Why Shekhar Kapoor was Hesitant to Give Sridevi the 'Best Actress' National Award

Why Shekhar Kapoor was Hesitant to Give Sridevi the 'Best Actress' National Award

Jury chairman Shekhar Kapoor reveals the reason for his choices for the National Awards
Why Shekhar Kapoor was Hesitant to Give Sridevi the 'Best Actress' National Award

I caught the super-talented Shekhar Kapoor for a chat on his chairmanship of the just-concluded 85th National film awards just before he flew off to Boston. As the chairperson of the jury, Shekhar just couldn’t stop raving about the quality of work he saw in the non-Bollywood non-Hindi language cinema, known until very recently as regional cinema. “I cannot tell you what an enriching experience these past few weeks have been for me. I was actually supposed to be at the Boston MIT as an honorary professor. When Smriti Irani insisted that I do jury duty, I finally relented and postponed my Boston assignment by ten days.”

And boy, is Shekhar glad he took on the jury job! “The kind of cinema I saw in the regional languages…it just blew mind.  Sorry, but regional cinema is no more regional. Very soon Bollywood, as we call Hindi cinema, will become regional cinema. The films in the non-Hindi Indian languages are taking us back to the cinema of Raj Kapoor….films that are from the heart, for the heart.” Shekhar says the quality of work he saw in the non-Hindi cinema left him deeply impressed. “I’ve decided to champion the cause of non-Hindi cinema. Such gifted directors! The girl Rima Das whose Assamese film Village Rockstars has won the Best Film, is self-trained. What a film she has made! The quality of cinema and performances in the regional languages is so much higher than in Hindi. I mean, look, with all due respects…Newton and Rajkummar Rao were fine. But I saw far better films and performances in non-Hindi cinema. Sometimes I’d see two actors in one language and say, ‘My God two such brilliant back-to-back performances. Then someone would tell me it is the same actor in both. My God! They are so dedicated to doing their jobs, not bothered with success, not looking anxiously over the shoulder to see who’s looking. And the actor (Riddhi Sen) who has won the Best Actor… so so brilliant in the Bengali film Nagarkirtan. This is unselfconscious cinema. Nothing in Hindi is comparable with this.”

Does Shekhar feel Hindi cinema has lost its heart? “Look, I feel the spotlight and glamour has been concentrated for too long on Bollywood. The regional cinema has been side-lined to the shadows.  It’s time to celebrate cinema in languages other than Hindi, and I plan to take the cause of regional cinema to the West. This is the cinema that we need to be recognized by in the West. I just may make a film in a non-Hindi language.” As for Sridevi’s best actress award Shekhar candidly admits he had reservations, “Brilliant as she is, every morning I’d remind the jury that I’ve been closely associated with her and  it might look a little improper if she was given the award. We also saw some mind-blowing performances by other actress, like this girl in a Manipuri film, then the actress in the Malayalm film Take Off and the Tamil actress in To Let… But the jury was adamant. They wanted Sridevi. So it was Sridevi.”

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