Once a week, 28-year-old Dhaval Ashar, a transportation planner who lives in the suburbs, makes a trek to South Mumbai. He is one among the many regulars at the Peddar Road headquarters of Films Division (FD), India. These 40 or so film buffs gather every Saturday to watch films they “would rarely get to see otherwise” at “FD Zone”, a free and open-to-all event where independent and documentary films are screened.
Launched on July 4, 2012, FD Zone’s inaugural session screened two documentaries, S.N.S. Sastry’s I am Twenty and Ashim Ahluwalia’s John and Jane. It has since become a consistent feature, providing the city’s discerning audience an alternative to Prithvi@Vikalp, which is known for screening non-fiction content since its inception in 2007.
It’s a momentous occasion for FD Zone—a product of the new initiatives by a revived FD, introduced by its current director general, V.S. Kundu in 2012 — that held its 100th edition on July 12. “The main aim of the initiative was to develop a cinema culture and build an audience for non-fiction films in India,” says Kundu, who is credited for introducing dynamism in an organisation that had earned the reputation of being “lacklusture, sarkari”.
Apart from showing independent films, FD Zone has also become a platform to showcase films from FD’s vast and rich archive — from early newsreels and “shorties” to documentaries—that is a record of India’s post-independence history on celluloid. The screenings are usually curated packages—a combination of films put together around a theme, done by a group of close-knit independent and documentary professionals in Mumbai.
The week saw the screening of three rare films on Hindustani classical music and musicians from the FD archive, Pramod Pati’s experimental documentary on Ravi Shankar that travels between his home and the stage, S.N.S. Sastry’s docu-fiction film on Ustad Amir Khan, and Gulzar’s feature-length film on the music and family life of Bhimsen Joshi.
“It is an attempt to create a dialogue on diverse film-making practices. Fellow film-makers and audiences have supported and enthusiastically participated in making this a space of vibrant discourse on film, politics, society, history, art and entertainment and also an important place for the collective viewing of cinema,” says Avijit Mukul Kishore, a filmmaker who curates for FD Zone with other city-based film-makers such as Surabhi Sharma and Pankaj Rishi Kumar. The screenings were followed by an interactive session with the film-maker or the curator of the films.
The film-makers are given freedom in matters of curation, a step further in shedding FD’s earlier tendency of showing government propaganda films. Although the emphasis is on non-fiction cinema, it also occasionally screens fiction, the criteria focusing on “content that is provocative and stimulates the intellect”.
The turnout was patchy but FD Zone had its fair share of regulars that ranged from students, movie buffs, film-makers, old and young. The initiative has largely relied on social media to reach out to the audiences. A weekly feature in Mumbai, the programme is running once a month in seven other cities — Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Madurai, Thrissur and Coimbatore, in partnership with local organisations.
“At the heart of FD Zone is the collaborative aspect. It’s all happening due to a shared passion for cinema,” says Kundu, who adds that the next step is taking the programme to villages. “They are left with watching commercial content on satellite television and need exposure to good cinema, with content created around local issues. We aim to achieve that.”