Tackling business with optimism

The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) has become the talk of the new breed of film-makers. Mr. D. Mukhopadhyay, Managing Director, talks to ASHOK KUMAR about the immediate goals of the Corporation. Excerpts from the interview.

WHAT WAS the nature of your association with cinema before you joined the NFDC?

I was a film buff and when I joined the service (1979) I was a deputy director in the Directorate of Film Festivals. So I started with films only. The timing was perfect because the Indian Panorama had just started. In fact I can claim myself as the founder of the Indian Panorama section. In 1980, the International film festival of India (IFFI) for the first time had the Indian Panorama section in Bangalore. I was involved in the whole event and got acquainted with the best of Indian directors.

I have never missed an IFFI till now. I wrote a book on director Mrinal Sen in 1995, the first and the only biography of the great film- maker. When I got an opportunity to head the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) last October, I was happy to be associated with it. I have kept my contacts with the film industry intact till now.

NFDC is a Government body and what are the ways you think you can make it work for the benefit of the film industry?

When Mrs. Hemamalini took over in last July as the Chairman, she was keen to have a proper team. So the Government has started rebuilding the team and it has appointed six directors, all from the film industry, except one. Producer Devi Varaprasad, film- maker Vijai Mehta, film society person Sudir Nandgaonkar, theatre personality Syed Aamir Raza Hussein, Kiran Shantaram, son of the legendary film-maker, V. Shantaram, and Suketu Shah, Chairman of Mukund Steel.

The Gita Commission report recommends the closure of all film- related bodies. Is NFDC a losing concern to be wound-up?

NFDC has never been a losing proposition. In the past 20 years of its existence, only once, in 1998-99, it suffered a loss of about Rs. 10 crores.

All other years it has registered only profit. We have not taken any money from the Government in the past five years. We are generating our own resources. I don't think this is bad economic management.

When NFDC is earning profits there is no reason why it should be closed. This was my reply to the Gita Commission report. I am happy to say that the Government has accepted my report.

In the director's list there is only one from the South. Why?

The process of finalising the board is only half- finished. So we cannot comment on it now. More people are going to come. Actually there is none from the East. After the board is fully constituted it will have perfect regional balance.

Which is top on your list of priorities - film production, exhibition or distribution.

I think all these areas are equally important. Film production has no meaning if you do not have distribution and exhibition. This was the sad reality when I took over with 30 films lying in the cans. With the mushrooming of cable and satellite channels theatre distribution has become a tough job.

One way is to approach the State Governments as each has a hall in its capital. We have started negotiating with them. As all our films are subtitled in English, language should not be a problem. We are going for certain small cinema halls not more than 300 capacity. That is one of our first targets.

Till now we have given chance to 87 debutant film-makers. Some of them have become legends - Mani Kaul, Kumar Shani, Govind Nihlani, Ketan Metha. We want to continue the tradition. This year also of the six we are funding, three are by first time directors.

In addition to that we are also thinking of inviting some of the eminent film-makers of our country to make films for us.

The Information and Broadcasting Minister, Ms. Sushma Swaraj, said that an Indian pavilion would be opened at the Cannes festival. For years the NFDC has been trying to do business abroad. Will you continue to do so?

In Cannes, it was an `India Pavilion' and not NFDC pavilion. The idea was that even film-makers, distributors and exporters apart from the NFDC are welcome to this pavilion.

Yash Chopra came with his films and software which he displayed there. Shah Rukh Khan sent the promo of his ``Asoka''. We also showed the promo of ``Lagaan''.

We took films from other film producers and exhibited them there. We arranged to show ``Shantam,'' Jairaj's picture in the market section of the Cannes festival. I think we are getting very good response from the buyers.

Cannes' experience has been really good. We help producers to get their films sold in world market.

Does your Chairman, Mrs. Hema Malini, evince interest in the NFDC work?

Our Chairman is in Bombay and so also is my office. At least once in a week we spend an entire day assessing our progress. She always comes up with excellent suggestions. Her experience in cinema has given her a tremendous insight.

Why has ``Ambedkar'' not been released till now?

Ambedkar was made in 1999 but that was the English version. Originally the film was shot in English and subsequently dubbed it in Hindi and seven major Indian languages.

We have got exemption from entertainment tax from various State Governments. The film will be released before this year end.

What will Tamil filmdom get from the NFDC during your tenure?

I will definitely welcome good scripts from aspiring Tamil film- makers. The NFDC will certainly help them in this regard.