What the NFDC mega merger could mean for the future of Indian cinema and entertainment

'With NFDC becoming an integrated body, resources can be used better. It will also focus on developing content for OTT and on making films and explore better ways to achieve its goals,' said Rahul Rawail.

Archita Kashyap January 12, 2021 14:25:15 IST
What the NFDC mega merger could mean for the future of Indian cinema and entertainment

India has traditionally had five official bodies recording Indian history and development through cinema and the moving arts. Recently, the current government merged four of these bodies- namely Directorate of Film Festivals, National Film Archives of India, Films Division and The Children’s Film Society, India- under NFDC, the National Film Development Corporation.

Work on this mega merger of sorts had begun about three years ago, with different Expert Committees assessing needs and functions of these film based bodies. Film personalities that have worked with NFDC over time, and on these committees, seem to converge on the benefits of this move.

Hema Malini, former chairperson, NFDC said, “This is a timely decision of the Government. Reasonable convergence of activities and resources (of all four bodies) will not only lead to better coordination but this synergy will create balanced growth of Indian film industry, wherein feature films including content for over-the-top (OTT) platforms, children's content, animation, short films and documentaries, will be made by a singular organisation. NFDC will work as an umbrella organisation, which will mean that film development, production, promotion and preservation of filmic content will all come under single management. This will save manpower engagement, operational expenditure and also financial wastage. NFDC has to make its road map and redraft its Memorandum of articles of Association to enhance its contribution to the film industry.”

So far, NFDC has recall value and recognition amongst Indian viewers and at international film festivals as well as markets. Whilst each body aimed to produce and nurture productive content, their footprint is barely known to most people. Often viewed as ‘non mainstream’, for instance, the Childrens’ Film Society has rarely delivered content in terms of cinema that is contemporary and relevant to its target audience.

Filmmaker Rahul Rawail was part of Expert Committee On Review of Autonomous Bodies, which focused on the Childrens’ Film Society. Resonating with Malini’s views, he stated, “The content produced by these bodies couldn’t always be called quality. Since each one was producing and making films, there was a lot of duplication. There was also a lack of synergy. For instance, children’s film and content remains under utilised. The content hasn’t resonated with young audiences always. There will be focus on that area. With NFDC becoming an integrated body, resources can be used better. It will also focus on developing content for OTT and on making films and explore better ways to achieve its goals.”

The merger will focus on tapping into digital mediums, enhancing profitability and utilising film and tv professionals beyond bureaucratic control. Long pending issues like better archiving under the National Film Archives, greater visibility at important film festivals, will take center stage.

Former NFDC MD Nina Lath Gupta, who had a controversial but highly productive term with the film body explained, "With this merger, the new institution has potential to emerge as a more effective tool (than each of these 5 institutions did previously at an individual level) for development activities related to the Indian film industry and thus play an enhanced role as a content creator and market leader. The merger would ensure, for all the institutions, quicker decision-making and a growth trajectory guided by profitability and deliverables that reflect in the balance sheet of the company. In its post-merger avatar, NFDC would be able to monetise the existing assets and infrastructure of all the units. With an expanded asset base, NFDC will emerge a stronger institution that would be in a position to make bigger decisions in content creation than it has hitherto. Further, with the merger, the existing content of all the institutions (CFSI, Films Division and NFDC have an impressive catalogue of films) can also be monetised more effectively. Archiving and restoration being done in NFAI would receive a boost as NFDC has a laid out process for picture and sound restoration, resulting in uniformity of standards. Festivals/ markets held by all the five institutions can now be handled by a single team equipped with the specific skill sets required to organise such events.”

Gupta also explained that there is tremendous room for short form content to tap into audiences with India’s huge data reach. NFDC will work towards creating such content that have infotainment value. “As per available data, India has more than 685 million internet users and 1.06 billion mobile connections. In contrast, pre-COVID, only about 8000 film theatres (the primary vertical of film distribution until recently) were operative and it can safely be said that not more than 1% of India’s population has access to these. Given this inadequate exhibition infrastructure, small films made by these development-oriented institutions invariably lost out on distribution opportunities. This focus on OTT augurs well for the new NFDC as its content can now reach out to larger audiences,” she concluded.

If NFDC targets its archival content, and also creates entertaining films with message value, its potential to give private players a run for their money is unlimited. It can also back filmmakers and content creators to make films that have value beyond a commercial run. This merger is a move for the future.

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