The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting last month directed the merger of the Films Division of the National Film Archives of India, the Directorate of Film Festivals and the Children’s Film Society of India with NFDC. The people of the film industry opposed this and said that this decision has been taken without discussion with the stakeholders.
New Delhi: The National Film Archives of India (NFAI) in Pune is a very valuable resource for students, researchers and scholars. Here these people from all over the world gather in search of original prints kept in thousands. These prints range from silent cinema to books, posters and clippings.
The NFAI works as a separate entity under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). But from now on it will not happen.
The ministry had last month issued a direction that the Films Division (FD) of NFAI, Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) and Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) would be merged with the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) by the end of January 2022. .
In the past 13 months, such surprise and opaque announcements by MIB have become commonplace, leading filmmakers to feel it reflects the government’s contemptuous attitude towards the industry.
In November 2020, it was decided to bring all OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Along with this, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal was abolished in April 2020. Less than three months later, an amendment to the Cinematograph Act 1952 was announced, seeking to modify the final decision of the Censor Board.
In July 2021, several Indian filmmakers wrote a letter to the MIB expressing concern that the amendment would jeopardize freedom of expression and democratic dissent.
On 19 December 2021, the filmmakers wrote another letter to the ministry, seeking clarification on its recent decision.
“It was surprising to learn that the High Powered Committee under Shri Bimal Julka submitted its report without involving the stakeholders,” the letter said. The Center did not make it public even though an RTI was filed to expose its content.
In this letter, the ministry was requested to take cognizance of four complaints.
1) Public funded institutions like FD, NFAI and CFSI should not be merged with corporations like NFDC.
2) There should be transparent and open dialogue with various stakeholders including filmmakers and employees of these four affected bodies. These organizations should get full autonomy and funding.
3) The government should declare FD, NFAI and CFSI archives as national heritage and preserve the archives and give written assurances in Parliament that they will not be sold or auctioned now and in future.
4) The concerns of the employees working in these public institutions should be addressed at the earliest.
In less than two days, the letter was signed by more than 850 people, including Naseeruddin Shah, Nandita Das and Anand Patwardhan.
The reaction to the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 shows that many in the film industry are against it. Over 3,000 people have signed this letter (the wire e-mailed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but did not get revert. The report will be updated on receipt of the Ministry’s response.)
The biggest concern about this latest decision of the ministry is common and it was raised by Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas in a letter to the ministry a week before the formal announcement of the decision.
He had said, ‘NFDC registered under the Companies Act has to earn profit from its operations. How can such an organization do non-profit work like preserving the archives of films?’
According to Britas, the merger of NFDC can turn the whole process on its own.
Senior filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who headed the NFDC from 1980 to 1983, agreed, saying, “It is no longer a functioning institution. This institute is over. I don’t know why they have kept everything under their control?’
These instructions seem confusing as the four bodies FD, NFAI, DFF and CFSI have different responsibilities.
Produces and distributes FD documentaries. It also hosts the annual Mumbai International Film Festival for documentaries, short films and animation films.
DFF organizes various film festivals and awards including International Film Festival, National Film Awards and Dadasaheb Phalke Award.
CFSI produces children’s films, while NFAI works to preserve the cinematic heritage of the country.
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, a film archivist and restorer who has been associated with FD and NFAI for a long time, said, “By bringing all these bodies under one spectrum, this whole situation has been centralized, making them subject to a single policy decision. Which is not possible because they have their own heritage and their own way of doing things. How can you bring them under NFDC?’
Gopalakrishnan believes that bringing different organizations under one unit will weaken their skills as well as their identity.
He said, ‘You think everyone can run these institutions. No, you need experts. You need knowledgeable people. Each of these institutions will suffer, about which I have no doubt.
He said that NFDC is not an expert body. It doesn’t really specialize in any category. When documentary filmmaker Surbhi Sharma heard this announcement from the ministry, she had two main concerns.
Sharma said, ‘His first concern is the archives of FD and NFAI. They cover not only our cultural history but also scenes from art, society and historical events since 1937. Now why bring such material under a for-profit entity?’
Yes. “An institution like the NFAI should have its own autonomy,” said Dungarpur, who had restored Aravindan’s classic film Kummatti (1977).
At the same time, Gopalakrishnan said, ‘It represents cultural diversity. A corporation like NFDC cannot maintain and operate an archive. You need funding directly from the government for this.
At the same time, Surbhi Sharma’s second concern is what will happen to the employees associated with these bodies? A senior FD official, on the condition of anonymity, said that it will affect more than 400 employees of different organizations and cities.
Sharma said, ‘These are people with whom I have worked for years, their importance has to be known. He was playing a special role. He spent his entire life working in these institutions. Are these good for the employees of these institutions?’
Sharman has some basic questions regarding the decisions of the ministry. Questions that do not seem to be resolved soon.
Why was this decision taken in such haste? What would have been the process if it was not taken in haste. There is no transparency.
He said, ‘It is not being said that what is right and what is wrong. All we are saying is that we should have told what was the logic behind this decision or what was the compulsion. What was the vision? Maybe there is a vision. We will be happy to know that.
Let us tell you that the ministry is yet to address these concerns.
Commenting on the June and December orders of the ministry, Gopalakrishnan says, “It is a wrong decision as there was no consultation with the people of the respective areas.” This shows that the government itself is not sure. This shows a lack of confidence, a lack of trust in people. Why do they feel so insecure?
(Click here to read this report in English.)
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