Amid the controversy surrounding the National Film Awards this year, the Rashtrapati Bhavan has defended itself in the row that erupted after it was announced that President Ram Nath Kovind will confer the award to only a select number of winners. Around 50 award winners boycotted the National Film Awards because they were informed last-minute that they would not get the award from President Ram Nath Kovind but from I&B Minister Smriti Irani and her colleague Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
However, according to a report by The Indian Express, sources said that Rashtrapati Bhavan is upset that the President’s Secretariat was in touch with the I&B Ministry over the event, and had informed it that the President would spend only an hour at the event and hence, not give away all the awards. Ashok Malik, press secretary to the President, said that I&B ministry was informed several weeks ago that the President would spend only an hour at the event.
But, it was the Ministry’s invite that sparked off the protests. The invitation mentioned that that the President would give the awards. Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said the Ministry was not only informed in advance, but there were several discussions on the venue too, in which Vigyan Bhawan was chosen over Rashtrapati Bhawan due to more space for accommodating the large-scale event.
The ceremony, held at Vigyan Bhavan, was divided into two phases. First, the set of awards were presented by Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and the Minister of State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Later, President Kovind presented awards to select set of winners, which included posthumous recognitions for Vinod Khanna and Sridevi (Dadasaheb Phalke and Best Actress respectively).
The Ministry of I&B through the Directorate of Film Festivals informed the winners of the changed format during the rehearsal ceremony held prior to the National Film Awards. Many of the awardees felt that this created a hierarchy in the awards and was also contrary to what their invitation had said. An estimated 50 did not show up at the ceremony. The names of around 30 of them were not even announced.
After the big fuss over the distribution of the National Film Awards, sources said the I&B Ministry is said to be finalising a protocol under which, in the future, the President may only give the Dadasaheb Phalke award while other awards will be given by other dignitaries, most likely the I&B Minister of the day.