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Centre’s push to merge film archive and other film bodies will ill serve their original mandates

🔴 The country was better off for this fine balance between a film industry that defined itself in market terms and a cinema that focussed on the politics and aesthetics of art production. Let it remain so.

By: Editorial |
Updated: December 29, 2021 9:53:01 am
The primary reason behind the push for restructuring these institutions seems to be that they are loss-making entities.

The Centre has set a January deadline to merge four public-funded institutions — the Films Division (FD), National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), and Children’s Films Society of India (CFSI) — with the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). This is an ill-conceived move. Each of these bodies has its separate mandate and all of them need to be strengthened further with funds and infrastructure updates so that they can deliver.

The primary reason behind the push for restructuring these institutions seems to be that they are loss-making entities. The NFDC is expected to turn around its finances once the merger takes place. This is a flawed assumption premised on comparing these cultural bodies with industrial units in the red. The NFAI, FD, DFF, CFSI are institutions with a history. They have been a part of independent India’s nation-building process and have made stellar contributions to producing, disseminating and preserving the labour and creativity of diverse film cultures in the country. Take the NFAI, which was set up in 1964 to archive Indian cinema history. Despite its delayed birth — the first Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, was made in 1913 and the first talkie, Alam Ara, in 1931 — the NFAI has done a commendable job of preserving Indian cinema history, thanks to the vision and perseverance of its founder director, P K Nair. Like any national archive, it is involved in the task of protecting national heritage — countries such as the US and France allot public funds for their film archives precisely for this reason. In fact, the NFAI ought to be expanded so that it can do justice to the huge volumes of films produced in the country — India produces the largest number of films in the world annually. Each of India’s major cinema production centres — Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai — has a long history, though much of it has been lost. Regional archives are necessary so that justice can be done to diverse vibrant cinema cultures in numerous languages.

All these years, India’s public-funded cinema bodies have focussed mostly on nurturing an ecosystem to facilitate the making of arthouse cinema and documentaries that would not find support from the market. This approach, inadvertently perhaps, also facilitated the production of works that boldly questioned the very systems and processes that enabled their existence. The country was better off for this fine balance between a film industry that defined itself in market terms and a cinema that focussed on the politics and aesthetics of art production. Let it remain so.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 29, 2021 under the title ‘A blurred focus’.

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