India’s National Film Development Corporation has a long history. In the very early 1960s, a number of national institutions were established in the capital, New Delhi, for the fine arts, for dance and music, and for literature. For cinema, following the Patil committee report in 1952, three major institutions were created with their head offices in Bombay and Pune. These were the Film Finance Corporation in 1960 (transformed in 1980 into the National Film Development Corporation), the Film Institute of India in Pune (now the FTII, the Film & Television Institute) in 1961, and the National Film Archive in 1964. National Film Awards for Excellence in direction and production were introduced in 1954 and expanded steadily to include actors, technicians, writers, music directors, and more.
The FFC’s mandate was to support “non-commercial” cinema. One of the first to benefit from it was Mrinal Sen who made Bhuvan Shome in 1969 and launched a New Wave in Indian cinema. Mani Kaul, one of the first graduates of the Film Institute, followed in 1971 with Uski Roti (Our Daily Bread), also with FFC funding. The Film Finance Corporation quickly gained recognition as the films it funded began to win awards nationally and internationally. The problem was that these films, which garnered awards and critical acclaim, had no distribution outlets. The distribution system remained firmly entrenched in the hands of private companies with exhibitors in control of the large cinema halls. No chain of art cinemas ever emerged and the FFC-supported films were shown only at the Indian Panorama section of the annual International Film Festival of India, which was launched in 1972, or at private screenings and later on national television.
For the FFC, this created a financial impasse as money invested in these films was not coming back. It was only after the FFC was incorporated in 1980 with IMPEC to become the NFDC that income began to come in from foreign film distribution, coproduction of films, video cassette marketing, subtitling, and equipment rental. Later came sales and marketing to television and various collaborations with the national channel, Doordarshan.
In the past few years, the NFDC has become a major player in the Indian film scene. A large capital investment by the government has made it possible for the NFDC to go into further film developmental activities. Among them are restoration, production, marketing, and a strong focus on script development – an area totally neglected by the mainstream industry.
It was the FFC and later the NFDC that was solely responsible for the emergence of an independent, parallel cinema in India in the 1970s and 80s. The major directors that led the movement were principally graduates of the Film Institute, nourished on the films they saw at the National Film Archive and the sole International Film Festival of India (until the 1990s when film festivals began to flower in all major Indian cities), and funded by the NFDC. Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Saeed Mirza, Ketan Mehta, Kundan Shah, and many more in Bombay, (Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shaji Karun), and so many others in Kerala (Nirad Mahapatra) in Orissa… too many to name. They fanned out across the country to make remarkable, individualistic films in their own languages. A large majority of these were with NFDC support. The role of the NFDC is thus inseparable from the development of Indian cinema.
Aruna Vasudev: Author of “The New Indian Cinema” and “Liberty & Licence in the Indian Cinema”