IFFI 52, 049: Will IFFI be the same ever again?
In 2004, the Government of India decided to shift the travelling International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to Goa, and soon confirmed that this will be the permanent venue. That it has been, for 17 years now. What prompted the decision to choose the capital city of Goa, Panaji, as the permanent venue remains open to question. Goa has negligible film production and even more negligible film culture. It is already a prime tourist attraction, and does not need an IFFI to boost this industry. The weather, in the last week of November, when the festival is held, is unduly hot and makes one very uncomfortable. A multiplex, INOX, was built in record time, on government land, and the facility of the Kala Academy, where drama and music shows are held, were requisitioned for screenings.
To make things easier in terms of soliciting advertisements and sponsorships, a body called the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG) was formed, with the Chief Minister as its Chairman. ESG jointly organises IFFI under agreements that are renewed periodically. A large festival complex, with many auditoria, some with huge seating capacity, and a residential wing, were promised by successive Chief Ministers, year after year. Nothing has happened on this front in 17 years. But it is important to note that the organising and control of IFFI was now shared between the Directorate of Film Festivals – DFF (a unit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Union Government of India) and a nebulous body called ESG. One should have seen the signs of ominous foreboding. The last time something close to such a move had occurred was in 1975, when the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) and the Indian Motion Picture Export Corporation (IMPEC) were merged, to create the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).
From providing films to IFFI for screening, some years ago, it moved in another direction. There used to be film markets held alongside IFFI, with little or no business transacted. NFDC stepped in, and started holding Film Bazaars parallel to IFFI Goa, at a different venue. Anybody registered with the Film Bazaar, for a substantial fee, would have access to all IFFI events. Not so vice versa. A lot of good came from these Bazaars, as projects found financers, and some scripts that were lying around for years suddenly had producers picking them up. Both IFFI and Film Bazaar started appointing PR and event management agencies. There are stories of junior reporters of major publications flown to Goa and given five-star hospitality in return for favourable coverage. This in spite of the fact that there exists a Press Information Bureau (PIB), which is the government’s news agency-cum-PR outfit. Sponsored cocktail parties every evening, with select invitees, was another feature of the Bazaar. Over the years, there crept-in a sort of snootiness and snobbishness within NFDC and ESG, though the DFF’s working style did not change much.
IFFI became a game of numbers. How about 10,000 delegate registrations? Why not 15,000? Are 300 film screenings enough? Or are 500 the desirable figure? And then why not 20,000 or 30,000 delegates? What’s wrong with 1,000 or 1,500 screenings? No explanation is needed. How counter-productive the numbers game can be to the cause of good cinema and committed cine enthusiasts is self-evident. And where do we go from here? Let’s play the merger game. DFF, Films Division, Children’s Film Society of India and National Film Archive of India are not performing to their potential. Admitted. A committee was appointed under Mr. Bimal Julka, to find out what ails these four organisations.
It was called the Expert Committee on Rationalisation/Closure/Merger of Film Media Units and Review of Autonomous Bodies. The committee submitted its report on 02 June 2020 to the then Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar. With over four decades of service in the Government at both state and national levels, Bimal Julka is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Officer of the 1979 batch, belonging to the Madhya Pradesh Cadre. He held the prestigious position of Chief Information Commissioner, Government of India, until September 2020. Prior to that, Julka has held several senior positions in the Ministry of Defence, Civil Aviation, Information & Broadcasting, External Affairs, Finance, Commerce and Public Relations in Govt. of India.
The committees were appointed for rationalisation and professionalisation of institutes related to film activities. It had eight meetings and had recommended specific roadmaps for the development of National Film Development Corporation, Films Division, Children’s Film Society of India, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Directorate of Film Festivals, and National Film Archives of India, etc. The committee has found overlapping activities undertaken by multiple institutes and has suggested an umbrella configuration with four broad verticals, under which institutes should work, viz. Production, Festivals, Heritage and Knowledge. These verticals would be headed by professionals. The report recommends creation of a Film Promotion Fund, to fund independent film-makers for making commercial films.
The Expert Committee had eminent personalities on it, like Rahul Rawail (who has been part of IFFI for many years now, in varying roles), A.K. Bir (a cinematographer-director, who has been heading the technical committee of IFFI for over 10 years), Shyama Prasad and T.S. Nagabharana as members, along with Special Secretary and Financial Advisor (I&B) and Joint Secretary (Films). MD of NFDC, CEO of CFSI, Director of NFAI, Director of DFF, DG of Films Division and Joint Secretary (Films) were also members.
A press release by the PIB added:
The Terms of Reference for Expert Committee on Review of Autonomous Bodies were:
• Review of performance of Film and Television Institute of India(FTII), Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute(SRFTI) and Children’s Film Society of India(CSFI) as per the mandate under their Memorandum of Association. Whether objectives for which these institutes have been set up are being achieved/ any shortcomings and reasons thereof.
• Review of the objectives of these institutes to ascertain of they are still relevant and continue to serve a “public purpose” and to examine whether the public purpose can be served in a more efficient manner by other entities in the Government or the private sector. Whether the nature of the activities is such that these need to be performed only by an autonomous organisation. To suggest whether the Government may consider corporatisation, merger, and disengagement by the Government or closure of these institutes.
• Whether user charges are levied at appropriate rates and suggest measures for improvement of revenue generation to make the institution financially self-sufficient in the long run. Also to suggest appropriate price indices for linking the user charges. Review the expenditure incurred by these institutes with a view to bring the operation and cost efficiency in the working.
• Suggest a draft of Memorandum of Understanding to be signed between the Ministry and the Institute on the same lines as done for CPSEs and laying down the performance parameters and road map to carry out the intended course of action.
• Review of effectiveness and transparency in administration in FTII and SRFTI, transparency of procurement system, student grievance redressal mechanism and maintain proper discipline in the campus.
The Expert Committee on Rationalisation/Closure/Merger of Film Media Units had the following terms of reference:
• To review the functioning of NFDC and CFSI
• To recommend whether to close NFDC and CFSI and explore any other alternatives, if required.
• To finalise the nature of the proposal Umbrella organisation, viz. a Government body, a Public Sector Unit or an autonomous organisation.
• To finalise the mandate of the proposed Umbrella organisation after reviewing the mandate of all the constituent Media Units.
• To finalise the organisational structure of the proposed umbrella organisation.
*Emphasis, in bold, added.
Then, in December 2021, the Government of India announced that DFF, FD, CFSI and NFAI were to be merged with NFDC, which would effectively absorb these four orgnisations. We are looking at the termination or dissolution of DFF and three other bodies. What could have prompted such a move? It is being whispered and even stated, at least by Rahul Rawail, that these units were non-performing, there was duplication and there was corruption. He agreed that the NFDC was not too different from these four bodies, and that a clean-up would be performed within NFDC before the merger.
From whatever interaction I have had with the four units and NFDC, and from whatever I have heard from those who are both within and without these organisations, the ailments that plague them are:
- 1. Rampant corruption
- 2. Inertia and absenteeism
- 3. Top heavy functioning and red-tape
- 4. Favouritism and nepotism
While there is no data available on items 2, 3 and 4, corruption at the country and region levels has been measured annually by Transparency International. Some of its most recent findings findings:
- A. 47% of Indians felt that corruption increased in 2019-20.
- B. 89% people in India think that corruption is a big problem.
- C. Across the 17 Asian countries surveyed, this equates to 836 million people, India has the highest overall bribery rate (39 per cent).
- D. Bribery in public services continues to plague India. Slow and complicated bureaucratic process, unnecessary red tape and unclear regulatory frameworks force citizens to seek out alternate solutions to access basic services through networks of familiarity and petty corruption.
In this scenario, any attempt to cleanse the media units and bring them under the umbrella of NFDC, which would have been cleansed earlier, is nothing but wishful thinking. It is foolhardy to assume that the gargantuan problem that is plaguing the country as a whole will be solved by a wave of the magic wand when it comes to media units. Are they going to sack all those who are accused of ailments 1, 2, 3 and 4? That will leva e a skeletal staff in place. So, then, will you recruit a thousand new faces to fill in the vacancies caused by the golden handshakes? Even if you do, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the newcomers will be honest, committed, independent and not given to currying or showing favours.
Cleanse the units by all means. Cleanse the whole ministry, by all means. Just don’t dangle threats like: To suggest whether the Government may consider corporatisation, merger, and disengagement by the Government or closure of these institutes and To recommend whether to close NFDC and CFSI and explore any other alternatives, if required. Such terms only give rise to fears that patronage of cinema is going to be sacrificed at the altar of lucre and corporate takeovers. Among other events and activities undertaken by these four media units, IFFI is very dear to us cineastes and film-critics, not to mention industry professionals and students of cinema. Therefore, there is a real fear among us that IFFI will never be the same again.