Talk of shutting down the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) has been on since 2015, when the NITI Aayog had suggested to the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry that CFSI, which funds the production and distribution of children’s films, be merged with the Films Division, that creates documentaries, primarily on government programmes. The scope of NITI’s suggestion was later broadened to talk about bringing all film-related activities carried out by the government under an umbrella body. This meant Films Division and the Directorate of Film Festivals would also cease to exist. This suggestion had been rejected by I&B officials, citing foreseeable operational constraints, but earlier this week, the intent was reiterated by the ministry. The reasons offered are many—from NITI’s view that this will improve efficiency by eliminating overlaps of function to, as claimed by unnamed officials in media reports, the move improving accountability since the various bodies have, so far, been run as either fiefdoms of individuals or organisations to accommodate political appointees.
The grievances with the present NFDC, CFSI et al structure may not be entirely unfounded. However, a merger/umbrella body is hardly the solution to this. These bodies may have a seemingly similar function—funding the creation and distribution of cinematic content, especially content that may not seem commercially viable—but the similarity ends at this superficial level. Cinema is a creative field, and what makes for good cinema is fraught with subjectivity. This means mandates must be kept separate and the right experts must be at the helm for parallel cinema and children’s movies—only then can appropriate ecosystems for both be fostered. Some may argue that this is solved by having sub-committees of domain experts. But, if a Gattu or a Shaanu (both funded by CFSI) had to compete with a Mirch Masala or a Shanghai (which received funding from NFDC) for the same quantum of overall funds, fewer Gattus/Shaanus will get made given how the market treats children’s movies. The need is to fund these bodies better while ensuring that they deliver. In FY16, CFSI got Rs 9.4 crore for film production and exhibition, while, in FY18, the overall budgeted allocation for the government’s film-related activities was just `207 crore. If CFSI and NFDC have not lived up to the vision behind their creation, their funding seems as much a factor as lack of accountability.