The celebration of a hundred years of cinema cannot only be about the revival of the glorious past; it must also be about ensuring a vibrant cinema in the present, said Onir, the director of National Award-winning film I Am, here on Wednesday.

“What is happening to today’s independent cinema across the country? Though there are a lot of new-age film-makers who are trying to make films, the biggest challenge we face today is where do we show our films,” he said addressing a seminar on a hundred years of Indian Cinema at the 18{+t}{+h}Kolkata International Film Festival here.

Onir’s remarks, ironically made at a film festival that has been criticised for changing its character in an attempt to woo mainstream cinema, drew attention to “the crisis” independent film-makers face today with “star-driven and studio-backed films” taking complete control of the exhibition of films — both in theatres and in television.

He said that in a situation where the makers of a big-budget film like Son of Sardar are finding it difficult to release their films, directors like him are hard pressed to even have their voices heard by distributors.

“Are we supposed to survive on awards and fresh air?” asked Onir pointing out the irony that National Award-winning films were deprived the opportunity of a primetime broadcast by the country’s public service broadcaster, Doordarshan.

An online petition made to the Centre on these issues was initiated by Onir who has been joined by about 40 independent film-makers, several of whom have won the National Award for their films.

“We have heard that the Government of India has allocated Rs. 600 crore for the restoration of prints of films, which is a very good initiative. But we want the Government to spend just a third of that money on building or refurbishing a chain theatres across the country that will screen only films made by independent film-makers,” Onir added.

He said that Rs. 200 crore would be enough to build 400 theatres across the country for the endeavour, which would open doors for film-makers of regional cinema as well.

These “no-frills” theatres would seat about 150 people and the tickets would be priced at Rs. 50 instead of the exorbitant amounts charged at multiplexes, he explained.