In a bid to enable their people to access each other’s popular culture, India and China have decided to expand their collaboration in the realm of films through festivals, exchange of artistes and students and joint productions. But practical constraints remain.

As a Chinese film festival got underway here on Tuesday, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari and his visiting Chinese counterpart, Cai Fuchao, decided to take steps to deepen the ‘people-to-people relationship’ between the two countries.

India has invited China to be the principal guest country at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa next year. It also requested China to send classical films for the festival later this year.

Mr Tewari said, “There will be regular student and faculty exchanges between our film schools and the Beijing Film Academy, and between personnel from public broadcasters of both countries.”

Terming India-China relationship “one of the most important relationships in the 21st century,” Mr. Cai said his talks were ‘candid, sincere, pragmatic… productive and fruitful.’ He said that there was “consensus at the level of the two ministers to promote co-production of films.”

An I&B Ministry official said India had entered into co-production agreements with six other countries, including Germany, France and Poland. These provided legal frameworks for ‘private, quasi-government or government agencies’ to enter into contracts to produce films together. These films were then treated as ‘national films’ in both countries.

Market barriers

If and when such films are jointly produced, they may well overcome the hurdle of screening Indian films in Chinese theatres. But it does not address a persistent Indian concern of limited market access to Indian films.

China has a restrictive policy, allowing only a limited number of foreign films. Most of the share is taken by Hollywood cinema. A senior official said, “Our concern is driven not so much by soft-power projection as commercial factors. India’s film companies are very keen to have the ability to show movies in the big Chinese market.”

I&B Ministry Secretary Uday Kumar Verma raised the matter during the talks. The Chinese side said they would consider the matter, but refrained from making any commitment. To deal with issues such as these the two ministries would set up a joint working group.

An official at the talks said the Chinese appeared ‘earnest and serious’ about resolving concerns.

The talks took place a month after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India, which followed tensions between the two countries over Chinese incursions in Ladakh.

Analysts had then noted Premier Li’s concerted attempt to reach out to different sections of Indian public opinion as a departure from the past, where Beijing concentrated almost exclusively on state-to-state ties.

An official, familiar with the bilateral ties, told The Hindu, “I don’t want to overstate it, but yes, today’s talks can be seen as an attempt by China to find ways to expand their public outreach here.”