Until 2006, the National Film Development Corporation or NFDC as we know it, was generating a Rs. 12 crore turnover. Within five years of taking charge, Nina Lath Gupta, Managing Director of NFDC, has turned the ship around. Before another hectic day at NFDC’s Film Bazaar, Goa, that runs parallel to the International Film Festival of India, Nina Gupta sits down for a chat.
Before another hectic day at NFDC's Film Bazaar, Goa, that runs parallelly to the International Film Festival of India, Nina Gupta sits down for a chat. Just the previous night, her young and spirited team was on the dance floor, partying the night away. But they're all at work by seven a.m. for another day at the busiest film bazaar in this part of the world.
Q: This is a rather young and modern NFDC, no one would think this is a government agency looking at your team or the swanky new office.
A: Present day is always modern, isn't it? (laughs) Every institution has to adapt to its time. The vision remains intrinsic but the modalities have to change and we felt the need too. To change mindsets, you have to change the environment. There has to be a greater degree of transparency and accountability. Accountability always starts top down because you have to set an example. We enjoy working together, it's a great team. We downsized, we restructured, we brought in a lot of people with specific skillsets. It was important to build team spirit. Everybody works together and supports everybody. That's the only way to make a small institution effective. If we start making compartmentalised divisions, then it becomes very difficult to operate. Your costs go up, the manpower requirements go up.
Q: What is your vision for NFDC in the current environment of star-driven 100 crore blockbusters?
A: It's always been star-driven, hasn't it? We are very clear in our minds that it is not our job to compete. It's not NFDC's job to compete with a UTV or Reliance or a Yash Raj Films. Our job is to supplement the industry and to meet the gaps. Now we recognise that in the current scenario, NFDC is not a big institution if you were to look at the numbers - if you look at the equity base or financial capabilities are far lower than any studio. But the fact of the matter is that NFDC supports cinema that is not supported anywhere else. We support new talent that has very little chance of getting financing anywhere outside. But I also believe that promotion of cinema does not equate itself only with production, which was the mindset we perhaps had in the 70s and the 80s, because it was required at that point of time. Films like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Salaam Bombay, Mirch Masala or Rudaali would have never been made if NFDC had not produced those films because they would not have got funding in the private sector.
But those kind of films today do get funding in the private sector. So NFDC can use its limited resources in a better manner somewhere else. If someone's willing to finance such films, we are more than happy. That's the thinking behind setting up the co-production market. In a country that makes a 1000 films, we make eight films a year with our limited resources. Promotion doesn't mean only production, it begins with screenwriting development. This is something we saw in 2006 - that we need to develop our scripts. It bothered us that writers who are the backbone to every project are probably the least recognised.
How do writers write international films if they themselves had that kind of exposure of international markets? So when we set up screenwriter's lab, we adapted it to the needs of the writers. So on one hand, we are picking projects and fine-tuning them to make them production worthy. We pick up scripts that have the potential. You keep adapting the objective of promotion to the needs of the hour.
Q: Do you feel there is a need to set up alternative revenue models for arthouse cinema given that it cannot compete with publicity spends of the mainstream?
A: I believe that there is no standard operating mechanism for release of films. What works for one film does not work for the other. I am not in the commercial domain. We tend to straightjacket theatrical release with distribution. What is distribution? Distribution means that I should be able to bring my film out to the maximum number of people. How I do it is a mechanism I have to devise according to the need of the film and according to our budget. We have a catalogue of 300 films. The commercial exhibition circuit is not geared to handle these kind of films, so we cannot do the kind of spends that commercial films do. Somebody would pay 50 rupees to watch Anhey Gorey Da Daan but they wouldn't spend 300 rupees to watch it in a multiplex.
So there's home video, VoD platform, satellite... Theatrical release is just one week but we have films that are talked about even 30 years later. When we released Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron weeks ago, it ran housefull. And it didn't need promotion, the name promoted itself. That is the kind of cinema that NFDC is supposed to promoting and nurturing. Cinema that will go on to be an intrinsic part of celluloid history. So I would go with the traditional definition of distribution. I believe distribution is making the film available in whichever form that makes it most accessible to people. If it's not theatrical, so be it. We are moving into times when we want to be able to watch films on our iPad. We want to be able to watch the film on a flight or during a long cab ride from Andheri to Colaba. Our home video label Cinemas of India proves that point, it was an instant success. We have done reruns of every single DVD we have released till now.
Q: NFDC's Film Bazaar seems to have spawned quite a few success stories over the past few years.
A: We have had little successes from the very beginning. In the first year, we presented a film called Ocean Of An Old Man and North America rights were picked up the Global Film Initiative here. The next year, Fortissimo films picked up Children of the Pyre. Last year was special. Dabba was immediately picked up in the Screenwriter's Lab for co-production and it's almost finished within a year. Sebastian Wants To Remember which was picked up in the Screenwriter's Lab is back this year in the Co-Production Market. Miss Lovely was picked up for Cannes from here. Ship of Theseus was introduced in Film Bazaar to Fortissimo and was picked up here. Mumbaicha Raja that went to Toronto was discovered in Film Bazaar. The viewing room, for instance, is always full with festival programmers and buyers because it showcases the latest in Indian cinema.
Q: What avenues does NFDC offer the young filmmaker?
A: We are looking at instituting a short film competition because that would be a great way to identify talent. I believe there's great talent out there in smaller towns. We will also be looking at setting up a Documentary Film Promotion Space shortly. NFDC has so far been reactive rather than proactive. It used to be proactive in its early days. We have realised now that we have to reach out to discover new talent and nurture them.
Q: What further support are you seeking from the government.
A: The government has been completely supportive. The turnaround of NFDC can be completely attributed to Ms.Ambika Soni and the efforts she took. I am really grateful to her. She took all the steps because she understood that there was a basic faultline in the way the institution was set up. On one hand it's about Development but on the other, it's also a Corporation - a corporate entity that has to present a healthy balance sheet to the government every year. Now, balance sheets don't come from development. So you need something else to sustain and meet our operating costs. We pay our own salaries. We meet our own administrative expenses. Which is why we are constantly cost cutting. So we don't build cabins. Because there's a cost (laughs). We function like every other private sector company does. So Ms. Soni and the former Secretary Mr. Raghu Menon gave us tremendous amount of support during the process of restructuring.
So everything we submitted during the restructuring phase was cleared by the Cabinet. We needed to clean up the past. Only three per cent of our manpower had skillsets that were geared to deal with the needs of the industry at this stage. We had a huge loan liability. We've come a really long way. Change never happens overnight. The last five years have been about defining those areas that needed change. You have to whittle down to rebuild an institution and start afresh.
Q: There's a petition from the independent filmmaking community signed by 42 filmmakers and 7500 signatories asking the government for alternative exhibition spaces for arthouse cinema.
A: In fact, we are setting up exhibition spaces in Chennai and Mumbai within the next year. But these things require a lot of infrastructure and to set up something of this scale around the country will take some time.