haven't seen Devdas, and I'm not sure I will, or that I will complete the film if I start watching it. But going by the reports of some of my friends (Nikhil, Akshay) who did, it did provide "wholesome entertainment", but not all of it was intentional. Also, the wrongs of Oscar nomination have been righted to some extent, with the aggrieved Kannathil Mutthamittal nabbing a few while Devdas picked up the awards for opulence.

Chandrashekhar (who has put in a few good performances in the past in Tamil cinema) won his maiden award (Best Supporting Actor), Rakhi got the female equivalent, not too many Marathi names (despite one news channel's announcement of Atul Kulkarni having won Best Supporting Actor, something he did a few years ago - stale database?), the other heavyweight Malayalam cinema sadly didn't feature much in the big awards.

The media coverage was a little weird, news channels covered the announcement live, but most annoyingly, broke off in the middle for various things, and did not have the sense to fill in what happened when they weren't beaming live. News channels here have a long way to go in live telecasts. Also, most news bulletins had only the prominent winners and there was no coverage of the other winners. Newspapers weren't too great either, devoting very few column inches again to note the main winners. The website of the National Film Festivals of India had no list of winners too. I still haven't found the complete list of winners.

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