Part of ‘umbrella’ NFDC

Source: By Tanushree Ghosh: The Indian Express

On 30 March 2022, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) notified the transfer of the mandate for the production of documentaries and short films, organisation of film festivals, and preservation of films to the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) Ltd., a PSU working under the ministry.

The government has made a budgetary allocation of Rs 1,304.52 crore up to 2026 for all these activities under NFDC. The revenues generated by these activities, such as producing documentaries, which was hitherto not for profit, will also accrue to NFDC.

The announcement had been expected since December 2020, when the Union Cabinet approved the merger of four of its film media unitsFilms Division (FD), Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), National Film Archives of India (NFAI), and Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI) with NFDC.

“The merger of film media units under one corporation will lead to convergence of activities and resources and better coordination, thereby ensuring synergy and efficiency in achieving the mandate of each media unit,” the government said in a release on 23 December 2020.

Roles of film media bodies

FD: The largest moving-image repository and audio-visual record of Indian history was established in 1948 to create public service awareness films, to film the decolonisation and nation-building process, and to produce and distribute newsreels and documentary films. Colonial agencies such as the Film Advisory Board, Information Films of India, Indian News Parade, and Army Film and Photographic Unit, were handed over to it.

FD today has more than 8,000 newsreels, documentaries, short films and animation films on historical events and political figures, including “rare works of stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, M F Husain, Mani Kaul, Pramod Pati, and more”, National Award-winning filmmaker Shilpi Gulati wrote in The Indian Express last month.

FD employees will now be attached with NFDC’s new Production Vertical, which will retain the Films Division brand name. “FD’s brand name is being retained in order to monetise its legacy,” an FD employee said. “But there’s no clarity on how long we’ll work with NFDC.”

CFSI: Formed in 1955, it was tasked with producing children’s films and value-based entertainment, also for underprivileged children, in small towns and rural areas.

NFAI: Established in 1964 under renowned curator P K Nair, it was tasked with tracing, acquiring, and preserving the heritage of fiction cinema in India. NFAI is a repository of “thousands of films, books, scripts, posters, photographs dating back to the 1910s, and actively promotes film research and scholarship on Indian and South Asian cinema,” Gulati wrote.

DFF: It was established in 1973, and tasked with cultural exchange, promoting Indian cinema worldwide, organising the National Film Awards and Dadasaheb Phalke Awards, the Mumbai International Film Festival, and the International Film Festival of India in Goa. All of this will now be part of NFDC’s mandate under its Promotion Vertical, with which DFF employees will be attached on a temporary basis.

NFDC: A PSU established in 1975, its earlier avatar was the Film Finance Corporation. Its job was to finance, produce, and distribute feature films, and to promote filmmakers outside the mainstream. It has made noteworthy contributions to parallel cinema, but has been unable of late to provide exhibition infrastructure to independent filmmakers. Through its Film Bazaar Work-in-Progress (WIP) Lab, NFDC has provided a platform for young talents to interact and learn.

The PSU was declared a loss-making asset by NITI Aayog in 2018, and its closure was proposed in the Parliament. With the other bodies now being merged with NFDC, it is now the “umbrella organisation”.

Opposition to the merger

A recently formed group has been running a social media campaign, “Kay Karto Bey”, to protest against the alleged lack of transparency and accountability, and the arbitrary way in which the process has been carried out. Employees and independent and documentary filmmakers have expressed apprehension about their future, as well as that of the archival footage, which they want to be declared a national heritage.

The transfer-of-mandate announcement came days after sit-in protests at the recent International Film Festival of Kerala, where, in seminars, National Award-winning filmmakers voiced their angst. Adoor Gopalakrishnan said: “Don’t kill film institutions by merging them with a moribund body like NFDC,” adding, “Archive is a very expensive affair, which is the responsibility of the government, not any corporation… They were talking about institutions that were making losses as if this is a business. They have no idea what the archive is about. Not only is this government, any government trying to fool people.”