• The Doordarshan logo
  • Filmmaker Onir
  • Filmmaker Ashvin Kumar
  • I&B Minister Manish Tewari

Last year, in October, TBIP took a petition to ‘save indie cinema’ to the I&B Ministry and published its initial reactions. Next month, we carried a response to these reactions by filmmaker Onir, who had drafted the petition. In June this year, some of the filmmakers’ demands seemed to have been met and this was seen as a relevant, if small, victory. TBIP examines what this really stands for. 

 

It has been almost a year since a group of filmmakers began an online petition to ‘save indie cinema’ on October 2, 2012. One of the things the petition demanded was that National Award winning films be screened on the national TV network Doordarshan (DD). In June, 2013, DD announced that it would now be accepting proposals from independent filmmakers who wish to screen their films on a new TV slot that has been named ‘Best of Indian Cinema’.

Whether this announcement will bring about any change remains to be seen. Some filmmakers have sent their applications, each of which requires an application fee to be paid, but there has been no reply. “It’s been two months since we’ve all applied. We’ve all paid 10,000 Rupees, but we still don’t know when our film will be shown,” says filmmaker Onir, who drafted the petition, and who is heading the ‘Save Indie Cinema’ campaign. “Once we’ve applied why aren’t we just paid the money? They can do programming later. This is how satellite channels function. They sign the agreement. They give you the money. In this case, first of all, we’re paying to apply. Then we have to wait eternally to get the money.” Onir, and other National Award winning filmmakers, have two contentions with the way things are going. One is that DD is taking too long to get back to them. The other is that National Award winning films should prima facie be accepted by DD, and the filmmakers paid for the films, rather than these films having to be vetted again by a selection committee. “The moment the film gets a National Award it should immediately qualify, and they should have someone in Doordarshan who takes the names and details from the (Information and Broadcasting or I&B) Ministry,” says Onir. “If a film is being honoured as something of national importance, then it should be the prerogative of Doordarshan to acquire it without us having to run after them.”

However in order to apply a film need not necessarily have won a National Award. To be eligible for this time slot on DD, a film should have been selected for at least one of a specified list of film festivals or have won a National Award and they should have been produced after the year 2000 and should be subtitled in English or Hindi. Apart from this the applicant must possess the terrestrial and satellite rights for the film for the necessary period.

But even after meeting the eligibility criteria films are not guaranteed a screening. The invitation for the proposal for films states clearly: “Only those films selected by the competent authority will be telecast.”

The DD guidelines state that the films will go through three committees before being selected for broadcast. A ‘Preview’ committee at each regional centre will be responsible for checking the language of the film, to see it is fit “for Doordarshan viewing” and “suggest the deletion” of words or lines that the committee decides are not. Also a ‘Technical Preview’ committee will check the “technical quality of the telecast tapes” and ensure “good quality of print for broadcast”. But it will be a ‘Selection’ Committee’ which will finally choose which films are be shown. Currently no details have been revealed about how this committee is to be formulated. The guidelines only mention that it will be under the “chairmanship of DG (Director General) Doordarshan (and) comprising of eminent film makers”.

“There are no clear guidelines under which Doordarshan is approving and rejecting films. I want them to show me who is on this committee,” says filmmaker Ashvin Kumar. “We (Indian independent filmmakers) are the people who are the invested parties, why aren’t we on committees?”

What is worse, the slot dedicated to the ‘Best of Indian Cinema’ is an inconvenient one for filmmakers as the films are shown only at 11 pm.

Chetan Vyas, a programming consultant with Doordarshan, says, “Award winning films are being telecast every Sunday at 11 pm. Most of the National Award films are very, very serious. And they are not commercially viable for ‘selling’ in their own language in their states. Most of the producers spend (Rs.) 30 to 40 lakhs and they don’t make money by releasing in their respective states. On the national network they will get a bonus.”

“When we were discussing the entire thing, they (DD) told us they would figure out at least a 10 pm slot,” says Onir. But even if an earlier time slot were to be given, currently films require a U/A or U certificate if they are to be broadcast before 11 pm. “Some of the best films of our country, right from Pyaasa to the older Devdas, are adult films,” says Onir. “If award winning films won’t be shown just because they have ‘adult content’, then it’s a joke.”

Kumar has faced several problems while trying to get his film certified. He says: “Why should the filmmaker run after the censor board and get the recertification done? That should be done by Doordarshan.”

In most countries, it is the broadcaster who goes through the process of getting a film certified for television. “When they’re screening foreign films on Doordarshan, they’re not asking the filmmaker to get it certified,” says Kumar. He has sold his films to distributors and channels abroad and in each case it has been them who have been responsible for getting his films certified for television.

The odd time slot and the recertification are not the only complaints filmmakers have with the guidelines. Documentary films are not eligible for this slot. “How many films at award festivals have a U certificate?” asks Kumar. “The film has to be a fiction feature (not a documentary), a U or U/A certified film, and it has to be a National Award winning or a festival film.” He feels that this excludes 80% of the films made in the country.

“At the moment we are a little bit tight with financial nitty-gritties and our guidelines (these are other DD guidelines, on showing documentary films) have not been finalized by Prasar Bharati (of which DD is a division) board. It is only after these guidelines are approved that we will start accepting these films (documentary films) for telecast,” says Vyas in response to this. “At the moment we are telecasting our own documentaries or, because we have some agreements with the Ministry of External Affairs and other ministries, it is their (documentary) films that are being telecast (on DD).”

However the 2012 petition is asking for the inclusion of documentary films into the same category of award-winning features. Alternatively, there could be a separate slot for National Award winning documentaries. According to Onir there are about 15 films which win in the ‘Best Film’ category every year. Among these are two or three documentaries. He doesn’t include films that have won awards in the technical categories, only those that have won a National Award for ‘Best Film’. “That the government can’t give us a slot for even 15 films in a year is a joke,” says Onir. He adds: “None of us feature filmmakers will complain about a documentary filmmaker sharing the same platform.”

Given that the economics of a documentary film and a feature film are different, the pricing can be different for features and documentaries. But it seems extremely unreasonable to exclude documentaries altogether.

The filmmakers want DD to get more proactive. By setting up a cell to source good films from festivals, it would be possible for DD to approach filmmakers instead of having them go through the arduous process of applying. Also, Kumar suggests that filmmakers should be allowed to fill the application forms online and attach them to the submission form for National Awards given that both these applications require the same information. This would make it easier for those who have already won National Awards to have their films shown.

“It should be them approaching us and taking the film,” says Onir. “The whole attitude that they’re doing us a favour is a big problem.”

The 2012 petition also asked for separate theatres to screen indie films. I&B Minister Manish Tewari had announced a day after this year’s National Awards concluded on June 16, 2013, that the Films Division Auditorium at Mahadev Road in Delhi would be converted into a theatre for independent cinema, but there has been no follow up. Despite several meetings with Ministry officials and a promise that 10 theatres would be ready this year, nothing has materialized. “I worked my ass off to make a list of 30 properties all over India which could be converted into theatres,” says Onir. “Everything they asked for, I followed up on. And there has been nothing from their side.”

 

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Indie TV

Article
September 2013
By Alyssa Lobo

Alyssa Lobo is Junior Correspondent at The Big Indian Picture