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5 film bodies under one umbrella, are all of them needed at all?

All of these bodies are parasites anyway you look at it. They feed either on the film industry or the tax payer's money

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The Centre has finally taken notice of the existence of various government-backed, films-related sectors. Films Division of India, Children’s Film Society of India, National Film Archive of India and the Directorate of Film Festivals will be absorbed into one entity under the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).

The government is on a centralisation spree. This bringing of the five of the bodies under one umbrella is, the way it was done recently with a number of banks, fine. But to what end?

To start with, all of these bodies are parasites anyway you look at it. They feed either on the film industry or the tax payer’s money. That is to say, none of them generates enough revenue to fend for itself!

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The question is, why are most of them, if not all, needed?

To start with, let’s take a look at the functions of these bodies.

Films Division, to start with. Set up in as early as 1948, the Division’s only purpose was to act as a propaganda machine of the governments at the Centre as well as the states. The country, as well as most of the states were ruled by a single party. The Division’s job was single minded, that of promoting, propagating and furthering the interests of the governments.

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But, how would Films Division’s Made To Order content reach the people the governments wanted? If Films Division in itself was a burden on the government exchequer, broadly it was the taxpayer who was paying for it.

But, Films Division had to show some revenue. And, that too was arbitrary. In that, it was compulsory in democratic India for all cinema halls to screen Films Division content before a feature film was screened. Not only were the cinema halls made to pay for screening these 15-minute promotional and usually boring features designed to make the rulers look good, they had to also foot electricity bill while screening them!

Every cinema management ended up paying one per cent of its gross revenue as a price for screening this government propagandas! The ordeal for the cinemas ended when Doordarshan came into being, and the government had its own medium. It did not do any good for Doordarshan’s viewership, obviously.

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All that is past. One may ask, what purpose does Films Division serve now and why does it still exist? I see some TV channels and others digging into Films Division archival content from the past for documentaries. But that can be achieved, no need any more for the Division!

As for National Film Archive of India, it is based in Pune. Any archive needs a curator who loves and knows about films, and Mr PK Nair was one. Filmmakers who cared to save their stuff like posters, and other publicity and related material for posterity, sent it to the Archive. Some, whose film was a success, even sent a much-used film there. Film release prints were too costly and no producer would get an extra print processed only for the Archive.

The Archive lost a huge cache of old films in 2003 when its vault caught fire causing extensive damage.

The Archive remained incomplete because not many filmmakers were aware of its existence, nor did they care. Now that it is being brought under the umbrella of the NFDC, the makers should be paid and encouraged to contribute. With a digital archive, it should not cost anybody much. Also, locking up collections of films in vaults, they should be made available on an OTT kind of platform.

Then comes Children’s Film Society India. This was set up in 1956 and has about a dozen children’s film productions worth a mention to its credit, in its existence of over half a century. The rest is utter waste. In looking at the records, it has very little to show for itself in the last few years.

Children’s Film Society (CFS) has never been able to serve its purpose, and now with the media going digital, it has no reason to burden the government coffers. Getting a film approved by the CFS is tough and the budgets granted are paltry.

Finally, we have the Directorate of Film Festivals. Now this is one government organisation that needs to continue to exist, but not the way it does. Anything to do with films — meant to be an international window to India at that — is not for Babus to run.

Goa was made permanent venue of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to make it attractive for the foreign participants (earlier, it was held on a rotational basis across various cities of India). Great, it draws a lot of film buffs from all over India and they are exposed to international film repertoire. But that international repertoire is spread all over OTT platforms now. So, what purpose does this festival serve, especially since, it has never attracted the filmmakers that matter internationally?

Let alone international, it does not even attract the regular mainstream Indian filmmakers, least of all the Hindi filmmakers who cater to a major audience in India. So, the directorate invites film personalities on its own accord, cost and hospitality, pays for the airfare and five-star stay. This is purely for the photo albums.

Actually, though a lot of media reporters attend IFFI, it hardly gets any coverage. Isn’t that strange? And, after all these years, why has it not been able to match up to popular festivals in other countries?

Coming down to the National Film Development of India (NFDC), which will embrace these other Government entities, what has been its own performance? NFDC backed some very good and purposeful films last century in various languages.

Launched as Film Finance Corporation (FFC) in 1975, it backed projects by new talent albeit the budgets granted were limited, like about four lakh or thereabouts. The filmmaker had to shoot a film in 16mm format and, for the release purpose, the 16mm negative was blown up to 35 mm.

To make FFC earn money, a lot of artificial rules were imposed on the other wings of the film business. For example, channelising the import of foreign films and some makes of film raw stock through FFC, for which it earned the commission. But, when it came to the films backed by the FFC, turned NFDC, making money, the occasions were few and far between. Albeit, some films did earn prestige for the Corporation. But, in the last 20 years, what does NFDC have to show for itself? Very little. As far as Hindi language films go, one film like “The Lunch Box”?

There have been allegations of high corruption here with unqualified people appointed to run the show.

It is time to close shop on some of these liabilities and keep the ones like the Archive and IFFI going, with better participation from the film industries of all regions of India. Funding duds was the previous regime’s way, it does not quite gel with the present one.

The film industry is now a massive entertainment industry, having spread its wings beyond cinema and it is not for a government to fund outdated and useless money guzzling organisations.

–ians, Vinod Mirani

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