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IFFI not enough, Government should incentivize film biz more

What began in 1952 as the International Film Festival of India and now known as IFFI was a step needed in 1952. Since then the Indian film industry has undergone a sea change. Today the film industry contributes so significantly in terms of revenues, employment generation and much more importantly in preservation of contemporary Indian culture, a tool for soft diplomacy and much more, is looking up to the Government for support.

The Indian Film Industry needs a different treatment today. It cannot be treated a par with say mining or leather or even the IT industry because this is about real creativity that not only inspires and ignites minds but also educates, entertains and informs. It keeps the national consciousness alive. Well, I didn’t mean, ‘Padmaavat’. It is our best export to the West and the East in terms of image enhancement, tourism promotion and export of culture. It is the mother or the feeder industry for Television, much of Music, Fashion, Radio and Live Events.

In this context, there are a few points that the Government needs to consider. Why is it that an industry as significant as this gets only one IFFI in exchange for its contribution and services? Where is the care for the professionals who create and shape minds and trends in music, fashion and tastes? Is there a Pensionary benefit or a Care Policy for these professionals? Is there any consideration or incentive for the Producers who export over Rs. 4,000 crores worth of Cinema and much more television content inspired by Cinema or delivered through cinema? Why is it that the IT sector which is into software export is given incentives but an industry which is so deep rooted in our consciousness is ignored when it comes to material benefits?

The fact today is despite all the gloss and glitter the Indian film industry is suffering internally. Of the 2,000 odd features and 4,000-5,000 shorts and documentary films, only 300-400 brings the returns back when there is so much that can be achieved through a little policy tweak.

Despite been accorded the status of an industry, the Indian film producers are not able to raise sufficient finances due to lack of collaterals. The Banks do not consider a ready film as a good enough collateral and hence there is a need to look into film finance for the Government.

You would have often heard of some famous film actor or director falling on bad days. Such news may be rare but are not rare occurrences. The fact is that once the film is gone and forgotten by the masses and the limelight has moved away most film professionals find it tough to make the two ends meet. This happens because the Indian film industry doesn’t have a pensionary frame work. Since its doesn’t strictly work like an organized industry with salary systems and HR departments, it opens its workers to uncertain future.

The Government therefore, needs to consider a Pensionary system which can easily fend for itself. Either on the lines of City of Hollywood Employees Retirement Fund or another such structure where the Employees are taken care of much after their films are gone and forgotten. This framework can not only cover old age pensions but also disability. This framework could be a Fund under a Government regulatory body or a Bank or the National Film Development Corporation itself and cover not only the actors, directors, producers but also each worker of the film industry in need of help or even otherwise.

This Scheme or the Structure can find funds through a two rupee Cess on each Movie ticket. This cess in normal terms may mean a price escalation of a Cinema ticket of Rs. 100 by about Rs.2/- simply but goes a long way, as the annual fund cess may reach a level of about Rs. 218 crores which may be sufficient to fund the Scheme. The Fund can further be managed by a bank for growth while the resources can be utilized through a Committee of a Board having representation from the film industry and the Government. With a support like this, almost 20,000 film industry pensioners can be served monthly pensions ranging from Rs. 10,000/- onwards.

Film Finance with which began the journey of the then Film Finance Corporation and now NFDC needs attention. The Fund suggested above can also be used to provide loans to film makers at lower rates, step in with gap funding or even fund films.

The third point is the outreach capacity of the Indian film industry. This has beyond doubt been proved that the Indian Cinema has been able to find its audiences globally even beyond the Indian diaspora. The emergence of various Indian Film Festivals in about 20 countries stands testimony to this new found popularity. In a scenario where even without promotion the Film industry is raking in revenues of over Rs. 4,000 crores, how can the Government ignore such a significant development. These films are not only brining in foreign exchange but are actually exporting the Indian culture harvesting goodwill, promoting tourism and opening doors for business and cultural exchange.

Taking a little step forward the Government can consider an Incentive of 5% on Exports of Indian Cinema and Television content to foreign shores. When the IT industry can reap such benefits, its only logical that cinema and television industries also be extended the same courtesy. This alone has the potential of multiplying the Indian exports at least ten folds immediately. There already exists an industry which needs a little shot in the arm. The methodologies and logistics can be decided through Government Advisory Committees, Federations and Film Chambers but the very acceptance of the suggestion would be a welcome step.

IFFI is losing its relevance fast due to large variety of reasons. There are at least eight good international film festivals across the country and some small ‘not so relevant’ versions which have consumed the space always available to IFFI. The Festival was important in 1952 but slowly the space almost reserved for IFFI is being eaten into by other film festivals, television, Video on demand platforms and IPTV. This would continue to shrink further unless the Festival soon comes up with some trump cards. The trump cards in this case mean not gloss but substance in programming, something which is beyond the time, and something which is trendsetting and forward looking. Why would someone come down to Goa to watch the same films already screened in Mumbai? The lure of learning, networking, updation and better resources brings people to film festivals and markets and unless that happens, the real film professionals would not waste their time in Goa.

Lastly, the Government of India will have to deal with the issue of piracy. It is alleged that almost a revenue Rs.4,000 crores is lost to piracy each year. This loss is not only to the film industry but also to the Government. If the industry is losing four thousand crores then the Government is also losing about Rs. 800 crores at least. The punishment in Europe for any piracy invites a fine of USD 400-1,000 for the first offence. It’s time that the Government realizes that an anti-piracy mechanism including a Special Police Force can be structured for less than this amount.

All this and much more can begin with one little step and that is realization and recognition of the importance of the Indian film industry. The Indian film industry has a great potential to connect cultures and enhance the image of the country, promote our tourist destination, promote Indian culinary traditions, fashion and open doors for allied businesses then why is it that such an important industry should fail to get its due from the Governments for such a long time.

Manoj Srivastava is the Chairman of Indian Film Institute and the former head of International Film Festival of India, Goa.

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