With the doyen of Indian art house cinema Kumar Shahani in charge, the 49th State Film Awards should not have come as a surprise.
Except for the hugely loved 'Sudani From Nigeria', none of the talked-about films of 2018 has found favour with the Shahani-led jury. The films of masters, Shaji N Karun and T V Chandran, were mercilessly spurned, so were the films of superstars Mohanlal and Mammootty. However, the man who consistently came tantalisingly close to an award finally made the big prize his own. Jayasurya, who won a clutch of special mentions at the state and national levels, won for his transgender turn in 'Njan Marykutty'. He will share the honour with Soubin Shahir, whom many critics now say is emerging as one of the country's finest.
The cream of the awards were bagged by two debutants (Zakariya and Sheriff C), a new-age maverick (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan) and a veteran (Syamaprasad). Besides 'Sudani From Nigeria', the other three films the jury had flattered the most were unheard of till the awards were announced on Wednesday.
Sheriff's 'Kanthan – The Lover of Colour' was adjudged the best feature film. The journalists had to ask minister for culture A K Balan to repeat the names of both the film and its maker. Sheriff is also the producer of the film. Syamaprasad won his fifth best director award for 'Oru Njayarazcha', a film not even listed on his Wikipedia page. Both these films have not yet been released. 'Chola', which won Sasidharan a special jury mention for direction and sound design and also Nimisha Sajayan a best actor prize, has also not been released.
'Sudani From Nigeria' walked away with the most number of awards that mattered (best actor for Soubin Shahir, best character actor – female shared by the two scene-stealing grandmothers in the film, Savithri Sreedahran and Sarasa Balussery, the best script for Zakariya and Mohsin Parari, best debut director award for Zakariya, and the film was also the popular film with aesthetic appeal.)
Critically acclaimed films like Anjali Menon's 'Koode', Amal Neerad's 'Varathan', and Ajith Kumar's 'Eada' were not considered even for less glamorous categories like sound mixing or dubbing. Interestingly, none of these three made it to the final 20. Same was the fate of other critically popular films like 'Poomaram' and 'Sleeplessly Yours'. Interestingly, Syamaprasad's 'Hey Jude' did not find a place in the top 20. (The 104 entries were whittled down to 20 after a preliminary screening process.)
The sleeper hit 'Joseph' had only a 'best character actor' prize for Joju George. Mammootty and Mohanlal films were conspicuous by their absence. It was not a complete washout for the stars though; 'Uncle' won Joy Mathew the best story award, and Shammi Thilakan won for his dubbing work in 'Odiyan'.
However, it would be the haul of Venu's 'Carbon' that could trigger some controversy. The film won six awards, including the best cinematography award for K U Mohanan, and best composer for Vishal Bharadwaj. A conflict of interest charge was earlier brought up to prevent the film from competing. The film-maker' wife, Beena Paul, is the vice-chairperson of the Chalachithra Academy, which constitutes the jury. The argument was brushed aside. “There is nothing to be suspicious about these awards,” minister A K Balan said when asked about the large award haul of 'Carbon'.
On the whole, the Shahani-led jury was unimpressed. "A large majority of the films had taken a very lazy approach to filmmaking and had not bothered to take advantage of the medium's aesthetic possibilities," the jury said in its report. The jury had also found that songs were a big drag on the development of the story.