Tamil megastar Rajinikanth has been deservingly honoured with the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award for his contribution to the world of cinema. He is amongst the few film personalities whose fame extends beyond international borders. In Japan, for instance, every Rajinikanth movie is awaited and needless to say that each of them is a big hit. It has been a foregone conclusion that the gifted actor would have won this particular award but what has raised eyebrows this year is the timing of the announcement. There are a number of film buffs who believe that Rajinikanth was selected due to political considerations as the BJP which is seeking to make its presence felt in Tamil Nadu was aiming to cash on his popularity and the millions of fans he has all over the state and in other regions as well. This is a matter that can be contested since the thespian has been selected on pure merit and does not need a push from any quarter to prove his credentials.
However, what is worrying is that for two decades and after noted playback singer Asha Bhonsle was honoured with the award, no woman artiste or actor has been found suitable by successive governments. Three top Bollywood female actors of yesteryears certainly make the grade and have somehow got overlooked each time. Vyjayanthimala, Mala Sinha and Waheeda Rehman have been regarded as outstanding performers who over the years enthralled not only their fans but the entire world of cinema. Vyjayanthimala, for instance, shot into fame after stellar performances in Devdas, Nagin and Kathputli and paired with every known Indian leading man during her eventful career. She excelled in Madhumati and Naya Daur opposite Dilip Kumar, in Sangam with Raj Kapoor and in Jewel Thief with Dev Anand. Mala Sinha has acted in a whole lot of films, and was known for her unforgettable performances, particularly while dealing with sensitive subjects. She was a favourite of Guru Dutt and B.R. Chopra and made a mark both as an actress and a star. Her sense of musical timing was exceptional. Similarly, Waheeda Rehman was one actor whose talent was acknowledged universally. Guru Dutt groomed her but her performance in Guide, Teesari Kasam, Ram Aur Shyam and Khamosh, has stood the test of time. There were others who have passed away like Sadhna who was not only a style queen of her time, but a superb actor as well. Shashikala who excelled as a vamp breathed her last on Sunday (1 April). In fact, if one goes by the 50 winners of the Phalke award, it has only six women—Devika Rani, Ruby Myers, Kanan Devi, Durga Khote, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle. It implies that the selection has always been tilted towards the male artistes and actors. And this list of 50 does not include the likes of Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar or Shankar Jaikishen or O.P. Nayyar or Sahir or Guru Dutt.
Obviously, there is something wrong somewhere. Most people had anticipated that this year’s award would go to Rishi Kapoor but that has not happened. Nevertheless, the Central government in general and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in particular must ensure that the claim of women artistes is not ignored and they get what they deserve.