While Hindi films like Uri: The surgical strike, Badhaai Ho and Andhadhun dominated the national awards held in New Delhi on August 9, several regional films made their presence felt too.
The Rann of Kutch in Gujarat is an isolated region where patriarchal oppression is ubiquitous. Shackled by this societal construct, for the women of this area even long tiring walks to fetch water under the heat of scorching sun is a luxury. It wasn’t surprising when the cinematic adaptation of this harsh reality of the salty marshlands in Hellaro (a Gujarati film) won the national award for the best feature film in the 66th edition of National film awards.
“It’s about women who are told they can’t fly, they can’t dance. The film is a musical journey. It’s about the rise of 12 women and a girl,” says Abhishekh Shah, who was inspired by folklore and real-life incidences to make this film that marks his directorial debut.
Hellaro is the first Gujarati film to win a National Award in this category adding to the glory for an otherwise overlooked industry. The 13 leading ladies of the film also bagged a special jury award. The last time a Gujarati film had won in this category was in 2014 in the 62nd edition of national film awards when the multilingual film Court, which had a few Gujarati dialogues.
Regional film industries in India, though overshadowed by the Hindi film industry in India and overseas, have produced numerous cinematic gems. Out of the 66 editions, though a more well established, the Hindi film industry has managed to get just 18 pc of national awards in the best feature film category, rest of them being won by regional films. Last year, the award went to an Assamese film The Village Rockstars (2017) and a Marathi film Kaasav took the honours in 2016.
“The demand for both regional and other screenings has been compelling across markets. Typically, about 20 pc of the screenings in metros are for regional cinema while they form about 12pc in non-metro cities”, says Marzdi Kalianiwala vice president of BookMyShow, an online entertainment and sports ticketing portal.
In the awards for this year, Kannada films starred, bagging the top awards in as many as 10 categories, including one for best feature film that went to Nathicharami which also won several others. The story revolves around a widow deeply moved by the death of her husband who seeks the help of a therapy that ends up putting her in a dilemma about choosing between her preset emotional beliefs and physical desires. Many consider this film as a bold portrayal of women, their sexuality and emotional turbulence.
“I thought we might get one or two individual awards, as we’d tried a different style of film. But to have five is unbelievable. The film touched upon a different subject that people often shy away from, so, the editing award was proof that it has been worth it,” says Mandore, the director of Nathicharami.
Other regional industries that performed well in the awards were Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarat and Punjabi.