Anand Patwardhan

The merging of four distinct public bodies under one single umbrella, controlled by one single ministry under one single minister whose most infamous utterance just before the outbreak of deadly violence in Delhi in 2019 was “Shoot the Bastards” (a loose translation of “Goli Maaro Salon Ko”) would have been alarming in of itself.  What is more alarming is that these developments are not about one individual. They are the fruit of an ideology that has been at work for over a hundred years, producing hatred based on fake news and the demonisation of fellow citizens of India. Their most famous victim was Mahatma Gandhi. But the killings and the hatred have never stopped, they just lie below the surface till the haters gather enough power to deliver.

Today they bask in the glory of election victories won by sheer money power and the ruthless control over every democratic institution originally set in place by the power of India’s secular and democratic Constitution. But this Constitution means nothing to those who sincerely and truly believe in dictatorship and majoritarian rule.

The assault on the National Film Archives and Films Division (which also has a vast collection of post-Independence news and documentary films) should be seen as nothing short of an assault on our Constitution. Once our archived history falls into the hands of those who never fought for Independence from British rule, it will just disappear or be re-cut and rewritten.  As for the Children’s Film Society and the Directorate of Film Festivals, these were both bodies created to expand our cultural heritage. One can only shudder at what the future holds if these institutions come under the control of a single poisonous agency.

And what indeed is this new agency? On the surface it is actually an old agency called NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) that was meant to promote good independent cinema as opposed to the commercial cinema that came out of Bollywood. Initially some good films were indeed produced or distributed by NFDC. But their role soon turned into a clerk’s office where filmmakers could not be discovered even under a microscope.

At least the Films Division had existing staff, infrastructure, equipment and a large body of competent work. The NFDC is a clean slate. Their only raison d’etre is to make money and even this they have failed to do. However once four bodies are merged into one and that body has the mandate to make a profit, it is not hard to predict what will happen next. Privatization and the selling off of public assets. Films Division sits on highly lucrative land in Mumbai. It is a bonanza awaiting looters.

If those who believe in freedom of expression and the right to information stand idly by at this juncture, not only will our archives and valuable properties be destroyed or sold, we should not complain if a Kangana Ranaut or a Vivek Agnihotri become the ilk that decide what message is force-fed to the public at large.

Anand Patwardhan is a film-maker


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