India's President Ramnath Kovind arrives at a ceremony. Photo Reuters/Adnan Abidi
India's President Ramnath Kovind arrives at a ceremony. Photo Reuters/Adnan Abidi

More than 50 winners of India’s prestigious National Film Awards boycotted the presentation on Thursday in protest at main guest of honor President Ramnath Kovind deciding to only hand out selected prizes.

The president’s decision to present only selected awards broke a long-standing tradition of the guest of honor giving away all the accolades. When the 65th National Awards ceremony was held in New Delhi on Thursday, the president presented only 11 of the 90 awards.

The first awards to be announced, which honor artists from around the country, were presented by Information and Broadcasting minister Smriti Irani and Minister Of State For Information & Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore. The president presented the awards in the second half to the winners of the top awards.

About 50 recipients did not turn up at the event. Upset over the sudden change in plans by the main guest of honor, the awardees had earlier written to the Directorate of Film Festivals, the president’s office and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, over what they said was “discrimination.”

Their letter stated: “Filmmakers and artistes put in everything we have and tenaciously stick to our dreams in a field of work where appreciation does not come easily. We are disheartened to know that we will be deprived of the honor of this appreciation of a once in a lifetime moment of pride and glory that the National Film Awards had promised us.” 

Jury head Shekhar Kapur even tried to convince the artists to show up after having a close-door meeting with jury members. On Wednesday the awardees were informed about the change in schedule. The matter was discussed with Information and Broadcasting minister Irani that evening with the artists stating that the issue was about prestige. In the absence of a reply from the ministry, they said they had no other option but to boycott the event.

At the ceremony, of the 90 names announced only 70 turned up. To avoid further embarrassment, the names of another 30 winners who were absent were not even announced.

According to The Economic Times, Rastrapati Bhavan officials said it was protocol for the president to not spend more than one hour at any awards function and this had been conveyed to the ministry. 

However, former president Pranab Mukherjee used to stay for the entire awards ceremony, often staying longer than one hour.