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Three regional offices nearly closed, NFAI proposed another but it was rejected

Interestingly, while NFAI was pushing for a new regional office, existing ones in Bengaluru, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram are all but closed and there has been no attempt to revive them.

Written by Atikh Rashid | Bengaluru/pune |
Updated: April 24, 2018 11:13:28 am
Three regional offices nearly closed, NFAI proposed another but it was rejected The National Film Archive of India (NFAI) building on Law College Road, Pune (Express Photo/Arul Horizon?

Even as its three regional offices remain practically non-functional for over a decade, the Pune-based National Film Archives of India (NFAI) had proposed to open another regional office in Mumbai. The proposal was shot down.

According to information obtained through RTI, NFAI, which is responsible for preservation and archiving of films and related material, had last year proposed to open a new office in Mumbai “to facilitate better interaction with the film industry”.

The issue had come up for discussion at a meeting of the high-level committee for National Film Heritage Mission in April last year. The agenda document for that meeting shows that the then I&B Secretary Ajay Mittal was in agreement with the proposal.

“A space of 5,000 sqft in the office of Films Division or any other location would be required for this,” the agenda item read.

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Three regional offices nearly closed, NFAI proposed another but it was rejected Inside NFAI’s Bengaluru office, which holds around 65 film prints and 40,000 film scripts. It has now been “sealed”. (File Photo)

The committee, however, turned down the proposal and instead suggested that “conferences and workshops should be held in Mumbai for creating awareness and ensuring continuous interaction with the film industry”.

Interestingly, while NFAI was pushing for a new regional office, existing ones in Bengaluru, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram are all but closed and there has been no attempt to revive them. RTI information, interviews with people involved and personal visits show that all three regional offices have remained non-functional for the last 10 years at least.

Two of these offices, in Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram, are being manned by just one Group D employee with no supervision from senior officers, while the third one in Bengaluru had to be ‘sealed’ earlier this month after the sole staffer retired in October last year. NFAI could not send a replacement.

In the past, the regional offices used to be headed by a senior administrative officer (regional officer) and had support staff like film checkers, clerks and peons.

In February this year, The Indian Express used RTI to inspect the files of all communication received from the three regional offices by NFAI’s Pune headquarters. The files show that the only communication that Pune headquarters received from these offices every month in the last five years is electricity and newspaper bills, funds for which have to be sent on a monthly basis.

Film societies & ROs

NFAI had set up the regional offices in the eighties with an aim to act as centres of film distribution for film societies that were popular in several parts of the country. The Bengaluru office was started in 1982-83 while two others — Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram — were established in 1985-86.

In 1994, as many as 739 film societies were affiliated to NFAI (presently its film distribution library has just 30 active members) across the country. They used to source the films from the NFAI headquarters in Pune and the three regional offices. Since film societies often had meagre budgets, they could not afford hiring cinema halls and screening 35-mm films. They mostly relied on 16-mm film prints of Indian and international classics which were supplied by NFAI.

With passage of time and advent of digital technology, other avenues of obtaining films opened up for film societies as well as individual cinema aficionados. In the 2000s, the connection of films societies with NFAI started to weaken as they started to use other sources to obtain films.

Film societies themselves faced an existential crisis as film lovers could download and watch films in the comforts of their houses.

One of the former directors of NFAI had, in fact, proposed to the I&B Ministry that the regional offices be closed down and “idle staff” in those offices be called to Pune headquarters.

“There was a severe staff crunch at Pune headquarters. At the regional offices as there was little work and no senior officer to supervise them, I had suggested that the staff should be shifted to Pune and these offices be shut,” said K S Sasidharan, the former director who made the proposal in 2007.

Also, sources said that the key posts for running of the regional offices — that of regional officers — are Group B posts whose appointment is beyond the purview of NFAI Director. “These postings are made by the ministry which has not happened for many many years,” said an official.

Former officials feel that the more sensible thing to do would be to use these existing offices for better liaisoning with Bengali, Kannada and Malayalam film industries to procure material for preservation. “Closing these three offices would be the easiest thing to do. As with any government department, opening a new one is very difficult. These offices can serve great purpose if proper staff is posted there and specific duties are assigned considering the changing needs in the digital era,” said a former NFAI official.

Prakash Magdum, Director, NFAI, blamed the condition of the regional offices on shortage of staff and said that efforts were being made to recruit more employees. “The regional offices act as centres for film collection, acquisition and a nodal office in the region to liaison with the regional film industry and other stakeholders. Since the film industry has seen a paradigm shift from analog films to the digital medium, the content and material in film format is not available much. The NFAI has been facing a staff crunch situation as no recruitment happened in the recent past,” said Magdum.

“Looking into the staff situation, NFAI has undertaken the recruitment process through the Staff Selection Commission. Also, for some of the posts, there is a need to revise the recruitment rules. It is awaiting approval of the ministry. Once done, the regional offices should be equipped with sufficient manpower,” he said.

No record

The Indian Express approached NFAI with RTI queries seeking a list of material held at these regional offices. In response, NFAI said that it did not have any record pertaining to film prints, scripts, books, censor cuts (films scenes that were removed from films and handed over to NFAI by Central Board of Film Certification) or any other material stored at the three regional offices.

The Indian Express managed to obtain information about the material stored at the Bengaluru office. Just before the office was sealed earlier this month, The Indian Express learnt that the office had 65 film prints (about 40 35-mm films and 25 16-mm films), approximately 40,000 film scripts and around 400 books on cinema. The office has no air-conditioning system (a must for storage of film prints) nor does it have any dedicated security personnel.

Magdum maintained that the Bengaluru office was still “functional”.

“The regional office, Bengaluru, is still functioning and has filmic and non-filmic material available at the premises. Recently NFAI assessed the material and the same would be shifted on the basis of priority as per preservation policy,” said Magdum.

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