How to protect India’s film heritage

News: The Govt has decided to merge four publicly-funded institutions with National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). Scholars are questioning this treatment, which is based on a misconception that cinema is either an object of information or broadcasting.

These cultural institutions have been known to perform better without the shackles of centralised power or unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.

Their ROCE (Return on the Capital Employed) is the intangibility of their artistic creations.

In this context, it would be interesting to try and understand the history of the four so-called media units of the central government — Films Division, Children’s Film Society of India, National Film Archive of India and Directorate of Film Festivals.

What is the contribution and importance of these publicly-funded cultural institutions?
National Film Archive of India (NFAI)

It was established in 1964. Had the NFAI been established a decade earlier, perhaps its vaults would have possessed the prints of India’s first talkie film (Alam Ara) and much more.

Moreover, NFAI organises regular screenings of rare films from its collection in its campus auditorium in Pune (open to the public on nominal membership basis).

This only indicates how important it is to empower the archiving exercises at the national level.

Films Division

Films Division was established in 1948. It is not only a production unit but also a repository of India’s history on analogue and digital media since independence.

Most of India’s leading filmmakers, besides many younger filmmakers and artists, have made films for the FD, making the nation’s cultural and audio-visual heritage rich. These need to be freely disseminated among people by preserving them carefully and compassionately.

Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), organized by FD, for documentary, short and animation films, has groomed many young filmmakers in India.

Children’s Film Society of India

There are a number of national and international award-winners, providing engagement to young minds in CFSI’s library.

Over half a century ago, FD and CFSI made a wonderful range of fiction and non-fiction animation and puppet films for inculcating good civic sense, too.

Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF)

It was founded in 1973. Besides organising the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) and events abroad, it also takes care of several other films-related events, including the Dadasaheb Phalke Awards.

What is the way forward?

All these bodies under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting function individually as well as in coordination, each carrying its own history, recording the many national ups and downs as public services with no monetary or profit objective.

Federally, archival activities need to be prioritised, empowering the film archiving body as an independent, less bureaucratically burdened body without over-centralisation.

India should have as many archival facilities as the number of states and Union Territories. This will ensure that poor students from far-off villages who wish to pursue research can have easier access to NFAI’s collection of films, & its books and viewing materials.

– An umbrella Chalachitra Academy: The only state that has one is Kerala which effectively and efficiently manages all film-related activities under the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy. Such an umbrella academy would help retain the cultural ethos of a nation under an over-centralised framework.

Source: This post is based on the article “How to protect India’s film heritage” published in The Indian Express on 30th Dec 2021.

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