9/1/12

PVR'S DIRECTOR'S RARE AND NFDC'S CINEMAS OF INDIA: GOOD TIDINGS

PVR has four lined up this month- Delhi in a DayBel AmiMoonrise Kingdom and Fire in Babylon. While Robinson Pattinson (No emphasis supplied) starrer Bel Ami looks the least appealing of the four, Indian theaters have normally been unreceptive to a €9 million budget indie label like this one has. It was pleasing to learn then that Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom with a similar budget was plotting a ‘director’s rare’ release here. The bottomline is that Independent Cinema, World Cinema and films of those feathers do not get shown as often as we would like.

Indian Indies, documentaries especially had absolutely no place in the theaters before movies like Delhi in a Day, Supermen of Malegaon, Harud and The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project made it to a few PVR screens.

This is indubitably a product of a new audience growing up on Internet and torrents and only of late have we seen the distributors and the exhibitors extending to meet their hungers just as parallelly filmmakers and producers have made similar efforts this year.

Of course for most people of the generation watching such movies in theaters is a still just option. In no time after The Tree of Lifecame to PVR screens, the Blu-ray rips were available. Most people would have caught excellent prints of Hugo much before it came to the screens (remember #WeWantHugo). It was when Viacom 18 made an unusual engagement with the audience and was coaxed to release it with the words “Fans! We're happy to announce that we're releasing the 3D version this summer in India!”

 Through PVR’s Director's Rare project too, the audience has been acknowledged. It is an audience the same dare not piss off. We know of at least three and a half people who ‘boycotted’ Gangs of Wasseypur because of the ‘mass website ban- Bombay H.C. John Doe (deserves to be named after  John Wayne) order’ fiasco. 

Nothing stops them from downloading this. Nothing stops them from downloading those films PVR is releasing (with the exception of Indian Indies), yet it is the scale of the big screen that people desire. It is co-dependent really, love for the films that the Internet creates also creates such a demand and watching The Tree of Life on the big screen makes us fall into love with Cinema even more. It’s a circle that should not be disturbed.

With that, the job done by PVR’s Rare Film Club to release movies like Delhi in a Day is even more exceptional. Last heard PVR was inviting 6 Indian feature length documentary films for a similar release. You can see the announcement here.

This seems to be the first time that filmmakers such as Supermen of Malegaon’s Faiza Ahmad Khan are getting to showcase their movies to a larger audience.The fact that the movie is now out on DVDs may have something to do with the embrace by those who watched in theaters. The release will please those who missed out on watching it earlier.

 PVR Rare Film Club is, as everyone thinks a great thing to happen to India. We do have a concern though. It is that while PVR has brought such movies like The Tree of Life and Moonrise Kingdom, it has done so apparently by monopolising the distribution and charging a not-very-insignificant ticket price (it has been known to reach around Rs. 1000). There have been some smaller movies that have come to India outside a PVR release in the last year. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for example got a wider release which we caught for Rs. 150 on a screen near-er to us. A new CAG report is now doing rounds which suggests a competitive bidding process (no its not.) PVR we hope aren't standing in the way of a greater influx of diverse cinema into India. 

We now come to National Film Development Corporation’s ‘Cinemas of India’. NFDC and Film Finance Corporation before it, powered the parallel cinema moment in India in the 1970s and the 1980s. The films produced in that period and later have now been restored, remastered and recirculated courtesy of NFDC’s Cinemas of India DVDs.

The quality is excellent and the DVDs are reasonably priced. 35 movies that are already out in the market include movies from directors such as Mani Kaul, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Sudhir Mishra, Shyam Benegal and Tapan Sinha along with some of the lesser known alongside some Marathi, Malayalam and Oriya titles.

After the initial gush, the release of titles has slowed down a bit but it hasn’t stopped entirely. It will eventually unless NFDC keeps acquiring titles from archives outside its own and restores it. The body of work produced under NFDC banner is not big enough to make it as epic in proportion as the Criterion Collection which consistently releases about half a dozen titles every month.

Thankfully some of the films that have made it under ‘Cinemas of India’ are those that were produced by Film Finance Corporation, the predecessor to NFDC. Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti and Duvidha are amongst these while Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Arvind Desai ki Ajeeb Dastaan was privately funded.

If more resources can be pulled together, National Film Archives of India (NFAI), Films Division (FD) and NFDC can bring out several thousand titles. Film Division alone has 8000 short films, documentaries and news reels including some from before independence. Considerable funds have been allocated by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, but as this report suggests, NFAI drew the shortest straw. There is a sort of internal strife between the three institutions.

Ideally, the three institutions should have been cooperating to carry out the project. NFAI can certainly boast of a much larger library than NFDC’s 300 title strong one. While NFAI has contributed less than enough (excusable for the lack of funding) to what should have been a collective cause of bringing forgotten films to the Indian audience and NFDC raking in all the accolades, the Film Division has quietly implemented something that is quite surprising. Check out their website where you can see hundreds of the films they have produced.

It is just not NFDC then but the whole idea of restoration and recirculation that is genuine. A pat on the back of NFDC’s new leadership is obligatory. In this and many of their other recent initiatives (Screenwriters' Lab, Film Bazaar and movie release tie-ups with Director's rare) they tell us that NFDC is finally doing something. But the efforts of the numerous historians, archivists and those involved directly in the preservation, digitalization and restoration too have to be recognised. The funding however needs to be come to all bodies and the objective must be that of reviving as many movies as there are titles in these archives and recover ‘lost films’ from other collections regardless of who owns them now. The next step is bringing them to the audience that is in all likelihood more than any time before this enthusiastic about the cinema and the lack of financial support to these institutions will hopefully not defeat the cause.

Together PVR and NFDC have shown an acknowledgement of a changing audience. While the restoration of old films should be a process that is continuing, the recirculation cannot come at a more appropriate time. We all stand to be enriched from the great Indian cinema of a bygone era, a lesser glorified contemporary one and the partially accessible foreign one.

This adds to the first stage of a ‘cultural revolution' (which we will be ready to talk about later). The next step is to take the cinema to the villages, the masses and breaking the elitism around movies. While Internet in many ways has worked to create a bigger audience, PVR and Cinemas of India indulges mostly an existing audience. There is an absence perhaps of movement, perfectly ‘legal’ that increases the diversity in the audience. This is something for the future but for now NFDC and PVR have been enterprising enough.