NFDC merger: In unified National Film Corporation, a theater of the absurd

The greatest lesson we learn from history may be that we learn nothing from history. We go through the motions and repeat slogans without meaning it. Otherwise, an exercise started to reboot the film-related bodies in India — the Films Division, National Film Archives of India, Directorate of Film Festivals, Children’s Film Society of India, National Film Development Corporation — would not have ended up in the manner it did on December 31, 2022. In effect, the FD, NFAI , DFF and CFSI stand closed and the NFDC with an expanded charter will supposedly be carrying forward the activities hitherto performed by these defunct departments in Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

The entire exercise has been undertaken on the basis of recommendations submitted by an expert committee headed by retired I&B secretary Bimal Julka. In December 2020, the Union cabinet approved the recommendations and the then I&B minister Prakash Javadekar announced it to the nation. “The merger of the film media units under a single corporation will lead to synergy among the various activities with better and efficient utilization of infrastructure and manpower,” Javadekar said.

The reality now is that the infrastructure stands dismantled and all specialists within these structures have been declared as surplus, without any designations attached to them. They are waiting to be redeployed in any government department, often as the junior-most employees.

And what about the “synergy” portion of the statement? I will flag just one point here. The whole exercise of deciding the national film awards was hitherto conducted by the DFF. As per the arrangement in place now, the NFDC is producing feature films and will also be the owner of the non-feature films (newsreels and documentaries), which have been owned by the Films Division (FD) since 1948. The NFDC used to get national awards for their feature films and the FD for their non-feature films until December 31. But in the new “synergised” scenario, it’s going to be an exercise of absurdity.

The NFDC will be producing feature films and non-feature films and the NFDC itself will be sitting in judgment and deciding whether its own films or others will win national awards. The DFF is non-existent and the specialists there have been displaced. Did a committee under the chairmanship of a former I&B secretary recommend this theater of the absurd?

The backstory behind the present situation can be thus: First, Rahul Rawail was the visible face of the ministry when the issue of NFAI activities and the privatization of the National Film Archives were made a national-level controversy. He had participated in an online seminar organized by the Federation of Film Societies of India, where the participants were asking for a copy of the Bimal Julka committee report. He was non-committal to that demand.

Second, several RTI applications were filed from the public square for a copy of the report. Third, the government refused to share the report through RTI. Fourth, a Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala, John Brittas, raised the issue of merger/closure in the Rajya Sabha and the debate on National Film Archives getting corporatized got heated. Finally, the I&B ministry uploaded the Bimal Julka committee report on their website.

Yet, the points raised by the concerned filmmakers remained unanswered. The National Film Heritage Mission is spending crores for the restoration of classic films through the NFAI. This is meant to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the country, not to generate income. Rather, the expenses for it are met from the public exchequer and this should not be diverted into a loss-making corporation with a new mandate, of standing on its own in the market. In effect, the whole exercise had simply chucked out the experts from their jobs at the NFAI and then brought it under the NFDC by using the same funds.

The whispers are loud and clear in the corridors of power. The original content of the Bimal Julka committee report got altered to fit in the diktats of the present regime. Brittas has recently revealed that the Julka and Joint Secretary (films) are the only signatories in the final Bimal Julka committee report. Filmmakers on the committee like AK Bir, TS Nagabharana, Rahul Rawail and Shyamaprasad have not signed the final report, uploaded by the I&B ministry. I urge my fellow film-makers on the committee to come up with their own versions of this story.

The writer is a National Award-winning Film-maker and is a retired Director of Films Division, Kolkata

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