January 5, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the merger of film divisions into the NFDC is the right move. We also look at the controversy over buffer zones around forests and sanctuaries in Kerala, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Merger of Film Divisions into NFDC – The Right Move?
The Films Division (FD), Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), National Film Archive of India (NFAI), and Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) are now part of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU).
The NFDC has financed some excellent movies in the past, such as Satyajit Ray’s Ghare-Baire, and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! However, its film production capacity plummeted over the years due to a severe shortage of funds. With this in mind, is the latest merger the drop of a guillotine on India’s film heritage, or will it give the NFDC and the erstwhile units a new lease on life?
The decision for a single command has been in the works since the Union Cabinet introduced it in December 2020. In March 2021, it was green-lit by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). The government made the decision to constitute the PSU amalgam almost unilaterally, based on the 2019 Bimal Julka Committee Report. The report was signed by Julka and Joint Secretary (films), while other filmmakers on the committee – AK Bir, TS Nagabharana, Rahul Rawail, and Shyamaprasad – abstained.
A direct consequence of the merger is that two of these divisions will lose their previously-held autonomy. The twelve-member committee noted that while the closure of autonomous bodies is regrettable, their consolidation into a PSU remains unavoidable in the pursuit of synergy and “improvements in functioning.”
Each erstwhile film unit had a specific objective. Mumbai-based NFDC produced and provided funding for arthouse cinema while also handling the co-production platform Film Bazaar. Pune-based NFAI, founded in 1964, is an archive of Indian cinema and cinema-related paraphernalia responsible for procuring and preserving rare movie artefacts. FD, founded in 1948, produced documentaries, newsreels, short films, and animated films. The DFF organizes India’s major film awards, such as the National Film Awards, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, and the International Film Festival of India. Lastly, the CFSI, founded in 1958, was committed to producing children’s content in South Asia.
The aftermath of the 2021 announcement saw 1,539 people, including filmmakers, actors, and theatre artists, signing a letter to the MIB to protest the merger and the exclusion of primary stakeholders of the film fraternity in the ministry’s final decision. The denouement of this saga was in January 2023, when the merger was completed and announced on all the websites. Calling it “the saddest day in Indian cinema,” filmmakers and artists across India have censured the move.
This merger also comes at a time when the union government is pushing for the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which empowers the government to revise, censor, and “order recertification of an already certified film.” The incumbent party has been vocal about its vision for the film industry as a vehicle of nationalism. Anurag Thakur, the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, has argued that “[c]inema, as a soft power, can play a major role in nation branding initiative.”
VIEW: It’s a new lease on life
A pressing concern for the employees of the film units has been their roles in the new umbrella organization. The government and NFDC CEO Ravinder Bhakar have assured them that their roles will be accounted for in the new corporation. The employees have been temporarily attached to the NFDC’s corresponding verticals.
With the decision of the merger came the announcement that the government has apportioned a sizeable budget – ₹1304.52 crore till 2026 – for producing and preserving films and also organizing film festivals. Some of this money will also be invested in digitizing old movies, thereby circumventing the tiresome process of celluloid preservation.
The merger is expected to improve the outlook for arthouse cinema in India by turning the currently unprofitable NFDC into a profit-making venture. With revenue from the erstwhile organizations flowing into the new NFDC, the corporation will be able to improve its fiscal prospects.
Finally, the MIB’s move provides the FD with a much-awaited fresh mandate. According to retired Deputy Director General V Packirsamyhe, the FD has been in limbo for ages. The erstwhile unit boasts of producing more than 8,000 documentary films since the 1960s. However, ever since its establishment, interference by numerous extraneous bodies has chipped away at its genius and slowed down its growth.
COUNTERVIEW: Concentration of power
The giant gatbandhan appears to shoehorn autonomous and government-owned film divisions into a single Public Sector Undertaking (PSU). Why are we calling it shoehorning? There are two reasons. One, the separate organizations are now organized under one umbrella into different, even conflicting, verticals. Under the present arrangement, NFDC is a judge, jury, and executioner with an overwhelming power to produce, finance, promote, and distribute films while also determining whether its films will receive national awards. The new structure does not seem promising of synergy but rather exerts undue pressure on the chief. While the film units have accumulated proficiency specific to their own divisions, the new CEO is riddled with all their responsibilities.
Two, the NFDC is a loss-bearing PSU. If this persists after the merger, the colourful arena of independent filmmaking will truncate into a money-churning venture. If the government’s fiscal burden increases, chances are that existing archives will be tampered with or even destroyed. Stalwarts of the film fraternity fear that the NFDC merger may be a precursor to the privatization of India’s film archives if the government initiates disinvestment. Invaluable post-independence newsreels and documentaries will be sold to the highest bidder for a quick buck.
The troubling aspect of the merger and possible privatization is the monopoly afforded to a single organization over different facets of the industry. Archives and documentaries are repositories of a nation’s political, social, and cultural movements. A centralized authority for producing and promulgating films may prune the industry of its reflective prowess and instead effect a more provincial vision of the past, present, and future.
Finally, the MIB still needs to reveal the procedure of transfer and management of the highly fragile and inflammable archives. Handling films requires technical expertise and control over temperature and humidity, as celluloid is fragile, flammable, and cannot be exposed to sunlight.
- Unease at Films Division after merger with NFDC – Hindustan Times
- With Its Impressive Legacy, the Films Division Should be Allowed to Remain Autonomous – The Wire
- Report of Bimal Julka Committee – Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
- Cinema can play a major role in nation branding initiative – Anurag Thakur – Ministry of Information & Broadcasting
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The NFDC merger is the right move.
b) The NFDC merger is the wrong move.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
A challenging year for BJP
For the Left:
Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra foretells Opposition disunity in 2024
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Power bills (Punjab) – According to the state government, about 90% of households have been getting zero power bills since the introduction of 300 units of free power. The AAP government said it had fulfilled its campaign promise of providing free power. The government has also waived off all pending bills up to December 31.
Why it matters: The AAP’s campaign promise has come under criticism for its bad economics. For the cash-strapped Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), it’s burning a hole in its pocket. In November, 74 lakh consumers got zero power bills. The state told the PSPCL that it would pay ₹15,845 crores as a power subsidy. This will likely cross ₹18,000 crores.
Buffer zone controversy (Kerala) – Kerala will inform the Supreme Court about the practical challenges in maintaining a 1 km buffer zone around forests and sanctuaries. The state will join the Centre against the court’s order. The state feels the rule can’t be a one-for-all approach since each protected region is different. The state will also highlight concerns about residential areas in arguing against the buffer zone.
Why it matters: The state forest department has set up help desks in 80 panchayats to address the public’s concerns about the tentative map of the buffer zones adjoining protected forests. 85 panchayats have been designated as buffer zones of Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs). The government has already published a draft map demarcating buffer zones around 22 wildlife sanctuaries.
Promoting millets globally (Odisha) – The Odisha government has joined hands with FICCI to help promote millets globally. The Odisha Millets Mission (OMM) has plans for a series of activities to spread the importance and benefits of millets. FICCI will work with the government with any end-to-end help and support for the planned events.
Why it matters: The UN general assembly declared 2023 the international year of millets (IYOM). The collaboration with FICCI comes in the wake of the success of the Make-in-Odisha 3.0 campaign. The OMM is a flagship initiative launched in 2017 to revive the popularity of millets. The Centre has asked other states to follow the Odisha model to promote millets.
Power workers strike (Maharashtra) – The unions of three state-owned power companies have called for a three-day strike to protest the privatisation of power companies. The strike has been called by the Maharashtra Rajya Karmachari, Adhikari, and Abhiyanta Sangharsh Samiti. If the strike does happen, it’ll involve nearly 86,000 employees. They don’t want Adani Group’s power subsidiary to be given a parallel distribution license to make profits.
Why it matters: The companies in question are Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd, Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Co Ltd, and Maharashtra State Electricity Generation Co Ltd. Their employees have been protesting for the past few weeks. In November, an Adani Group company wanted a license to expand its power distribution business into more areas of Mumbai.
Multipurpose drones (Assam) – The aeromodelling club at IIT-Guwahati has developed drones for warehousing, military, and law enforcement. The club has encouraged students to harness their creativity, new technology, and innovation in aeromodelling to develop smart drones with an easy-to-use interface. It has developed reaper drones for the military and an ornithopter drone for surveillance in tight spaces.
Why it matters: Last August, Assam launched the first drone school in the northeast of Guwahati. It was part of the centre’s plan to make India a drone hub. The Assam Electronics Development Corporation Ltd joined hands with an IIT-Guwahati incubated startup called EduRade. The first DGCA-approved drone training school was inaugurated last year in Haryana.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
83% – According to the RBI, cash in circulation has increased by 83% since demonetisation was announced. As of December 23, 2022, the currency in circulation in value terms was ₹32.42 lakh crores.