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Bid to save funds or a catastrophe? Why govt has merged 4 film bodies under I&B ministry

National Film Archive, Films Division, Directorate of Film Festivals, and Children’s Film Society are now under the fold of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).

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New Delhi: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Wednesday announced the modalities of merging three public-funded film media units with the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), which is a central agency mandated with “fostering excellence” in Indian cinema. While a fourth is also part of the merger, the I&B orders didn’t dwell on it.

The proposal to merge four public-funded film media units — Films Division, Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), National Film Archive of India (NFAI), and the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) — with the NFDC was first announced in 2020, when it generated controversy.

The Films Division, the DFF, the NFAI and the CFSI all come under the I&B ministry, as does the NFDC.

The merger is effective from Friday (1 April), the I&B ministry has now said. The ministry also released three different orders pertaining to the details of the mergers of the Films Division, DFF, and NFAI with the NFDC’s “production”, “promotions”, and “preservation” verticals, respectively.

Documentary films, earlier the province of the Films Division, the ministry said, would henceforth be made under the “production vertical” of the NFDC. Documentaries already under production, however, will be completed by the Films Division “as per their extant rules and regulations”.

The director-general of the Films Division will have to ensure timely knowledge transfer and the managing director of the NFDC will have to assign a team that will “understand the modalities” of the division, the order said.

Similarly, the National Film Archive of India will now be under the “preservation vertical” of the NFDC. The post of the director has been given to Ravinder Bhakar, who is also the CEO of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

The “promotion vertical” of the NFDC is taking over the organising of the annual International Film Festival of India (IFFI) from the Directorate of Film Festivals. “The 53rd edition of IFFI to be held in November 2022 shall be organised by NFDC under its promotion vertical,” the order read.

Last December, it may be recalled, more than 800 signatories from the film industry, including actor Naseeruddin Shah and writer Varun Grover, had written a letter to the I&B ministry opposing the imminent merger, claiming that the process lacked “clarity and transparency” and would be a “catastrophe” for India’s film heritage.

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What are the reasons given for the merger?

The government has maintained that the absorption of the four film bodies into the NFDC will ensure better utilisation of funds and a smoother working process.

The decision was mulled over for close to three years. In 2020, a 12-member committee was formed, headed by former I&B secretary Bimal Julka, to study the  rationalisation/closure/merger of film media units under the ministry.

The expert committee comprised eminent film personalities, including Rahul Rawail, A.K. Bir, Shyamaprasad, and T.S. Nagabharana, along with the special secretary and financial adviser (I&B) and joint secretary (films).

This committee submitted a report to the then Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar, recommending a merger to ensure a better flow of resources. The committee also reported that there was an overlap of activities in different institutes, which could be undertaken by one department, and that an umbrella organisation could help streamline these.

Rahul Rawail, who was part of the expert committee, has stated that the merger of the film bodies was necessary as these divisions were marred with issues like duplication, which also meant misuse of funds.

The future prospect of giving more opportunities to newer filmmakers and steady collaboration with OTT platforms was also a subject of discussion.

Criticism of the merger

In December last year, prominent Bollywood personalities wrote to the I&B ministry opposing the merger of film divisions in India. Actor Naseeruddin Shah and film-maker Vikramaditya Motwane were among the 850 signatories

Their argument was that the expert committee did not consult widely with the primary stakeholders within the industry, and there was thus a lack of transparency in the process.

The letter further argued that there was “widespread speculation in the media” that the exercise was a “precursor for future privatisation of our film archives and government properties”.

They called the decision of closing the NFAI a “catastrophe in the name of Indian film heritage”. The letter sought commitment in writing as well that none of the archives would be used to make profits or auctioned.

In a write-up last month, film-maker Anand Patwardhan said “our archived history is in danger of disappearing or being re-cut and rewritten”. National Award-winning film-maker Shilpi Gulati wrote in a 26 March opinion piece that the archives “will undoubtedly be tampered with, damaged, or destroyed forever”, if they “do not remain autonomous public institutions”.

Staff adjustments

Employees working with the closing divisions have expressed anxiety over their future after the merger. Their concerns relate to government benefits like CGHS and housing.

A petition was also filed with the Delhi High Court in October last year where the association of employees sought details on the transfer of duties post-merger.

The Centre sought to assuage their concerns and promised to “adjust” positions.

The order Wednesday mentioned some details of the transfer. “The employees of the Films Division involved in the activities related to the production of filmic content are hereby attached under the production vertical of NFDC as a temporary arrangement until further orders,” the order read.

On utilisation of employees for current workflow, the ministry said, “MD NFDC may utilise the services of employees to ensure that NFDC is able to successfully implement the mandate. This arrangement shall have no bearing on any of the service conditions of the employees.”

A “temporary arrangement” was also mentioned for the NFAI, wherein employees will be attached to the preservation vertical of NFDC.

For DFF, the employees will now be under the promotion vertical of NFDC, which again is a temporary status.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

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