That’s the message indie filmmakers have put together in a petition to the Government of India

As the country celebrates 100 years of cinema, independent filmmakers are feeling the brunt of the government’s apathy. Around 35 filmmakers, who work outside the studio system, have come together to initiate a movement to save the alternative voices in cinema.

They have come up with a petition addressed to the Government of India where they have argued a case for government patronage and subsidies for independent cinema. “We applaud that the Information & Broadcasting Ministry is spending 600 crores (rupees) to revive our archival films but urgent attention needs to be given to support the meaningful indie cinema. Otherwise we will be celebrating the past glory while letting the present new wave Indian cinema die,” says Onir suggesting that one third of this amount could be spent on establishing infrastructure for independent cinema.

The maker of National Award winning films like “My Brother Nikhil” and “I Am” avers that the independent filmmakers need low cost exhibition space across the country, which will screen indie films irrespective of language, at lower ticket prices. “Then we would truly be celebrating the cinemas of India.” He gives the example of theatres around Central Delhi which have been shut down with the rise of the multiplex culture. “They could be acquired by the government and turned into exhibition spaces for indie cinema. Similarly, there is Nandan in Kolkata and I have seen a couple of theatres in Lucknow lying in decay.”

Point out to him that private initiatives like PVR’s Director’s Rare have come forward to support independent cinema, and Onir counters by asking how “I Am” and “Dabangg” could compete at the same ticket price. “We have made this point to multiplex owners but they have their own limitations. However, till there is a separate space made available for indie cinema, every multiplex, in the spirit of its creation, should be made to allocate one screen, all shows only for Indian indie cinema.”

Oscar nominated and National Award winning director Ashvin Kumar says internationally the case of State patronage is well established and we have well-conceived institutions with strong mandates to develop and sustain independent cinema. “Over the years, some of these institutions have slipped into decay.”

He gives the example of Doordarshan, which he says should stop supporting self-sustaining studio driven cinema and instead provide a platform for independent films which are raising relevant issues being faced by the society. He cites an example where the public broadcaster offered a very small amount for a critically acclaimed film. “Do they expect a National Award winner to survive on acclaim and fresh air,” he asks.

The petition argues that winning the National Award should also transform into monetary benefit and hence DD telecasts could become a significant component in recovering the costs. “We talk about crossing over to the world but I would like my film to be in seen in Kerala first, rather than taking it to Cannes, and Doordarshan can play a big role in it,” says Onir.

In contrast, as Kumar puts it, the newly revived National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) has shown how good intentions and enlightened patronage could go a long way in supporting cinematic arts in the country.

The petition also points out that independent filmmakers face discrimination when it comes to censorship. Onir maintains that films are discriminated against as compared to TV programmes. “Serials, reality shows and films of big banners get away with so much regressive content while National Award winning films face so much censorship when it comes to TV. Once censored, all films should be allowed to be screened on TV according to appropriate time slot without any further censorship.”

“We need a relook at our censorship laws. We really need to debate what is regressive and what is throttling of art in the name of morality,” says Kumar, adding the Central Board of Film Certification should limit itself to certification and not work as a censor board.

Kumar agrees that cinema should be classified only as good or bad but says experimental films need government patronage because it pushes the boundaries of art. “We need to understand that cinema is an art form. And by its very definition, experiment means that it could fail. Otherwise it will become formula.”

The filmmakers are waiting for 10,000 signatures before they present the petition to the I& B Ministry. “We have already got more than 6000 signatures. A new minister has come in. Let him settle down,” Kumar signs off, indicating that the filmmakers are geared up for a nuanced debate.

WHAT’S RARE?

Kundan Shah, whose “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron” is re-releasing this week as part of PVR Director’s Rare initiative, is not too amused with the state of affairs. Funded by the NFDC, the film is an example of State patronage making a hard hitting satire on the system possible. However, Shah puts NFDC’s support at the time of its making as “wishy washy” and describes PVR’s effort as an attempt to market a “unique product as a prized product.” Yes, if the ticket costs Rs.1000, many of us would say “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron”!