Many from the Indian film industry, including winners Kaushik Ganguly, Rima Das, Riddhi Sen and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion producer Prasad Devineni expressed their disappointment as President Ram Nath Kovind presented the National Film Awards only to 11 winners.
It was the first time in the history of the National Film Awards that the president attended the second half of the ceremony honouring only a few of the veteran artistes and winners in major categories.
The first set of the awards, which included some technical categories, best supporting actress and best female playback singer, was handed over by Minister of Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani and MoS Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
The president felicitated winners in prominent categories such as the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Vinod Khanna, best actress for Sridevi, best playback singer male for K.J. Yesudas, best actor for Sen and A.R. Rahman in two categories—best music director and background score.
Das, who won the Best Feature Film award for her critically acclaimed Assamese film Village Rockstars said,"It is very sad and unfortunate as we were all expecting to get the award from the president."
Devineni said although it is unfair, he was present at the ceremony as he did not want to disrespect the office of the president.
"It's very unfortunate and unfair. We are are very disappointed. Everyone wants to receive the award from the president. I am here because I don't want to disrespect the office of the president," he said.
Ganguly, whose film Nagarkirtan won multiple awards including the best actor, special jury, makeup and costume, skipped the ceremony, even though the film's lead Sen was present.
When contacted, Ganguly said he did not attend the event to support the fraternity.
"This does not mean that we are rejecting the awards. But the president is supposed to give us the award. It is something special that cannot be replaced and there was no information given to us," the director said.
Film's actor Sen said, "Everyone is bit upset because we got to know about it at the last moment. I feel it is very unfair as people from across the country are here with their families to receive this award from the president."
Best female playback singer Shasha Tirupati said she was happy about her win, but she had "a lot of issues" with the way the news was broken to the awardees.
"I feel great about the win. But I have a lot of issues about the fact that we were not informed. It is like a bomb went off just hours before the event. This doesn't make any sense as this is an event which is planned a year in advance. I didn't like the way whole thing was implemented," she said.
In an open letter earlier in the day, marked to the office of the president and ministry of information and broadcasting, over 70 artistes said they had decided to give the ceremony a miss as they "felt dejected rather than honoured" on being informed at the last minute that the president would give away only 11 awards.
Some of those who had signed the letter, however, attended the ceremony. Among them was Yesudas.
"I don't want to comment on this," he said. "The president invited me so I'm here."
Producer of best Hindi film winner, Newton, Manish Mundra, who earlier expressed his disappointment on Twitter over the controversy, did a turnaround as he eventually showed up at the ceremony.
"It is the highest recognition. It doesn't matter who gives it. We are happy that the government has given the award. Yes, we were a little demotivated. But one shouldn't boycott the ceremony," Mundra said.
National Film Award winner Resul Pookutty and filmmaker Rahul Dholakia also criticised the sudden change in the routine of the National Film Awards.
"I&BMinistry learn some lessons from #Govt Of Maharashtra how they conducted the #StateFilmAwards few days ago! Impeccable show by @Dev_Fadnavis and his colleagues. We feel proud in receiving the state gesture. Don't discriminate the 'nation' in National Award," Resul tweeted.
Dholakia wrote, "One of the reason the National Film Awards are prestigious is because they are handed by the President and not a minister. This is a moment of a lifetime for Filmmakers. Please don't deprive them of their merit/glory."
Director Ashwini Chaudhary tweeted, "The Indian Film Industry should come out in open and take a stand against the humilation of National Film Awardees who are going to skip the award ceremony today. Dark day in the history of #NationalFilmAwards."