On Monday, when actor-producer Shashi Kapoor was conferred the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award for 2014, one recurring thought that marred the recognition was if this could be the dreaded 'better late than never' mindset that afflicts our powers that be.
Kapoor turned 77 on March 18, just five days before the announcement. He started as a child artist in 1948, with Raj Kapoor's Aag. Without doubt one of the most versatile and iconic, personalities in our film industry, his last big contribution for the big screen was way back in 1998, for Jamil Dehlavi's film Jinnah.
So, here's our question: Why did it take successive governments 17 years to decide on his candidature for the prestigious award? Make that 25 years if we were to consider that by the 1990, Kapoor was way past his most illustrious, and productive phase of his career. What exactly took the jury so many years to zero on the veteran's name?
The purpose of any award, big or small, is supposed to be an incentive to do better, bigger work, and that can't happen unless you're given it at the right time.
Take a look at some other Dadasaheb Phalke awardees in the past, and it is the same disturbing trend. Pran was conferred the honour in 2013: He was 93 then, and unfortunately passed away the same year. It was the same even with Raj Kapoor: The doyen of India cinema was recognised for his contributions in 1987, when he was 63, and passed away in 1988!
The point is simple: Shouldn't the jury focus on people who are still in their prime, to spur them to do more path-breaking work? Sure it may receive backlash from some quarters, but it will inspire the winners for better work. Also, the award will not lose its relevance for the winners.
Be it K Balachander or BR Chopra, the jury must have clearly spelt out guidelines on the recipients, even if it raises some eyebrows. If you're acknowledging somebody's contribution, do it when it matters. Don't do it just for the sake of doing it.